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Neḥunya ben Ha-Kanah

NEḤUNYA BEN HA-KANAH (dates uncertain), tanna. Mishnah Ber. 4:2 relates two prayers which he would recite when entering and leaving the study hall. An aggadic statement is transmitted in his name in Avot 3:5, and two halakhot are transmitted in his name in Tosefta Ket. 3:5. One of these halakhot is brought in Tosefta BK 7:18, apparently responding to the words of R. Meir. Similarly his statement in Avot follows the statements of R. Simeon and Haninah b. Hakinai, which would place him in the fourth generation of tannaim, in the middle to end of the second century. On the other hand, the Babylonian Talmud asserts that *Ishmael received from Neḥunya his practice of interpreting the Torah with the hermeneutical rule of kelal u-ferat ("general propositions and particulars," see *Midrashei Halakhah, Distinct Exegetical Methods), which would place him in the second generation of tannaim. This tradition may, however, be a later expansion and elaboration of the relatively early tradition according to which Akiva learned the principle of ribbui u-mi'ut ("extension and limitation") from *Naḥum of Gimzo (Shevu. 26a). Similarly, the Talmud relates a discussion between Neḥunya and Johanan b. Zakkai (see BB 10b), but this is a relatively late aggadic traditon whose historical authenticity cannot be confirmed. So also the Tanḥuma (Deut. to 26:13) cites a halakhic discussion between him and Joshua b. Ḥananiah, referring to him as Neḥunya b. ha-Kanah of Emmaus. He is named in the TB as disputing with R. Eliezer and R. Joshua (Ḥullin 129b), but in Eduyot 6:3 and 4 it is clear that the tanna originally mentioned in this tradition was Neḥunya b. Elinathan of Kefar ha-Bavli.

He dictum in Avot was: "He who takes upon himself the yoke of Torah will have the yoke of worldly care removed from him; but he who casts off the yoke of Torah will have placed upon him the yoke of the kingdom and the yoke of worldly care" (Avot 3:5). The talmudic tradition transmits the text of the prayers which he spoke when entering and leaving the house of study as follows: "On entering what did he say? 'May it be Thy will, Oh Lord, that I become not impatient with my fellows and that they become not impatient with me, that we declare not the clean unclean nor the unclean clean… so that I be not put to shame both in this world and in the world to come.' On his departure what did he say? 'I give thanks to Thee, O Lord, that thou hast set my portion with those who sit in houses of study and in synagogues and not with those who sit in theaters and circuses. For I toil and they toil. I am industrious and they are industrious. I toil to possess the Garden of Eden and they toil for the pit of destruction'" (TJ, Ber. 4:2, 7d: cf. Ber. 28b for another tradition). The TB relates that when Neḥunya's pupils asked him by what virtue he had attained old age, he replied: "Never in my life have I sought honor through the degradation of my fellow, nor has the curse of my fellow gone up with me upon my bed [i.e., he forgave all who had vexed him before retiring to sleep], and I have been generous with my money" (Meg. 28a). The medieval Kabbalists attributed to him the mystical work Sefer ha-Bahir. The prayer *Anna be-Kho'aḥ (based upon the Divine Name of 42 letters) is also ascribed to him.


Hyman, Toledot, 923; Frankel, Mishnah, 105; Bacher, Tann, 1 (19032), index; J. Bruell, Mevo ha-Mishnah, 1 (1876), 94.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.