Simeon the Just

Simeon the Just

Simeon the Just (Hebrew: שמעון הצדיק) (or Shimon HaTzaddik or Shimon the Pious or Simeon the Righteous) was the Jewish High Priest during the time of the Second Temple. He is also known for some of his views which are recorded in the Mishnah, (making him a "Tanna" in Rabbinic terminology).

Confusion as to Identity

Simeon the Just is identical either with Simon I (310-291 or 300-270 BCE), son of Onias I, and grandson of Jaddua, or with Simon II (219-199 BCE), son of Onias II. Many statements concerning him are variously ascribed by scholars to four different persons who bore the same surname; e.g., to Simeon I by Fränkel and Grätz; to Simeon II by Krochmal and Brüll; to Simon Maccabeus by Löw; and to Simeon the son of Gamaliel by Weiss.

About no other high priest does such a mixture of fact and fiction center, the Talmud, Josephus, Sirach and the Second Book of Maccabees all containing accounts of him. He was termed "the Just" either because of the piety of his life and his benevolence toward his compatriots (Josephus, "Antiquities," 12:2, § 5), or because he took thought for his people ("Ecclesiasticus" 50. 4). He was deeply interested both in the spiritual and in the material development of the nation. Thus, according to "Ecclesiasticus" 50. 1-14, he rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem, which had been torn down by Ptolemy Soter, and repaired the damage done to the Temple, raising the foundation-walls of its court and enlarging the cistern therein so that it was like a pool (that these statements can apply only to Simeon I is shown by Grätz, and they agree, moreover, with the Talmudic accounts of Simeon's undertakings).

When Alexander the Great marched through Palestine in the year 333 BCE, Simeon the Just, according to the legend, dressed in his eight priestly robes went to Antipatris to meet him ("Yoma" 69a), although Josephus (l.c. xi.8, § 4) states that Alexander himself came to Jerusalem (but see "Jew. Encyc." i.341b, vii.51b). The legend further declares that as soon as the Macedonian saw the high priest, he descended from his chariot and bowed respectfully before him. When Alexander's courtiers criticized his act, he replied that it had been intentional, since he had had a vision in which he had seen the high priest, who had predicted his victory. Alexander demanded that a statue of himself be placed in the Temple; but the high priest explained to him that this was impossible, promising him instead that all the sons born of priests in that year should be named Alexander and that the Seleucidan era should be introduced ("Lev. R." xiii, end; "Pesiḳ. R.," section "Parah"). This story appears to be identical with "III Macc. ii", where Seleucus (Kasgalgas) is mentioned ("Soṭah" 33a; "Yer. Soṭah" ix. 3; "Cant. R." 38c; "Tosef., Soṭah," xiii). During the administration of Simeon the Just the Red Heifer is said to have been burned twice, and he therefore built two wooden bridges from the Temple Mount to the Mount of Olives ("Parah" iii.6; "Yer. Sheḳ." iv.2).

His Position

Simeon occupied a position intermediate between the Hasmoneans and the Hellenists, while, as he himself boasted, he was an opponent of the Nazirites and ate of the sacrifice offered by one of that sect only on a single occasion. Once a youth with flowing hair came to him and wished to have his head shorn. When asked his motive, the youth replied that he had seen his own face reflected in a spring and it had pleased him so that he feared lest his beauty might become an idol to him. He therefore wished to offer up his hair to God, and Simeon then partook of the sin-offering which he brought ("Naz." 4b; "Ned." 9b; "Yer. Ned." 36d; "Tosef.", "Naz." iv; "Yer. Naz." i.7).

Length of Tenure

During Simeon's administration seven miracles are said to have taken place. A blessing rested (1) on the offering of the first fruits, (2) on the two sacrificial loaves, and (3) on the loaves of showbread, in that, although each priest received a portion no larger than an olive, he ate and was satiated without even consuming the whole of it; (4) the lot cast for God (see "Lev." xvi.8) always came into the right hand; (5) the red thread around the neck of the ram invariably became white on the Day of Atonement; (6) the light in the Temple never failed; and (7) the fire on the altar required but little wood to keep it burning ("Yoma" 39b; "Men." 109b; "Yer. Yoma" vi.3). Simeon is said to have held office for forty years ("Yoma" 9a; "Yer. Yoma" i.1, v.2; "Lev. R." xxi). On a certain Day of Atonement he came from the Holy of Holies in a melancholy mood, and when asked the reason, he replied that on every Day of Atonement a figure clothed in white had ushered him into the Holy of Holies and then had escorted him out. This time, however, the apparition had been clothed in black and had conducted him in, but had not led him out—a sign that that year was to be his last. He is said to have died seven days later ("Yoma" 39b; "Tosef.", "Soṭah," xv; "Yer. Yoma" v.1).

Simeon the Just is called one of the last members of the Great Assembly, but it is no longer possible to determine which of the four who bore this name was really the last.

Elegy by Ben Sira

The personality of Simeon the Just, whose chief maxim was "The world exists through three things: the Law, worship, and beneficence" ("Pirkei Avoth" 1:2), and the high esteem in which he was held, are shown by a poem in "Ecclus." (Sirach) 50., which compares him, at the moment of his exit from the Holy of Holies, to the sun, moon, and stars, and to the most magnificent plants. This poem appeared with certain changes in the ritual of the evening service for the Day of Atonement; a translation of it is given in Grätz, "Gesch." ii.239, and in Hamburger, "R.B.T." ii.111. After Simeon's death men ceased to utter the Tetragrammaton aloud ("Yoma" 30b; "Tosef. Soṭah," xiii).

ee also

*Tomb of Simeon the Just



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