Rabbi Joshua ben Hananiah and the Iran Deal

How should you react when you suspect an offer from a powerful player? A second century sage, Rabbi Joshua ben Hananiah says: Suspect, Respect, and Expect to get less.

The major issue in his generation was relations with the Roman Empire. Over a generation earlier, (in 66 CE) Judea had revolted against Roman rule; and at the end of 3 1/2 years of terrible warfare, the Roman Army destroyed Jerusalem and its Holy Temple. Now the Romans seemed willing to allow Jerusalem to be rebuilt.

According to the Genesis Rabbah 64:10 account: In the days of Rabbi Joshua ben Hananiah the [Roman] State ordered the Temple be rebuilt. Pappus and Lulianus set tables from Acco as far as Antioch and provided those who came up from the Exile with all their needs.

The Samaritans went and warned [the Emperor]: ‘Be it known now to the king, that if this rebellious city be rebuilt and the walls finished, they [the Jews] will not pay tribute, impost or toll taxes.’

What can I do,’ said the Emperor, ‘seeing that I have already given the order?’ ‘Send a command to them that they must change its [the Temple’s] site, or add five cubits or reduce it by five cubits, and then they will withdraw from it of their own accord.’ (The Jews will reject the good because they want the perfect; and so will forfeit everything. Indeed, this is what they did.)

Now the Community [of Israel] was assembled in the plain of Beth Rimmon; when the [government] dispatches arrived, they burst out weeping, (because they could not have the Temple the way they wanted it) and wanted to revolt against [Rome’s] power (and make things much worse).

So they [the Sages] decided: Let Rabbi Joshua ben Hananiah go, as he is a master of Scripture. He went and (avoiding Scripture and using pragmatism) harangued them: A wild lion killed [and ate an animal], and a bone stuck in his throat. So he proclaimed: ‘I will reward anyone who removes it.’

An Egyptian heron, which has a long beak, came and pulled the bone out and demanded his reward. The lion replied, ‘Go away! and you will be able to boast that you entered the lion’s mouth in peace [whole] and came out in peace [whole]’.

So, let us be satisfied that we entered into dealings with this people in peace and have emerged in peace.”

Rabbi Joshua was successful in calming the people and they did not revolt. Unfortunately, about two decades later they did revolt with the support of Rabbi Akiva; and a great disaster occurred.

But Rabbi Joshua ben Hananiah’s teaching was not just pragmatic. It was based, according to Derekh Eretz Rabbah 56b and Kallah Rabbati 54b, on his own philosophy: “Regard everyone as a potential robber; but show them great respect.” I.e. suspect and respect.

Once Rabbi Joshua extended hospitality to a man, offering him food and drink. At night he took him up to the loft to sleep and then removed the ladder. In the middle of the night the man collected all the valuables and wrapped them in his cloak. He started to descend, thinking the ladder was still there, and fell and broke his collarbone.

Rabbi Joshua called him a fool. The man replied that he did not know the rabbi had removed the ladder. “ Fool, I suspected you from the moment you arrived.” Rabbi Joshua treated the man with respect because his suspicions might have been wrong. But he took precautions, and in case his suspicions were correct.

Thus, in regard to the Iran Deal Rabbi Joshua ben Hananiah would say: Suspect, Respect, and Expect to get less.

About the Author
Rabbi Allen S. Maller has published over 850 articles on Jewish values in over a dozen Christian, Jewish, and Muslim magazines and web sites. Rabbi Maller is the author of "Tikunay Nefashot," a spiritually meaningful High Holy Day Machzor, two books of children's short stories, and a popular account of Jewish Mysticism entitled, "God, Sex and Kabbalah." His most recent books are "Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms' and "Which Religion Is Right For You?: A 21st Century Kuzari" both available on Amazon.
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