Editor’s note: From 5-17-13 to 6-21-13 we answered an e-mail from Menachem who had asked whether Rabbi Yehudah the Prince purposely omitted any mention of the Hasmonean kings from the Mishnah. Menachem had heard that Rabbi Yehudah, as a descendant of King David, perhaps omitted them to indicate that they had improperly crowned themselves, ignoring the Biblical rule that all Jewish kings are supposed to come from the tribe of Yehudah. The following query challenges the very basis of Menachem’s question.
Question: The famous Iggeret of Rav Sherira Gaon references Yerushalmi Kilaim 9:3 and Kesubos 12:3 and states that Rabbi Judah the Prince descended from Hillel who, in turn, descended from the tribe of Binyamin – not Yehudah. The Iggeret also discusses how the Mishnah was written and how Rabbi Judah worked on it. Had Menachem read this Iggeret by Rav Sherira Gaon – who, incidentally, was a direct descendant of King David – I don’t think he would have asked his question.
Answer: Before we turn to the Iggeret of Rav Sherira Gaon, let us first review the Gemara in Ketubot (62b). The Gemara relates the following: “Rabbi [Judah the Prince] was engaged in marrying off his son to [a daughter of] the family of R. Chiyyah. When the time came to write the ketubah, the intended bride passed away. Rabbi saw in this tragedy a bad omen and remarked: ‘Is it at all possible that there is a blemish [in this union]?’ They searched the families’ genealogy. The family of Rabbi descended from Shephatiah b. Abital and R. Chiyyah descended from Shimie, the brother of [King] David.”
Rashi (sv “Shephatiah b. Abital”) explains that Shephatiah was King David’s son, as Abital, his mother, was King David’s wife. R. Chiyyah, on the other hand, descended from Shimie, who was a brother of David. This was considered a blemish. A daughter of Shimie was not considered an appropriate match for Rabbi’s son because she was not a scion of kings.
The Gemara continues, relating that Rabbi subsequently made arrangements for his son to marry the daughter of R. Yosi b. Zimra. (This was then considered a fitting match since both families descended from King David). From this Gemara we learn that Rabbi Judah the Prince was a descendant of King David.
Furthermore, the Talmud Yerushalmi (Taanit 4:2) states: A genealogical scroll – megillat yochasin – was found in Jerusalem. Written therein was that Hillel was of the house of King David. A Midrash (Berishit Rabbah to Parashat Vayechi, 98:13) reports similarly.
Etz Yosef (ad loc. in his commentary to the Midrash sv “Hillel mi’David”) states that the nessi’im, the princes of Israel, descended from Hillel. The verse speaks of them when it states: (Genesis 49:10), “Lo yasur shevet mi’yehudah – The scepter shall not depart from Judah.”
We also know that Rabbi descended from Hillel from Pirkei Avot. In Avot 1:16, Rabban Gamliel states that a person should appoint a teacher for himself. Rashi explains that this is Rabban Gamaliel (the elder son of Rabbi Shimon), son of Hillel. In the next two mishnayot (1:17-18) we find statements of Rabbi Shimon, Hillel’s son; in the following chapter (2:1) we find statements of Rabbi (the son of Rabbi Shimon b. Gamliel); then in the next mishnah (2:2), we find a statement of Rabbi Gamliel, son of Rabbi Judah the Prince.
(To be continued)