Honi and Hanina


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How much stock does Judaism take in the various miracles of Honi, the Circlemaker and Hanina ben Dosa, who were near-contemporaries of Jesus?

Are you asking if they are regarded as literally true, as containing some historical truth or as allegory? That would depend on the individual being addressed. There's no universal answer. And it's not jut Honi and Hanina. There is a lot of that sort of thing in the Talmud. There's a good collection of talmudic and later sources about that on this site:


It's specifically about Jewish shamanism and the scope is slightly broader but it references traditional sources repeatedly.

I guess I'm asking for literalness of it, as much as miracles in the Bible are concerned. I understand your view of it, dauer. But are there those who believe it to be true in this sense.

This has nothing to do with my view. Generally, unlike many other forum posters, I try to present a balanced answer that represents the many different views of my religio, that includes answers from the entire spectrum, especially because Judaism is so underrepresented on the forum. That is why, in my answer to your question I said "Are you asking if they are regarded as literally true, as containing some historical truth or as allegory? That would depend on the individual being addressed."

By individual I was not referring to me, but to the many individuals that make up Judaism. If you look at the ultra-orthodox, who had a particularly strong reaction to the modern era and the enlightenment, they'll more often than not say that it's literally true. If you go to the modern orthodox, who still had a backwards-turning Shammai-ic reaction to the modern era but due to influences by the liberal movements came to also embrace modernity, you'll get answers that most frequently reflect either that it contains some degree of historical truth or that it's a legend. In the liberal movements (which represent the majority view in Judaism) that reacted to modernity by embracing it while still maintaining their Judaism, much as Rambam embraced aristotelianism, the writers of the Torah embraced the local myths and hazal embraced greek hermeneutic, and the kabbalists embraced neo-platonic and gnostic ideas while at the same time putting a Jewish spin on it, you'll much more frequently hear that it's all legend but you'll also hear, like in Modern Orthodoxy, that there may be some historical truth behind the legend.

i think dauer pretty much covers it. the trouble is, dondi, it's all very well taking the Torah or Tanakh as being inalienable from its plain meaning (and what that actually means is quite complex) but once you start extending the "pshat" into things like aggadic tales from the mishnah and gemara, not to mention the midrash and kabbalistic writings, you would have to believe any number of apparently entirely contradictory things - remember, hazal often contradict each other and, although the halakhah must always be decided definitively for practical purposes, *aggadah* (which covers stuff like honi, hanina and mt sinai hovering over the heads of the children of israel, or the border mountains poking into caves and squashing the moabites - and, indeed matters of *theological speculation* outside the fundamentals) is not definitive and you are not obliged to take any one position as authoritative. for example, there's a dispute over precisely who heard what when they "saw the sounds" at mt sinai, some authorities saying it was the whole ten commandments, others saying it was just the first one, others saying it was the first word and some even saying it was just the first letter - which was an "aleph". however, the problem with all this, from my PoV is not the integrity of Torah or judaism or halakhah, but rather modern definitions - and your position is very much a modern one - of "literalness" and "truth". my view of this, which is actually very close to dauer's, i consider to be essentially pre-modern, but for entirely different reasons than dauer's historically informed perspective.


Sorry, dauer. I just assumed that when I ask a question in in here that I'm going to get basically two differing perspectives between you and bb, as if expecting opinions of opposite viewpoints, one more orthodox and one more liberal. But I really do appreciate you presenting the broad spectrum of Jewish thought, dauer. And, btw, the article on shamanism has opened up even more questions about the subject, which I will probably pose later, but for now I'm trying to get a general idea about approaching the subject.

And bb, I also appreciate your caution in delving into *aggadah*.

My main point is that if instances of healings and miracles were not as rare around the first century Palestine, as evident through people like Honi and Hanina, then that makes Jesus not unique in that regard. Rather as in the case of Hanina, who incidently had a similar case of healing as Jesus had with the centurian's servant when Gamaliel II's son was healed remotely, it was attributed to his duty to pray and devotion to God and example of righteous living and not anything intrinsic to the person. And of course, Haninas didn't credit himself, but God for the miracle anyway.

Miracles, then, are incidental and not really the point, but only reflect the underlying principles of devotion to God and commitment to serve others. Those who seek such miracles are seeking to serve themselves or their own verfication of God, rather than verification through a devout life in God.

Indeed, if miracles were a verification of God, then the Egyptian magicians in Pharoah's court must likewise be of God, for they turned sticks into snakes as well.

Because BB and I both lean more toward mysticism than rationalism on some issues we're really not on opposite poles at all. And it's something that concerns me on this forum because rationalism (both in its contemporary critical form and its more tenured form) are very big in Judaism. So even beyond the spectrum of ultra-orthodoxy-to-classical-reform there are times when I try especially hard to ensure that some of the rationalist ideas get more representation in my answers.

I think what you're saying about miracles is significant. I've been reading an excellent book by Lawrence Kushner. One of the things that he says (coming from the perspective of a Reform rabbi heavily engaged in Jewish mysticism) is that miracles are always happening and they never violate the laws of physics. But most of us miss them all the time, miss the significance, the sign, in the events in our lives because we'll see the ordinary and say, "oh, it's just the ordinary." I haven't seen anything by him about the revelation at Sinai but I imagine from his perspective that he would say the miracle was really that everyone was paying attention at the same time.


I never really gave my own perspective, which is that, while not word-for-word reflecting literal truths the stories may very well at times reflect historical truths about hazal either because similar events ocurred or because they reflect the individual's character while at other times they may be re-workings of older stories and at other times not contain much truth at all but that in most of the cases the value of aggadah is not in the potential history told but in their ethical and theological value. I'm really less fond of interpretations that get very far from the pshat and really flowery, which I think only gets away from what hazal were trying to say. There are two wonderful techniques I have learned that attempt to prevent this. One I learned applied to midrash is taught in the book Learning To Read Midrash by Simi Peters. The flaw in her approach is that it can lead to reading into the text, finding meanings that aren't really there, based on assuming the structure is fairly rigid from midrash to midrash, but still useful. The other is one I learned from Reb David Ingber at Elat Chayyim, which he in turn learned in yeshiva. It's basically understanding aggadah as folklore, as stories that follow the predictable patterns we see in all stories of having a beginning, middle, and end. Rising action, climax, falling action. In this method the text is read very closely, line-by-line, focusing on what the text is saying instead of its traditional interpretation, looking still at the word-play hazal engaged in but cautiously not overextending or applying ways of using the words they were probably unaware of, not taking any line for granted, looking at the surrounding passages in which the aggadah is placed and seeing if there's any similarity in theme. This method has gone very far for me in showing that, while in some cases they may just have been preserving familiar stories, some of them maybe even things that go so far back they were once excluded from Torah but remained in the Israelite consciousness, they were actually very skilled storytellers who could write fairly deep and engaging stories with a lot of depth.