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Jewish Commentators — Their Lives and Works


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Eleazar ben Ḥisma
Hebrew Name(s): אלעזר בן חסמא
Other Names: Eliezer ben Ḥisma, Eleazar ben Ḥasma, Eleazar ben Chisma
Period: Tannaim — 2nd Century
Location: Palestine
Dates: c. 90–140

Eleazar ben Ḥisma was a Tanna of the Second and Third generations, a disciple of Joshua ben Hananiah and Gamaliel II (Hag. 3a; Hor. 10a). In their use of the word “ben” in connection with his cognomen “isma” or “asma” it is assumed to be a locative name, the place probably being identical with Hizmeh. Hence “ben isma” means “son of [“native of”] isma.” Others suggest the name means "vigor" (i.e., he was rigorous in expounding the law) or is a derivation of the word "ḥasimah" meaning "restriction."
Eleazar was so well-versed in the secular sciences that he was reputed to be able to calculate the number of drops in the ocean (Hor. 10a). For him, however, astronomy and geometry were merely "the side-dishes of wisdom" (Avot 3:18). Despite his learning, he lived in extreme poverty until Gamaliel recognized his ability and appointed him to a remunerative position (Sifre, Deut. 14; Yalk., Deut. 902; Hor. l.c.). Several halakhot are preserved under Eleazar’s name in the Mishnah (Ter. 3. 5; B.M. 7. 5), and he met with in halakhic controversies with Eleazar ben Azariah and Akiva (Neg. 7. 2; Sifra, Tazria, 1.2), and with Eliezer b. Jacob I (Pes. 32a; Yalk., Lev. 638).


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