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Shemaya HaNasi
Abht'alyon, Avtalion, Abtalion, Avtolyon
Other Names:
Avtilumos, Avtilomus
Meaning of Name:
Father of the young
Av Bais Din and leading Sage during Second Temple Era.

One of the early Tannaim, Avtalyon lived 100 years before the destruction of the second temple, towards the end of the Chashmonaim rulership, in middle of the first century BCE. He belonged to the fourth pair of Zugos and served as the Av Bais Din, vice president of the Sanhedrin under the Nasi Shmaya. Avtalyon was a descendent of converts and according to some opinions a convert himself.


[edit] Student of the Sages

Avtalyon was a student of Yehuda ben Tabai and Shimon ben Shetach, the third pair of Zugos and leaders of their generation. When the wicked king Yani (Alexander Jannaeus) killed all the Torah Sages, Yehuda ben Tabai escaped to Alexandria, Egypt. It can be assumed that Avtalyon went into exile along with his teacher to escape the massacre. They returned after the death of Yani under the reign of Queen Shelomtzion (Alexandra Salome).

[edit] Son of Converts

Kever of Shmaya & Avtalyon.
There is controversy as to whether Avtalyon was himself a convert or it was his father that converted. Most commentaries state that Avtalyon was from a family of converts and his mother was Jewish. According to this opinion, Avtalyon was born a Jew and was therefore able to serve as the vice president of the Sanhedrin.

There are others that say Avtalyon himself was a convert and the law prohibiting a convert from serving as a judge, applies only when there are alternative candidates. In the case of Avtalyon, there was no one worthier for the position in the entire nation. This was especially true considering that many of the Sages had been killed by the Tzeduki kings that ruled Israel. There are references to a spiritual guru named Avtalyon in ancient Roman literature. According to the account, this Avtalyon ran away and joined another religion. Although it easily could have been referring to a different Avtalyon, it can be reconciled with the opinion stating that Avtalyon himself was a convert.

[edit] Descendent of Sancherev

Sign for Kever Shmaya vAvtalyon.
Avtalyon was a direct descendent of Sancherev, the Assyrian ruler whose army was wiped out by angels during his attempt to capture Jerusalem. Due to his hereditary background Avtalyon was unable to pronounce the letter 'Heh' and would mispronounce words that contained it, using the letter 'Alef' in its place.

[edit] Kabbalistic Reincarnations

According the the Kabbalah, Adramelech and Shartzer the two sons of Sancherev who converted to Judaism were reincarnated in Shmaya and Avtalyon. Adramelech and Shartzer were from the few survivors of Sancherev's army that was struck down in midst of their sleep as they lay siege on Jerusalem. Awed by what they had witnessed, they killed their own father after hearing that Sancherev was planning to sacrificing them to his god Nisroch in exchange for salvation. Adramelech and Shartzer then escaped to Ararat and converted to Judaism. Although their intent was good, Adramelech and Shartzer still had to rectify the deed of murdering their own father. This was rectified in their reincarnation of Shmaya and Avtalyon.

Tzion Shmaya vAvtalyon.
Avtalyon was also a reincarnation of the Nefesh of Zechariah, the prophet and priest who was murdered on the Temple grounds. Although Zechariah was innocently murdered as he rebuked the Nation of Yisroel for their sins, he was still held somewhat accountable due to the severe level in which he first degraded his people. His Nefesh was reincarnated in Avtalyon and his Roach in Shmaya. By being born as a non Jew or by having to remove the elements of being born to a non Jewish father, the soul of Zechariah was able to erase the blasphemy that it said about the Jewish nation.

Aristo the philosopher was from the same soul root as Avtalyon and that is why he lived the first part of his life as a Greek and then converted to Judaism.

[edit] Vice President of the Sanhedrin

Tomb of Shemaya and Avtalyon.
After the death of Yehuda ben Tabai, Avtalyon was appointed Av Bais Din which made him vice president of the Sanhedrin. His colleague Shmaya was made Nasi. Most of their leadership was during the reign of Hurkanus and Aristobulus (Hyrcanus II & Aristobulus II). Together, Shmaya and Avtalyon ran the central Beis Medrash for Torah study. To gain entrance into their Bais Medrash, each student had to pay a daily admittance fee of a half tropaika. This changed after Hillel almost froze to death trying to listen to a Torah discourse through the study hall skylight on a freezing winter night. This incident happened on Shabbos morning and Avtalyon and Shmaya desecrated the Shabbos to save the life of Hillel. When it became known that this happened since Hillel could not afford the entrance fee, the payment was abolished making Torah study accessible to all.

More.jpg Read full Zissil article on the Shmaya

[edit] Meaning of the Name Avtalyon

Avtalyon is a unification of the two words 'Av' meaning father in Hebrew and 'Talya' meaning minors in Aramaic. As destined by his name, Avtalyon ended up becoming the 'father of minors' by serving as the Av Beis Din which designated him as the decision maker for the assets and lives of young orphans.

[edit] Respected by the People

Mikva Shemaya vAvtalyon.
Shmaya and Avtalyon were very respected amongst the nation. In the Talmud they are referred to as Gidolay Hador and Darshanim by one of the Sages. Once they passed the Kohen Gadol as he left the Beis Hamikdash after Yom Kippur in a great procession on his way to the traditional banquet made for emerged safely from the Holy of Holies. To the dismay of the Tzeduki Kohen Gadol, all the people abandoned him and gathered around Shmaya and Avtalyon. As they separated, the Kohen Gadol called out "Peace to you sons of the nations", a derogatory reference to their convert lineage. Shmaya and Avtalyon responded pointing out that it was better to be a convert that acts like Ahron the Priest then a Kohen Gadol that acts like the nations.

[edit] The Freed Slave Woman Sotah

Entrance to Safsufa.
At the time there was a freed slave women named Karkemit that was accused by her husband of Adultery. Shmaya and Avtalyon who presided over the Sanhedrin held that a freed slave women was allowed to undergo the Sotah procedure and gave her to drink from the bitter waters. One of the sages commented that they probably did so to give validity to converts like themselves and in reality used fake water by erasing a meaningless paper in it. As punishment for offending the honor of Shmaya and Avtalyon this Sage was placed in excommunication until the day of his death and had his coffin stoned.

[edit] Students, Colleagues and Successors

Avtalyon's main students were Hillel and Shami. Hillel was known to be very particular in using the exact wording of his teachers when he quoted them. Leadership of Shmaya and Avtalyon lasted for a short period of six years. After Shmaya and Avtalyon passed away, the Jewish leadership was given to the Beni Besera who eventually passed it on to Hillel and Menachem. Eventually Menachem was replaced by Shami. Hillel openly declared that his superiority in Torah knowledge over the sages of his generation was due to his nullification to Shmaya and Avtalyon.

Other Tannaim that lived during the time of Avtalyon were; Akavya ben Mehallel, Admon, Channan, the Sons of Besera and Rebbe Yehuda ben Dursai.

[edit] Teachings

Inside the Tzion.
Avtalyon is rarely mentioned in the Mishnah. In Avos he warns the Sages to be careful with their words, to avoid having them misinterpreted by their students. This is true even if the teacher is certain his students have a proper understanding. Since one day he might be forced into exile and his students will become exposed to foreign philosophies which might corrupt the teachings and bring about their death and the death of their followers as a result. This can possibly be a reference to an incident that Avtalyon and his teacher Yehuda ben Tabai experienced while living in Alexandria, where many Jews lived under Hellenistic Greek influence. It can also be a reference to the corruption of Antigonus Ish Socho's teachings by Tzadok and Baysus.

In the Mechilta of Rebbe Yishmael, Avtalyon is quoted regarding the splitting of the Yam Suf.

Based on the testimony of two weavers from the Dung Gate of Yerushalaim, in the name of Shimaya and Avtalyon, the well known Halacha disqualifying an unfinished mikva when three Lugin of containerized water are poured inside was established.

During the era of Shmaya and Avtalyon, Halachic controversy was basically nonexistent amongst the Jewish nation. An exception was the argument regarding the performance of Semicha on the Kurbanos during holidays, which had arisen three generations back. Avtalyon's opinion on the matter was not to do Semicha.

[edit] Kever Shmaya and Avtalyon

Mayan Safsufa.
Avtalyon and Shmaya are buried in the Arab populated town of Gush Chalav in Northern Israel. They are buried in the vicinity of Adarmelech and Shartzer sons of Sancherev who were blood relatives of Avtalyon and Shmaya and were reincarnated in them as well.

The Arizal used to pray at Kever Shmaya and Avtalyon with his students. Once he told his students that Shmaya and Avtalyon beseeched them to pray for the life of Moshiach ben Yosef. Foolishly they did not realize that this was a reference to the Arizal himself and he passed away shortly afterwards.

[edit] Mikva of Shmaya and Avtalyon

Across from Moshav Safsufa, around 4 km north of Meron, exists a natural spring water Mikva that is attributed to Shmaya and Avtalyon. According to this tradition Avtalyon used to immerse in the Mikva at some stage during his lifetime.

[edit] More Pictures

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