Simon The Just

Simeon the Righteous or Simeon the Just (Hebrew: שמעון הצדיקShimon HaTzaddik) was a 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).


Rabbinical Eras

Simeon the Righteous is either Simon I (310-291 or 300-273 BCE), son of Onias I, and grandson of Jaddua, or Simon II (219-199 BCE), son of Onias II. Many statements concerning him are variously ascribed by scholars, ancient and modern, to four different persons who bore the same surname; e.g., to Simeon I by Fränkel and Grätz; to Simeon II by Krochmal in the 18th century, Brüll in the 19th, and Moore and Zeitlin in the 20th; to Simon Maccabeus by Löw; and to Simeon the son of Gamaliel by Weiss. The scholarly consensus of the late 20th century has fallen on Simon II.

The Talmud, Josephus (who identifies him as Simon I), Sirach and the Second Book of Maccabees all contain accounts of him. He was termed "the Righteous" because of the piety of his life and his benevolence toward his compatriots (Josephus, Antiquities, 12:2, § 5). He was deeply interested in the spiritual and material development of the nation. According to Sirach 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 in Jerusalem, raising the foundation-walls of its court and enlarging the cistern into a pool.

According to the Talmud and Josephus, when Alexander the Great marched through Land of Israel in the year 332 BCE, Simeon the Just, dressed in his priestly garments went to Antipatris to meet him (Yoma 69a), although Josephus (l.c. xi.8, § 4) states that Alexander himself came to Jerusalem. As soon as Alexander saw him, he descended from his chariot and bowed respectfully before him. When Alexander's courtiers criticized this 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 that this was impossible. He promised instead that all the sons born of priests in that year would be named Alexander (Lev. R. xiii, end; Pesikta Rabbati section "Parah"). This story appears to be identical with 3 Maccabees ii, where Seleucus (Kasgalgas) is mentioned (Soṭah 33a; Jerusalem Talmud. Soṭah 4:3; Cant. R. 38c; Tosef., Soṭah, xiii).

The Mishnah (Parah 3:5) records that during the priesthood of Simeon the Just two Red Heifers were burnt at the sacrificial place built on the Mount of Olives in the days of Ezra.

In his views, Simeon was midway between the Hasmoneans and the Hellenists. He was an opponent of the Nazirites and ate of the sacrifice offered by 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 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).


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 goat or ram 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 this 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 was one of the last members of the Great Assembly.


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).

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