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Rabbi Jonathan

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Rabbi Jonathan

Rabbinical Eras

Rabbi Jonathan (Hebrew: רבי יונתן, Rabi Yonatan) was a Palestinian tanna of the 2nd century and schoolfellow of R. Josiah, apart from whom he is rarely quoted. Jonathan is generally so cited without further designation; but there is ample reason for identifying him with the less frequently occurring Jonathan (or Nathan) b. Joseph (or "Jose"; comp. Mek., Yitro, Baḥodesh, 10, with Sifre, Deut. 32; Mek., Ki Tissa, 1, with Yoma 85b; Tosef., Niddah, ii. 2, Ket. 60b, and Yer. Soṭah vii. 19c).

Life and Teachings

In consequence of the Hadrianic religious persecutions he determined to emigrate from Palestine, and with several other scholars started on a journey to foreign parts. But his patriotism and innate love for the Holy Land would not permit him to remain abroad (Sifre, Deut. 80). Jonathan and Josiah were educated together at the academy of Ishmael ben Elisha (Men. 57b), whose dialectic system, as opposed to that of Akiba, they acquired. It is even reported that Jonathan all but converted Ben Azzai, a "fellow student" of Akiba, to Ishmael's system, and made him deeply regret his failure to study it more closely. Ben 'Azzai then exclaimed, "Woe is me that I have not waited on Ishmael" (Ḥul. 70b et seq.). Nevertheless, in later years, probably after Ishmael's death, both Jonathan and Josiah adopted some of Akiba's principles. Of Jonathan it is expressly stated that "he followed the system of his teacher Akiba" (Yer. Ma'as. v. 51d).

Together, Jonathan and Josiah devoted their analytical minds to halakic midrashim, interpreting laws as they understood them from the corresponding Scriptural texts, but not suggesting them. Only one halakah unconnected with a Scriptural text bears their names. Their argumentations are mostly embodied in the Mekilta (about thirty) and in the Sifre to Numbers (over forty; see D. Hoffmann, Zur Einleitung in die Halachischen Midraschim, p. 38). Neither Jonathan nor Josiah appears in Rebbi's compilation of the Mishnah, with the exception of a single sentence, in the name of Jonathan, in Abot iv. 9: "Whoso observes the Law in poverty shall live to observe it in affluence; and whoso neglects the Law in affluence shall at last be compelled to neglect it because of poverty" (comp. Ab. R. N. xxx. 1 [ed. S. Schechter, pp. 41b, 45a]). Of other ancient compilations, the Tosefta cites these scholars once (Tosef., Sheb. i. 7: the text has "Nathan," but the context shows unmistakably that "Jonathan" is meant), while the Sifra mentions them twice (Sifra, Ḳedoshim, ix. 5, 11) by their names; once (Sifra, Behar, i. 9; comp. Ket. 60b) "Jonathan ben Joseph" occurs; and some of R. Josiah's midrashim are cited, but anonymously (comp. Sifra, Wayiḳra, Ḥobah, xx. 8, with B. M. 54a; Sifra, Aḥare, iv. 9, with Yoma 57b).

Jonathan was the author of many aphorisms, among which is the following: "Consoling the mourner, visiting the sick, and practical beneficence bring heavenly grace into the world" (Ab. R. N. xxx. 1). Contrary to the astrological views of his times, Jonathan taught the Scriptural idea of natural phenomena; quoting Jer. x. 2, he added: "Eclipses may frighten Gentiles, but they have no significance for Jews" (Mek., Bo, 1; comp. Yalḳ., Ex. 188). To the question as to the permissibility of profaning the Sabbath to save human life he answered, "The Law says (Ex. xxxi. 16), 'The children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations'; but one may profane one Sabbath in order to preserve a man that he may observe many Sabbaths" (Mek., Ki Tissa; comp. Yoma 85b). According to him an 'Am ha-Areẓ is one who has children and does not train them in the knowledge of the Law (Soṭah 22a; comp. Ber. 47b). Jonathan contradicted the general opinion of earlier and of contemporaneous rabbis that a "rebellious son" as defined by the teachers of traditional law never was and never will be executed, and that communal apostasy never did and never will occur; he declared that he himself had sat on the grave of an executed prodigal and had seen the ruins of a city which had been razed to the ground for general apostasy (Sanh. 71a).

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