RABBI CHANINA BAR CHAMA WAS ONE OF THE FIRST “Amoraim” in Palestine, called also Rabbi Chanina the Great.1)תענית כ״ז ב׳, יבמות מ״ג א׳, ירושלמי יבמות פרק ב׳ הלכה א׳. He was a priest and it was said that he always returned to parents the money which he received at the ceremony of “redeeming a first-born son.”2)בכורות נ״א ב׳. He was said to devote himself to healing and he was acquainted with the nature of serpents.3)יומא מ״ט א׳, ירושלמי תרומות פרק ח׳ הלכה ג׳.
Rabbi Chanina was born in Babylonia and he came to Palestine to study with Rabbi Jehudah ha-Nasi after he was already the father of a son whom he brought with himself. He then settled in Sephoris where the academy of Rabbi Jehudah was situated, but for some unknown reason he was not liked by the inhabitants of the city. Thus it was related that an epidemic once broke out in Sephoris, but it did not affect the street where Rabbi Chanina resided. The people were angered and said that he refused to pray for them, but Rabbi Chanina denied that his prayer could be of any avail as long as they conducted themselves immorally. Another time a drought occurred and although a fast day was declared no rain fell. Rabbi Chanina was then blamed and it was said that because he spoke evil of the people, God refused to heed their prayers.4)ירושלמי תענית פרק ג׳ הלכה ד׳.
When Rabbi Chanina arrived in Palestine, he was already well versed in the Scriptures, but this knowledge hindered his career, for it incurred the displeasure of Rabbi Jehudah, whom he once corrected. Rabbi Jehudah at that time remarked: “Where and from whom have you learned until now?” “From Rav Hamnuna the Scribe,” Rabbi Chanina replied. “Then go to Rav Hamnuna and have him ordain you,” Rabbi Jehudah exclaimed.
Only when the Nasi was nearing his death, did he command his son Rabban Gamliel to ordain Rabbi Chanina and to seat him in the first row in the academy. But Rabbi Chanina refused the last honor saying that Rabbi Ephes was older and therefore deserved the foremost seat.5)כתובות ק״ג ב׳. Rabbi Chanina believed that this act accounted for his long life and health, for even after he was eighty years of age, he could balance himself on one foot while removing his shoes. He added by saying: “The fact that my mother bathed me in warm water and anointed me with oil during my childhood contributed to my long life.”6)חולין כ״ד ב׳.
But although Rabbi Chanina was not ordained during the lifetime of Rabbi Jehudah, he was nevertheless highly respected by him, and whenever Rabbi Jehudah visited the representative of the emperor or was visited by him, Rabbi Chanina was always at his side.
One time, as Rabbi Chanina went on some mission to the Roman governor at Caesarea accompanied by Rabbi Joshua ben Levi, the governor arose to greet the messengers. His friends then asked him: “Why do you rise to greet Jews?”, and the governor replied: “These Jews resemble angels.”7)ירושלמי ברכות פרק ה׳ הלכה א׳.
From various expressions of Rabbi Chanina we gather that he was acquainted with the science of medicine and people often turned to him for medical advice.8)יומא מ״ט א׳. But although he believed that all actions are determined from above and that one does not even stir a finger unless it has been so determined in heaven,9)חולין ז׳ ב׳. he nevertheless declared that fevers and chills were exceptions,10)בבא מציעא ק״ז ב׳, בבא בתרא קמ״ד ב׳. and that 99 out of 100 people died through their own fault in not avoiding colds.11)ירושלמי שבת פרק י״ד הלכה ג׳. He likewise said: “Why do the people of Babylonia escape the skin ailment known as ראתן? It is because they eat a herb called תרדין which grows among the thorns. This herb they mix with a special kind of wine fermented from dates.”12)כתובות ע״ז ב׳.
Rabbi Chanina was modest toward his master, but he consciously maintained his dignity among his colleagues. When he met Rabbi Chiya at the death of Rabbi Jehudah there arose a dispute between them as to who did more for the advancement of the Torah and Rabbi Chanina declared that if the Torah were to be forgotten entirely, he could reconstitute it with his “pilpul.”13)כתובות ק״ג ב׳. It is also related that Rav (Aba Arecha) once read a chapter of the Torah before Rabbi Jehudah; as Rabbi Chiya entered in the middle of the reading, Rav began to read from the beginning again; then Bar-Kapara entered and again he reread the chapter. He repeated this also when Rabban Simeon, the son of the Nasi, entered in the middle of the reading, but when Rabbi Chanina entered, he refused to begin the chapter anew. This offended Rabbi Chanina and on thirteen successive eves of the Day of Atonement Rav visited Rabbi Chanina to ask his forgiveness, but the latter would not become reconciled.14)יומא פ״ז ב׳.
Rabbi Chanina maintained a close friendship with nearly all the contemporary Amoraim. One of these was Rabbi Jochanan, later the editor of the Jerusalem Talmud, who was first his pupil and later his close friend. Due to differences of opinion with Rabbi Chanina, Rabbi Jochanan left Sephoris and settled in Tiberias,15)ירושלמי ביצה פרק א׳ הלכה א׳. but these differences did not weaken their friendship and Rabbi Jochanan often visited his master in Sephoris.16)ויקרא רבה פּרשה כ״א פּיסקא ז׳. When Rabbi Chanina fell sick before his death, Rabbi Jochanan went to visit him, but on the road he met a man of Sephoris and he asked him: “What new things have happened in your city?” and the man replied: “A great rabbi died and everybody is hurrying to the funeral.” Rabbi Jochanan then understood that Rabbi Chanina had died and he rent his garments as a sign of mourning.17)ירושלמי בבא מציעא פרק ב׳ הלכה י״א. Others told that Rabbi Jochanan carried thirteen garments to wear and that he tore all of them exclaiming: “The man who nourished me with Torah has gone.”18)מועד קטן כ״ד א׳.
Every word which Rabbi Chanina had heard directly from Rabbi Jehudah, or which he heard repeated in the name of Rabbi Jehudah, he considered to be sacred and he would not deviate from it. In all questions that arose, Rabbi Chanina relied on the conduct of Rabbi Jehudah in similar cases and whenever a question arose to which Rabbi Chanina could find no answer in the Mishna, he consulted his colleagues and even his disciples. Rabbi Jochanan and Resh Lakish were thus greatly surprised when he asked their opinion in a matter which could easily be explained; but Rabbi Chanina said to them: “May evil come upon me if I ever made any statement which I have not previously heard from Rabbi Jehudah as many times as I have hair on my head. In all matters of law I would observe the conduct of Rabbi on three occasions in similar cases, but this matter concerning which I asked you I only witnessed Rabbi Jehudah observe twice. I therefore asked your opinion in order that it should be as if I had seen it observed a third time.”19)ירושלמי נדה פרק ב׳ הלכה ז׳.
This strict adherence to tradition and the constant repetition of opinions of previous authorities was disapproved of by the other scholars of the time who did not want to allow the interpretation of the Torah to lose its vitality. Many of them therefore left Rabbi Chanina and opened academies of their own. But these differences were only theoretical and did not diminish the personal regard which they felt for each other. On the contrary, Rabbi Chanina was always glad of the honor which was bestowed upon his pupils of the past.
Thus it is told that as he was once strolling in the street he saw all people abandon their work and don festive garments. He asked what the occasion for rejoicing was and he was told: “Your pupil Rabbi Jochanan has arrived and he will lecture at the academy; everybody therefore hastens to hear him.” Rabbi Chanina then pronounced the blessing of “Schehechayanu” that he had lived to see the honor accorded to his disciple.20)ירושלמי הוריות פרק ג׳ הלכה ד׳.
Rabbi Chanina gained his livelihood from trade in honey. On one occasion he sold a large quantity of fig honey and from the considerable profit which he realized by this transaction he built the academy at Sephoris.21)ירושלמי פּאָה פרק ז׳ הלכה ג׳.
His love for Palestine was indescribable. It was said that wherever he went he removed the stones and other hindrances from the way in order to smooth the road and to improve it. He was said to be able to distinguish between the soil of Palestine and soil of other lands by merely taking a lump of it in his hand. When one of his young pupils, Rabbi Simeon bar Aba, asked him whether he should go to a foreign land and requested a letter of recommendation to the scholars in Babylonia, Rabbi Chanina said to him: “I cannot give it to you, for tomorrow I may see your parents (I may die) and they may complain to me that they had owned a beautiful flower in Palestine and that I had allowed it to be transplanted to a foreign land.”22)ירושלמי מועד קטן פרק ג׳ הלכה א׳.
From Rabbi Chanina’s statements it is obvious that he believed that God rewards man according to his deeds and even though judgment may be delayed it was certain that God would not overlook anyone’s sins, for whatever He does is done in a spirit of justice.23)בבא קמא נ׳ א׳. It is therefore better that man should sin secretly, if he does so, and should not profane the name of God in public.24)קדושין מ׳ א׳.
But although Rabbi Chanina believed that all man’s actions were controlled from above even to the extent of stirring a finger, he nevertheless added that “fear of God” was dependent on the individual.25)ברכות ל״ג ב׳. Regarding relations between people Rabbi Chanina said: “He who raises his hand against his neighbor, even though he does not strike him, has already sinned. He who strikes a Jew, is like one who struck the Shechinah.”26)סנהדרין נ״ח ב׳.
“There are people,” Rabbi Chanina said, “who sin on earth, but do not sin against heaven; then there are others who sin against heaven but do not sin on earth, but he who engages in slander sins both against heaven and against earth.”27)קהלת רבה פּרשה ט׳ פּיסקא י״ג.
“There are various kinds of wicked men. Some are sly and these are worse than the ordinary sinner, for they always prove their innocence. During a trial, for instance, such a man comes before the judge before the other party has arrived and he presents his arguments thereby influencing the judge in his favor. A judge must therefore be careful not to heed the words of one of the sides until the opposing side is also present.”28)סנהדרין ז׳ ב׳.
Like other scholars Rabbi Chanina also praised charity and he said: “Charity may be compared to a garment. The stuff of a garment is woven out of single threads. Charity likewise is gathered in single coins until it accumulates into a considerable sum.”29)בבא בתרא ט׳ ב׳. “In the distribution of charity scholars should be considered first, for he who shames a scholar should be considered a heretic who does not deserve a share in the world to come.”30)סנהדרין צ״ט א׳. “He who shows ill will toward scholars in this world will have his ears filled with smoke in the world to come,”31)בבא בתרא ע״ה א׳. “but one who gains the approval of his teachers is certain of a share in the world to come.”32)שבת קע״ג א׳.
At the same time scholars are obliged to teach all those who wish to learn and a scholar who refuses to read a chapter of the Scriptures or to teach a chapter of the Mishna to one who requests it by saying “Leave me! I have not the strength for it,” to him God says: “The time will come when you will in truth not have the strength to teach.”33)איכה רבתי פּרשה א׳ פּיסקא ל״ח.
Rabbi Chanina believed in the influence of stars (מזל) on human life. “The stars make one wise and also rich,” he said. In contradistinction to those who said, “Jews have no stars,”34)נדרים ל״ב ב׳. Rabbi Chanina declared that “Jews have stars.”35)שבת קנ״ו ב׳.
The Sabbath he considered to be the most important day of the week which should be honored by wearing special garments. Every man, he said, should have two sets of garments, one for week days and the other for the Sabbath.36)ירושלמי פּאה פרק ח׳ הלכה ח׳. Each Sabbath eve Rabbi Chanina donned his Sabbath garments and said to his friends and disciples: “Let us go to greet the queen Sabbath.”37)שבת קי״ט א׳.
Like his contemporaries Rabbi Chanina met with suffering but he did not allow these to influence his attitude toward life and he always controlled his reactions. Only once did he omit his daily prayer due to anger.38)עריבין ס״ה א׳. When his daughter died, he did not weep. His wife thereupon chided him and said: “Even when a hen is lost from the house one regrets it.” But Rabbi Chanina replied: “One cannot bear two griefs. I suffer enough that I am now childless, must I also weep until I become blind?”39)שבת קנ״א ב׳. Rabbi Chanina also did not mourn when his son, Shivchath, died. He accepted it as a just act of God and merely said that his son died because he “cut down the fig before it was time.”40)בבא קמא צ״א ב׳, בבא בתרא כ״ו א׳.
Rabbi Chanina scolded the inhabitants of his city for their immorality and he said: “During the time of Moses there was one Zimri and 24 thousand Jews lost their lives on his account. In this generation we have many Zimri’s. Why then should we complain if God punishes us?”41)ירושלמי תענית פרק ג׳ הלכה ב׳.
When asked to what he ascribed his long life, Rabbi Chanina sometimes explained it by natural reasons as due to the warm baths and the anointment with oil which he received as a child. At other times he ascribed it to the fact that he gave up the foremost seat in the academy, which was offered to him by the Nasi to Rabbi Ephes, or to the special effort which he made by going out of his way on the road from Sephoris to Tiberias in order to greet Rabbi Simeon ben Chalafta.42)ירושלמי תענית פרק ד׳ הלכה ב׳.