The Mishna is a collection of citations of the oral law by an array of brilliant scholars. There are, however, many Mishnaic statements that are anonymous. According to Talmud Gittin 4a, the source of all anonymous statements is Rabbi Meir.

Rabbi Meir is believed to have been a descendant of the Roman Caesar Nero and was a student of the great Rabbi Akiva. He was also a student of Elisha Ben Abuya and remained close to him even after Elisha became the Talmud’s paradigmatic apikores (non-believer), who was excommunicated and called “Acher” (the other). Rabbi Meir was the husband of Bruriah, famous in the Talmud for her brilliance and piety. (Both “Acher” and Bruriah are fascinating personalities in their own rights and will be subjects of future Treats). Rabbi Meir was respected by scholars and lay people alike and is also noted for making the law accessible via parables.

This great sage became known as Rabbi Meir Baal Ha’neis (Master of the Miracle), and his name is thus invoked, even to this day, by many charitable organizations that help needy Torah scholars in Israel. The following story is the source of this title: Rabbi Meir rescued his sister-in-law from her imprisonment in a Roman brothel by bribing the guard. He told the guard, frightened lest his superiors find out that he accepted a bribe to free a prisoner, that should any trouble occur he should call out: “God of Meir–answer me!” Eventually the guard was caught and sentenced to death by hanging. On the gallows, the guard cried out, “God of Meir–answer me!” and the rope snapped, saving the guard’s life.

Tomorrow is the yahrtzeit of Rabbi Meir.

This Treat was originally posted on April 28, 2010.

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