Rabbi Yishmael "Ba'al HaBaraita" or Yishmael ben Elisha (90-135 CE, Hebrew: רבי ישמעאל בעל הברייתא) was a Tanna of the 1st and 2nd centuries (third tannaitic generation).[1] A Tanna (plural, Tannaim) is a rabbinic sage whose views are recorded in the Mishnah.



Yishmael son of Elisha was alleged to have been a young boy during the Destruction of the Second Temple (in 70 C.E.), which militates against his claimed year of birth in 90 C.E. by two generations.[citation needed] He was redeemed from captivity by Rabbi Neḥunya ben ha-Ḳanah, whom Tractate Shevu'ot (26a) lists as his teacher. He was a close colleague of Rabbi Joshua. He is likely the grandson of the high priest of the same name.[1] He is buried at Parod in the Galilee.


Yishmael's teachings were calculated to promote peace and goodwill among all. "Be indulgent with the hoary head;" he would say, "and be kind to the black-haired [the young]; and meet every man with a friendly mien" (Avot 3:12[2]).[1]

What he taught he practised. Even toward strangers, he acted considerately. When a heathen greeted him, he answered kindly, "Thy reward has been predicted"; when another abused him, he repeated coolly, "Thy reward has been predicted." This apparent inconsistency, he explained to his puzzled disciples by quoting Gen. 27:29: "Cursed be every one that curseth thee, and blessed be he that blesseth thee" (Yerushalmi Berakhot, chapter 8, page 11c;[3] Gen. R. 66:6[4]).[1]

Yishmael was fatherly to the indigent, particularly to poor and plain maidens, whom he clothed attractively and provided with means, so that they might obtain husbands (Nedarim 9:10;[5] 66a[6]). One Friday night, while absorbed in the study of the Bible, he inadvertently turned the wick of a lamp; and he vowed that when the Temple was rebuilt, he would offer there an expiatory sacrifice (Shabbat 12b[7]).[1]

Views on marriageEdit

Yishmael manifested the same spirit of hope in declining to countenance the refusal of the ultra-patriotic to beget children under the Roman sway (Tosefta, Sotah, 15:5;[8] Bava Batra 60b[9]). Even under the conditions then existing, he recommended early marriage. He said, "The Scripture tells us, 'Thou shalt teach them [the things thou hast seen at Horeb] to thy sons and to thy sons' sons;' and how may one live to teach his sons' sons unless one marries early?" (Deuteronomy 4:9; Yerushalmi Kiddushin, chapter 1, page 61a.[10] See also Bavli Kiddushin 29b.[11])[1]

Halakhic exegesisEdit

Yishmael gradually developed a system of halakhic exegesis which, while running parallel with that of Rabbi Akiva, is admitted to be the more logical. Indeed, he established the principles of the logical method by which laws may be deduced from laws and important decisions founded on the plain phraseology of the Scriptures. Like Akiva, he opened up a wide field for halakhic induction, but, unlike Akiva, he required more than a mere jot or a letter as a basis for making important rulings (compare Sanhedrin 51b[12]).[1]

Yishmael was of opinion that the Torah was conveyed in the language of man (Yerushalmi Yevamot, chapter 8, page 8d;[13] Yerushalmi Nedarim, chapter 1, page 36c[14]), and that therefore a seemingly pleonastic word or syllable can not be taken as a basis for new deductions. In discussing a supposititious case with Akiva, he once exclaimed, "Wilt thou indeed decree death by fire on the strength of a single letter?" (Sanhedrin 51b[12]). The plain sense of the Scriptural text, irrespective of its verbal figures, was by him considered the only safe guide.[1]

Hermeneutic rulesEdit

To consistently carry out his views in this direction, Ishmael formalized a set of 13 hermeneutic rules by which halakha was derived from the Torah. As a basis for these rules he took the seven rules of Hillel, and on them built up his own system, which he elaborated and strengthened by illustrating them with examples taken from the Scriptures (see Baraita of R. Ishmael; Talmud; comp. Gen. R. 92:7[15]). Even these rules, he would not permit to apply to important questions, such as capital cases in which no express Scriptural warrant for punishment existed; he would not consent to attach a sentence of death, or even a fine, to a crime or misdemeanor on the strength of a mere inference, however logical, where no such punishment is clearly stated in Scripture (Yerushalmi Avodah Zarah, chapter 5, page 45b),[1][16] or to draw a rule from a law itself based on an inference (Yerushalmi Kiddushin, chapter 1, page 59a).[1][17] His rules were universally adopted by his successors, tannaim, as well as amoraim, although occasionally he himself was forced to deviate from them (see Sifre, Numbers, 32[18]).[1]

Thus, his name became permanently associated with the halakha; but in the province of the Aggadah also, it occupies a prominent place (Mo'ed Katan 28b[19]). In answer to the question whether future punishment will be limited to the spirit or to the body, or whether in equity, any punishment at all should be inflicted on either, seeing that neither can sin when separated from the other, Ishmael draws this parallel:[1]

A king, owning a beautiful orchard of luscious fruit, and not knowing whom to trust in it, appointed two invalids—one lame, and the other blind. The lame one, however, tempted by the precious fruit, suggested to his blind companion that he ascend a tree and pluck some; but the latter pointed to his sightless eyes. At last the blind man raised his lame companion on his shoulders, and thus enabled him to pluck some of the fruit.

When the king came, noticing that some fruit had disappeared, he inquired of them which was the thief. Vehemently asserting his innocence, each pointed to the defect which made it impossible for him to have committed the theft. But the king guessed the truth, and, placing the lame man on the shoulders of the other, punished them together as if the two formed one complete body. Thus, added Ishmael, will it be hereafter: soul and body will be reunited and punished together (Lev. R. 4:5;[20] compare Sanhedrin 91a[21] et seq.).[1]

Yishmael laid the foundation for the halakhic midrash on Exodus, the Mekhilta; and a considerable portion of the similar midrash, the Sifre on Numbers, appears also to have originated with him or in his school, known as "Debe R. Ishmael". Some suppose that he was among the martyrs of Betar (compare Avot of Rabbi Natan, 38 [ed. Schechter, p. 57b][22]). The more generally received opinion, however, is that one of the martyrs, a high priest, was a namesake (Rabbi Ishmael's death is mentioned in Nedarim 9:10).[1]


  • McGinley, John W, "The 'Written' as the Vocation of Conceiving Jewishly", ISBN 0-595-40488-X.
  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n   One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainSinger, Isidore; Mendelsohn, Samuel (1901–1906). "Ishmael B. Elisha". In Singer, Isidore; et al. The Jewish Encyclopedia. New York: Funk & Wagnalls. Retrieved Jan 30, 2017.
    Jewish Encyclopedia bibliography:
    • Bacher, Ag. Tan. i. 210 et seq.;
    • Brüll, Mebo ha-Mishnah, i. 103 et seq.;
    • Frankel, Darke ha-Mishnah, pp. 105 et seq.;
    • Grätz, Gesch. iv. 60;
    • Hamburger [de], R. B. T. ii. 526 et seq.;
    • Heilprin, Seder ha-Dorot, ii.;
    • Hoffmann, Einleitung in die Halachischen Midraschim, pp.5 et seq.;
    • Weiss, Dor, i. 101 et seq.;
      • idem, Introduction to his edition of Mekilta, x. et seq.;
    • Zacuto, Yuḥasin, ed. Filipowski, p. 25.
  2. ^ Avot 3:12 (in Hebrew).   משנה אבות ג יב. Wikisource. 
  3. ^ Yerushalmi Berakhot ירושלמי ברכות (in Hebrew). Venice: Daniel Bomberg. p. 11c. Retrieved Feb 5, 2017.
  4. ^ Gen. R. 66:6 בראשית רבה סו, ו (in Hebrew). Retrieved Feb 8, 2017.
  5. ^ Nedarim 9:10 (in Hebrew).   משנה נדרים ט י. Wikisource. 
  6. ^ Bavli Nedarim 66a (in Hebrew).   נדרים סו א. Wikisource. 
  7. ^ Bavli Shabbat 12b (in Hebrew).   שבת יב ב. Wikisource. 
  8. ^ Tosefta Sotah תוספתא סוטה (in Hebrew). Retrieved Feb 13, 2017.
  9. ^ Bavli Bava Batra 60b (in Hebrew).   בבא בתרא ס ב. Wikisource. 
  10. ^ Yerushalmi Kiddushin ירושלמי קידושיו (in Hebrew). Venice: Daniel Bomberg. p. 61a. Retrieved Feb 5, 2017.
  11. ^ Bavli Kiddushin 29b (in Hebrew).   קידושין כט ב. Wikisource. 
  12. ^ a b Bavli Sanhedrin 51b (in Hebrew).   סנהדרין נא ב. Wikisource. 
  13. ^ Yerushalmi Yevamot ירושלמי יבמות (in Hebrew). Venice: Daniel Bomberg. p. 8d. Retrieved Feb 6, 2017.
  14. ^ Yerushalmi Nedarim ירושלמי נדרים (in Hebrew). Venice: Daniel Bomberg. p. 36c. Retrieved Feb 6, 2017.
  15. ^ Gen. R. 92:7 בראשית רבה צב, ז (in Hebrew). Retrieved Mar 20, 2017.
  16. ^ Yerushalmi Avodah Zarah ירושלמי עבודה זרה (in Hebrew). Venice: Daniel Bomberg. p. 45b. Retrieved Feb 6, 2017.
  17. ^ Yerushalmi Kiddushin ירושלמי קידושין (in Hebrew). Venice: Daniel Bomberg. p. 59a. Retrieved Feb 6, 2017.
  18. ^ Sifre, Numbers, 32 ספרי במדבר לב (in Hebrew). Vilnius. Retrieved Mar 20, 2017.
  19. ^ Bavli Mo'ed Katan 28b (in Hebrew).   מועד קטן כח ב. Wikisource. 
  20. ^ Lev. R. 4:5 ויקרא רבה ד, ה (in Hebrew). Retrieved Mar 20, 2017.
  21. ^ Bavli Sanhedrin 91a (in Hebrew).   סנהדרין צא א. Wikisource. 
  22. ^ Schechter, Solomon (ed.). Avot of Rabbi Natan, 38 אבות דרבי נתן, פרק לח (in Hebrew). Vienna. p. 57b. Retrieved Mar 27, 2017.

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