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Jewish Commentators — Their Lives and Works

 

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Eleazar ben Eleazar ha-Kappar
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Hebrew Name(s): בר קפרא
Other Names: Bar Kappara, Eleazer ha-Kappar Berabbi
Period: Amoraim — 2nd–3rd Century
Location: Caesarea, Palestine
Dates: c. 180–220

Biography:
Bar Kappara was a First Generation Palestinian Amora of the late Second and early Third Century during the period between the Tannaim and Amoraim. He was active in Caesarea in the Land of Israel, from around 180 to 220 CE. His name, meaning “Son of Kapparah”, was taken from his father, Eleazar Ha-Kappar, a Fifth Generation Tanna. He appears in frequently in Talmudic sources as Bar Kappara and sometimes Eleazer ha-Kappar Berabbi, and in Tannaic sources (e.g., Sifre and Tosefta) as Eleazar ben Eleazar ha-Kappar.
 
Bar Kappara was a student of Judah HaNasi but not ordained because of a serious argument between them. He was a talented poet and storyteller, and it is said that at the wedding feast of Simeon, the son of Rabbi Judah HaNasi, he kept the guests captivated with fables until their food got cold. The Jerusalem Talmud contains a prayer he wrote and included in the repetition of the 18th section of Thanksgiving in the Amidah.
 
Bar Kappara established a school in Caesarea which rivaled that of Judah HaNasi (The Rabbi) in Sepphoris. Bar Kappara's student included R. Oshaiah (Hoshaiah) the "father of the Mishnah" (Ker. 8a) and Joshua ben Levi, a distinguished haggadist who transmitted many of Bar Kappara's rulings (Shab. 75a). Ḥanina ben Ḥama and Johanan ben Nappaḥa , both attached to the school of Rabbi, never-the-less acknowledged the greatness of Bar Kappara (Niddah 20a; Ab. Zarah l.c). Bar Kappara was recognized as both a great halakhist and a humanitarian.
 
Bar Kappara, unlike many of his time, did not ascribe to the belief that ascetism was meritorious. Rather, in response to the scriptural statement, "The priest shall … make an atonement for him [the Nazirite] for that he sinned by the soul" (Num. 6:11) he asked, "how much more is one a sinner who has denied himself everything?" (B.K. 91b; Ta'anit 11a). In this opinion he was aligned with Abba Arikha who said, "Man will be called to account for having deprived himself of the good things which the world offered" (PT. Kid.). Bar Kappara and Abba Arikha, however, did not express the general view in their time which held that fasting and abstemiousness were great virtues. Indeed, Judah HaNasi is recorded as saying that he had not experienced the slightest sensual gratification in his life (Ket. 104a).
 
Bar Kappara is recorded as having authored The Mishnah of Bar Kappara, a work which is no longer extant but is quoted in the Talmud. It is thought that The Mishnah of Bar Kappara was compiled as a supplement to the Mishnah of Judah HaNasi and contributed explanations and different opinions to those expressed in the Mishnah of Judah HaNasi. The redactors of the Tosefta also derived many decisions from The Mishnah of Bar Kappara.
 
Bar Kappara was unusual in his time for recommending the study of Greek. He is reported as saying to his disciples (Gen. R. 36:8): “Let the words of Torah be said in the language of Japheth [Greece].” He also encouraged the study of the natural sciences, saying “Whosoever can calculate the movements of the solstices and planets, but fails to do so, to him is applied the verse ‘But they regard not the works of the Lord’" (Isaiah 5:12) (Shab. 75a).

 

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