י״ד בתשרי ה׳תשע״ט (September 23, 2018)

Menahot 45a-b: Saving the Book of Yehezkel From Oblivion

Following the Gemara’s interpretation of a series of difficult passages from Sefer Yeḥezkel, Rav Yehuda quoted Rav as saying:

That man is to be remembered for good, and Ḥanina ben Ḥizkiyya is his name; for were it not for him the Book of Yeḥezkel would have been suppressed, since its sayings contradicted the words of the Torah. What did he do? He took up with him three hundred jugs of oil and remained there in the upper chamber until he had explained away everything.

Ḥanina (or Ḥananya) ben Ḥizkiyya ben Garon (or Guryon) was one of the important scholars who lived in the generation following Hillel and Shammai. Ḥanina’s attic served as an important meeting place for of that time, where significant issues were discussed and decided. Among his most noteworthy works was Ḥanina’s collection of Megillat Ta’anit, the first time Rabbinic oral traditions were set into writing. In this effort he was assisted by his son, Rabbi Eliezer, who may, in fact, have done most of the work in organizing and producing that material.

Megillat Ta’anit is a little known collection of statements about minor holidays and fasts that commemorate events which took place during the Second Temple period. On the minor holidays, fasting and eulogies were forbidden. Most of the events that are commemorated are from the period of the Hasmonean monarchy – a prime example being the story of Hanukkah – although there are also events from earlier and later periods included, as well. This work is set up chronologically, and it includes the date and a brief account of the incident written in Aramaic,  followed by a fuller description of the event in Hebrew. (Although it is not part of the standard texts of Talmud, the Steinsaltz Talmud includes it as an addendum to the volume that contains Massekhet Ta’anit).

As our Gemara explains, and as appears in other places, Ḥanina ben Ḥizkiyya devoted himself to assuring that the Book of Yeḥezkel would be included in the accepted Biblical canon which was a matter of concern since there are a number of passages that appear to contradict Biblical teachings.  To that end he homiletically interpreted the verses that appear to contradict what is stated in the Torah.