Shmaya the Nasi

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Shemaya HaNasi
Shemaya HaNasi
שמעיה הנשיא
Sh'maya, Shemaiah, Shmya, Shimaya, Shemaya
Meaning of Name:
Listen Hashem, Listen all
Nasi of Israel during Second Temple Era.

Sh'maya served as the Nasi of the Jewish nation at the end of the Chashmonaim rulership, in middle of the first century BCE, 100 years before the destruction of the second temple. Shmaya belonged to the fourth pair of Zugos along with Avtalyon who served as Av Beis Din. Shmaya was a descendent of converts and according to some opinions a convert himself.


[edit] Student of the Sages

Shmaya studied under Shimon ben Shetach and Yehuda ben Tabai, 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 Shmaya 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 Sh'maya was himself a convert or it was his father that converted. Most commentaries state that Shmaya was from a family of converts and his mother was Jewish. According to this opinion, Shmaya was born a Jew and was therefore able to serve as Nasi and president of the Sanhedrin.

There are others that say Sh'maya himself was a convert and the law prohibiting a convert from serving as a Nasi, applies only when there are alternative candidates. In the case of Shemaiah, 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.

[edit] Descendent of Sancherev

Sign for Kever Shmaya vAvtalyon.
Shmaya 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 Sh'maya 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 Shemaya 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 Shemaiah and Avtalyon.

Tzion Shmaya vAvtalyon.
Sh'maya was also a reincarnation of the Ruach 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 Ruach was reincarnated in Shmaya and his Nefesh in Avtalyon. 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 Shimaya and that is why he lived the first part of his life as a Greek and then converted to Judaism.

[edit] President of the Sanhedrin

Tomb of Shemaya and Avtalyon.
After the death of Shimon ben Shetach, Shmaya was appointed Nasi in his place, which made him president of the Sanhedrin. His colleague Avtalyon was made Av Beis Din. Most of their leadership was during the reign of Hurkanus and Aristobulus (Hyrcanus II & Aristobulus II). Together, Shemaya 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 nearly 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 causing Shemaya and Avtalyon to desecrated the Shabbos to save the life of Hillel. When it became known Hillel risked his life since he was unable to afford the entrance fee, paid entry to the Beis Medrash was abolished making Torah study accessible to all.

More.jpg Read full Zissil article on the Avtalyon

[edit] Meaning of the Name Shmaya

Shmaya is a combination of the words 'Shma', listen and 'Ka', Hashem. When put together it means 'Listen to me Hashem'. It can also be interpreted as a call 'listen all' or 'listen up' which would elude to his destiny of eventually serving as Nasi, and having the entire nation heed his words.

[edit] Respected by the People

Mikva Shemaya vAvtalyon.
Shemaya and Avtalyon were very respected amongst their nation. In the Talmud they are referred to as Gidolay Hador and Darshanim by Rebbe Yehuda ben Dursai. Once they passed the Kohen Gadol as he left the Beis Hamikdash after Yom Kippur in midst of a great procession, celebrating his safe emergence 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. Shemaya 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. Shemaya 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 Shemaiah and Avtalyon this Sage was placed in excommunication until the day of his death and had his coffin stoned.

[edit] Students, Colleagues and Successors

Shmaya's main students were Hillel and Shami. Hillel was careful to use the exact wording of his teachers when he quoted them. Leadership of Shemaya and Avtalyon lasted for a short period of six years. After Shimaya 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 Beni Besera was due to his nullification to Shmaya and Avtalyon.

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

[edit] Teachings

Shemaya Says.
Shmaya is rarely mentioned in the Mishnah. In Avos he says "Love working for a living. Hate serving in positions of authority. Do not get friendly with the government." His last statement about the government can easily be a reference to the corrupt rulership during his time and their massacre of the Perushuim and Torah scholars.

In the Mechilta of Rebbe Yishmael, Shemaiah credits the splitting of the Yam Suf in merit of the faith that Avraham had in Hashem.

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. Shmaya's opinion on the matter was to do Semicha.

[edit] Kever Shemaya and Avtalyon

Mayan Safsufa.
Sh'maya and Avtalyon 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 Sh'maya and Avtalyon and were reincarnated in them as well.

The Arizal used to pray at Kever Shemaya and Avtalyon with his students. Once he told his students that Shemaya and Avtalyon besieged 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 Shemaya and Avtalyon

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

[edit] More Pictures

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