Hadrian the wicked
This passage from the Jerusalem Talmud illustrates how accounts of Hadrian and the aftermath of the Bar Kokhba Revolt that were recalled over time influenced rabbinic legal discourse, specifically whether the law of shikheḥah was applicable to olives.
The term shikheḥah refers to produce that was forgotten in the field during the harvest and, therefore, belongs to the poor, as described in Deuteronomy 24:19: “When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be left for the alien, the orphan, and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all your undertakings” (NRSV). The English translation of shikheḥah – “the forgotten sheaf” – conveys an association with a bundle of grain stalks; however, in the portion of Mishnah Peah 7:1 that is discussed in our passage from the Jerusalem Talmud, olives are the crop being harvested and, at times, forgotten.
While the majority opinion in this mishnah maintains that shikheḥah pertains to olives (see also Mishnah Peah 6:5; and, Tosefta Peah 2:13, which rules that shikheḥah applies to all tree crops), this text also cites the opinion of Rabbi Yosi, according to which there is no shikheḥah for olives (A). Thus, if laborers forgot to pick olives from a certain tree, that portion of the crop does not automatically belong to the poor; rather, the owner of that tree may return and harvest it. Rabbi Yosi (or Yose in other sources, including the parallel version of this teaching in the Mishnah), was a fourth-generation tanna who was active in the mid-second century, after the Bar Kokhba Revolt. Rabbinic texts portray that period as a difficult time, known for Roman persecutions (see the commentary on Tosefta Sotah15:10 for more details). However, Rabbi Yosi’s opinion in Mishnah Peah 7:1 is presented without mention of this political context.
While Section A cites Rabbi Yosi’s opinion from the Mishnah, Section B presents the view of Rabbi Shimon bar Yaqim, a third-generation amora who was active in the late third and early fourth centuries, who qualifies that Rabbi Yosi’s statement was restricted to the destruction caused by “Hadrian the wicked.” He clarifies that Rabbi Yosi exempted olives from shikheḥah because production was meager due to Hadrian’s actions. Thus, his ruling was limited to those circumstances. Scholars have debated whether our source, and especially Rabbi Shimon bar Yaqim’s claim that Hadrian “destroyed the entire land,” implies that the Bar Kokhba Revolt also took place in the Galilee, where Rabbi Yosi resided (see Raz Mustigman, “On Halakha and History,” especially his persuasive argument against reading this text as significant evidence on the scope of this revolt). However, for our project, the image of Hadrian in rabbinic literature is pertinent.
Interestingly, although the name Hadrian is absent from tannaitic texts and this emperor is portrayed engaging in philosophical discussions with Rabbi Yehoshua in the fifth-century midrash Genesis Rabbah (10:3; 13:9; 28:3; 78:1 [Theodor-Albeck edition, p. 75, 118, 261, 916]), in the Jerusalem Talmud, he is depicted as the epitome of evil, who threatened to destroy Jewish life (see, for example, Jerusalem Talmud Ta‘anit 4:6, 69a [part one] and Ta‘anit 4:6, 69a [part two]). In our source too, Hadrian is remembered for having decimated the entire land, including its agricultural viability, by a sage who was active generations later. The Jewish revolt and political activities that presumably prompted this Roman response are not mentioned here. The horrific accounts of Hadrian’s actions affected halakhic discourse as well as legends in the Jerusalem Talmud; however, the memory of this emperor’s destruction enables Rabbi Shimon bar Yaqim to contextualize the opinion of Rabbi Yosi as a response to a specific temporal reality rather than accepting it as a fundamental principal.
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