Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility Skip to content

Coming Home

When we reach the very end of Ketubot, in a string of stories about the greatness of the Land of Israel, we will encounter Rabbi Zeira as he enters the land. But of course he already appears in so many places in the Gemara, so let us talk about him now, since we hear an opinion from him on daf 97 of Ketubot.

Rabbi Zeira was a third generation amora who was fortunate enough to live and study in both the great centers of Torah of his time, in Babylonia and in Eretz Israel. His journey from one place to another was fraught with difficulties and challenge and many stories are told about him and how he overcame his troubles as the quintessential oleh chadash, new immigrant.

Rabbi Zeira studied at both of the yeshivot of Babylonia of his time, Sura and Pumbedita. His teachers were the heads of these schools, respectively, Rav Huna of Sura and Rav Yehuda of Pumbedita. Despite his privileged position as the student of these two giants, Rabbi Zeira yearned to study with the scholars of the Land of Israel. He would send messages with the rabbis who traveled back and forth, asking them to confirm certain things that he heard (Eruvin 80a). He also expressed the desire to sit and hear the Torah of the Land of Israel himself:

Rabbi Zeira said: May it be God鈥檚 will that I merit to ascend to Eretz Yisrael, and that I learn this halakha from the mouth of its Master, Rabbi Elazar.鈥 (Niddah 48a)

As much as Rabbi Zeira wanted to leave for the Land of Israel, he had one major obstacle in his path 鈥 his revered teacher Rav Yehuda. As strange as it may sound to us today, Rav Yehuda believed that the Jews of Babylonia were not allowed to leave and return to Israel since they had been sent into exile as a punishment from God and thus they needed to wait for Him to return them:

鈥淎s Rav Yehuda said: Anyone who ascends from Babylonia to Eretz Yisrael transgresses a positive commandment, as it is stated: 鈥淭hey shall be taken to Babylonia and there they shall remain until the day that I recall them, said the Lord鈥 (Jeremiah 27:22).鈥 (Shabbat 41a)

Most Orthodox Jews disagree with this idea today but it still exists and is the reasoning behind the anti-Zionist stance of the Satmar Hasidim.

Despite his teacher鈥檚 objections, Rabbi Zeira eventually made his way to Israel. His entry into the land was a precarious one. He had to cross over the Jordan River, something that was usually done with the aid of a ferry. However, no ferry was coming so Rabbi Zeira decided to make his own way across, with the help of a rope strung across the river, a primitive version of a zipline. We actually can see such a contraption in the Medva map picture of the Jordan, a church mosaic made a few centuries after Rabbi Zeira鈥檚 crossing:

(Wikipedia)

A Samaritan who sees Rabbi Zeira鈥檚 dangerous feat chastises him for being headstrong. Rabbi Zeira answers him:

Rabbi Zeira said to him: This is a place where Moses and Aaron did not merit entering; who is to say that I will merit seeing this land?鈥 (Ketubot 112a)

Once in the land, Rabbi Zeira鈥檚 travails continue. He is a greenhorn in every way 鈥 his accent, speech and clothes give him away as a Babylonian and he is mocked by others and made the butt of jokes:

鈥淗e went and wanted to buy a pound of red meat from a butcher. He asked him: How much is that pound? He said to him, 50 minas and one slap. He said to him: Take 60 [and do not slap me], but he did not accept. Take 70, but he did not accept. Take 80, take 90, until he came to 100 and he did not accept. Then he said: Do what is your routine. The next morning he went to the Academy and said to them: Rabbis, what is this bad practice here that nobody can eat a pound of red meat unless they slap him!鈥 (Yerushalmi Berachot 2:8)

Despite this bad treatment, Rabbi Zeira had no desire to return to Babylonia. He immersed himself in the Torah of the Land of Israel and even fasted so as to forget his Babylonian learning (Bava Metzia 85a). He claimed that the air of the land of Israel makes one more wise (Baba Batra 158b) and he went to study with the giants of the land: Rabbi Yochanan and Resh Lakish, Rabbi Ami and Rabbi Asi. Eventually he became such a patriot that he himself, a born and bred Babylonian, referred to other Babylonians as 讘讘诇讗讬 讟讬驻砖讗讬, stupid Babylonians! (Betzah 16a)

Rabbi Zeira became so identified with the scholars of the land of Israel that his honorific is the one for Israel scholars and not Babylonian ones: Rabbi and not Rav. More poetically, when he died he was eulogized in a way that befit his growth in the two great Torah centers of his time:

讗侄专侄抓 砖讈执谞职注指专 讛指专指讛 讜职讬指诇职讚指讛, 讗侄专侄抓 爪职讘执讬 讙旨执讬讚旨职诇指讛 砖讈址注植砖讈讜旨注侄讬讛指

鈥淭he land of Shinar [Babylonia]聽 conceived and gave birth to him but the land of beauty [Eretz Yisrael] raised the darling of Babylonia鈥 (Moed Katan 25b)

Shulie Mishkin

Shulie Mishkin made Aliyah from New York with a Master's degree in Jewish History from Columbia University. After completing the Ministry of Tourism guide course in 1997, she began guiding professionally and has since taught and guided all ages, from toddlers to retirees. Her tours provide a complete picture of the land of Israel and Jewish heritage, with a strong reliance on sources ranging from the Bible to 19th century travelers' reports. Alongside her regular guide work, she teaches "tour and text" courses in the Jerusalem institutions of Pardes and Matan as wel as the Women's Bet Midrash in Efrat and provides tours for special needs students in the 鈥淒arkaynu鈥 program. Shulie lives in Alon Shvut with her husband Jonathan and their five kids. Shulie Mishkin is now doing virtual tours online. Check out the options at https://www.shuliemishkintours.com/virtual-tours
Scroll To Top