Tanna Debe Eliyyahu: The Lore of the School of Elijah

Tanna Debe Eliyyahu: The Lore of the School of Elijah

Tanna Debe Eliyyahu: The Lore of the School of Elijah

Tanna Debe Eliyyahu: The Lore of the School of Elijah

Excerpt

Except for an abridged translation into Yiddish, the work now in the reader's hand has never been translated from the original Hebrew. It has most often gone under the Hebrew title Tanna děbe Eliyydhu or Seder Eliyyahu, although it has been conjectured that the two titles refer to two separate works, one of which, the Seder, is no longer extant. A literal translation of the first title would be "The Lore of Elijah" or "The Lore of the School of Elijah," and of the other title "The Work of Elijah"; but none of these translations attests to the vitality and scope of the work.

Tanna děbe Eliyyahu has a unity of thought and feeling, of style and structure, that makes it seem the work of a single individual. Even if it be considered the product of a school, it is still likely that the text as we have it came from the head of the school, possibly a school named for him. In any event, he was a man of so strong a spirit as to impress it deeply upon the work, no matter how many of his disciples may have participated in its composition.

There is, indeed, a detailed legendary account of the work's origin, an account which has prefaced every edition of the work, that attributes it to an individual named Elijah, that individual no other than the prophet Elijah himself. According to the legend, the prophet dictated the two parts of the work over two separate periods to R. Anan, a Babylonian teacher and judge who lived in the third century C.E. During the earlier period Elijah dictated the first and larger portion termed the Rabbah (i.e., "the Greater") and some time afterward, during the second period, dictated the second and briefer portion termed the Zuṭa (i.e., "the Lesser").

One day, so the legend begins, a man brought a catch of small marsh fish to R. Anan. R. Anan asked why the man was presenting the fish to him, and the man replied that he had a lawsuit coming up before the rabbi. Thereupon R. Anan declined the gift, adding that he was simultaneously disqualifying himself as a judge in the man's case.

The man answered that he would not plead with R. Anan to hear his case, but would ask him, nevertheless, to accept the fish as an offering of first fruits, on the ground that it was proper, in the absence . . .

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