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Academy on High

In rabbinic tradition, a heavenly body of scholars. Post-mishnaic (talmudic and midrashic) literature speaks of an Academy on High, for which two terms are used: "Yeshivah shel Ma'lah" ("Academy on High") and "Metivta de-Raki'a" ("Academy of the Sky"). It is clear from Bava Mezia 86a that the two terms are identical. Generally speaking, the Academy on High has the same features as an earthly academy. Scholars continue their studies and debates there; therefore the death of a sage is expressed as a summons to the Academy on High (BM 86a). Very daringly, the Almighty Himself is made to participate in its debates and is not even an absolute authority. One of His rulings is contested by all the other scholars, and a human, Rabbah b. Nahamani, is especially summoned from earth (i.e., to die) for a final decision, which he gives before he dies. Although his ruling concurs with that of the Almighty, it is given independently.

Every day God gives a new interpretation of the Torah (Gen. R. 49:2), and He cites the opinions of various scholars (Ḥag. 15b). He also instructs young children who died before they could study (Av. Zar. 3b; however, the Academy on High is not mentioned there). The most surprising of all students is *Asmodeus , the king of the demons, who is depicted as studying daily in both the heavenly and the earthly academies (Git. 68a). Admission to the Academy on High is automatic for scholars (Eccl. R. 5:11, no. 5), although it may be denied for certain reasons (Ber. 18b). Others may enjoy the privilege for particularly meritorious deeds. These include teaching Torah to a neighbor's son (BM 85a) and assisting scholars to study by promoting their commercial ventures (Pes. 53b).

Greetings were sent from this Academy to people who were still alive. Abbaye received these once a week on the eve of the Sabbath. Rava, his contemporary, was greeted once a year, on the eve of the Day of Atonement. However, a certain *Abba Umana ("the bloodletter") was privileged to receive greetings daily because of the due proprieties which he observed when bleeding women patients. Scholars have their definite places there, according to rank. The great amora Johanan was not deemed worthy of sitting next to Ḥiyya (BM 85b). They sit in a semi-circle, like the Sanhedrin on earth (Eccles. R. 1:11, no. 1). Nothing suggests that this academy is identical with paradise. On the Day of Atonement, before Kol Nidrei, the permission of the Academy on High is invoked to hold the Service together with "transgressors." It is also invoked in the prayer recited before changing the name of a sick person, see Seder Berakhot (Amsterdam, 1687), 259ff.

[Harry Freedman]

In Kabbalah

The Zohar makes a clear distinction between the two terms "Academy of Heaven" and "Academy on High." The former is headed by *Metatron and the latter by God Himself (II, 273b; III, 163a, 192a, 197b, 241b, etc.). Promotion from one academy to the other is mentioned, as are some academy heads in certain departments of the heavenly academy, e.g., "the Academy of Moses", "the Academy of Aaron." A long section in the portion Shelaḥ Lekha (III, 162ff.) is devoted to a description of the imaginary wanderings of *Simeon b. Yoḥai in these academies and his meeting with the head of the Academy of Heaven. The place of Metatron in the Zohar is taken in the Testament of Rabbi Eliezer the Great, composed by the author of the Zohar himself, by Rav Gaddiel Na'ar, who forms the subject of a special legend (Seder Gan Eden, Beit Midrash of Jellinek, III, 136). In order to distinguish between the two academies, Midrash ha-Ne'lam on Ruth (Zohar Ḥadash, 84a) changed the term "Academy of Heaven" which occurs in the Talmud (Ber. 12b) to "Academy on High." Legendary motifs concerning the Heavenly Academy which occur in the Talmud were completely remolded in the Zohar, especially in the story of R. Ḥiyya's ascent to the Academy of Heaven (Zohar I, 4a). The *Messiah seems also to come into this academy at certain times so as to study the Torah with the sages of the academy.

[Gershom Scholem]


Ginzberg, Legends, index S.V. Academy, and Heavenly Academy; G. Scholem, in: Le-Agnon Shai (1959), 290–305.

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.