Our Gemara brings a baraita in which Yosei ben Yo’ezer of Tzereida teaches two halakhot:
- The grasshopper known as eil kamtza is kosher.
- Liquids that are found in the slaughterhouse area of the Temple are tahor.
While this baraita is quoted in order to offer support to the opinion that liquids do not transfer tumah (ritual impurity), it is of interest for a number of reasons.
With regard to Yosei ben Yo’ezer’s first teaching, it should be noted that there are several types of grasshoppers that are enumerated in the Torah as being kosher. In fact, the Torah includes a list of simanim – indicative signs in the body of a grasshopper – that would attest to its kashrut. Nevertheless, these signs only apply to certain families of grasshoppers, and tradition has it that we do not eat grasshoppers unless there is an established tradition indicating that this particular type of insect is kosher. Since there are certain types of grasshoppers whose status is not clear, it was necessary to offer testimony regarding this particular one.
Yosei ben Yo’ezer of Tzereida was one of the earliest sages whose teachings have been handed down to us by name. The sages of that early period did not get the titles of “Rabbi” or “Rav” that we are familiar with from later generations. There is a tradition that the names of those early sages were an indication of the honor that they deserved – an even greater honor than any title could have bestowed on them. As noted in Pirkei Avot, he and his colleague, Yosei ben Yohanan ish Yerushalayim, were the first of the zugot – “pairs” when Yosei ben Yo’ezer was leader of the Sanhedrin. The first recorded argument in the Talmud is between them, an argument that laid the foundation for disagreements between Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai in later generations.
According to the Midrash, Yosei ben Yo’ezer lived during the period of the decrees of Antiochus Epiphanes, and his nephew was one of the leading radical Hellenists. His death is attributed to the governmental decrees of that period. Upon his death the sages said “batlu ha-eshkolot,” a reference to Yosei ben Yo’ezer’s uniqueness as someone whose personality encompassed Torah knowledge, fear of heaven and generosity to others.