- ABBA ḤILKIAH
- ABBA ḤILKIAH, according to the aggadah (Ta'an. 23a–b) a saint who lived in the first century C.E. Like many narratives concerning saints in the ancient world, Abba Ḥilkiah was famous for his miraculous ability to bring rain in times of drought (Kalmin, 212). The Talmud describes him not as a learned sage, but rather as a common worker to whom the sages turned in time of need. Once when a pair of scholars came to ask him to pray for rain, he was not at home, and they finally found him hoeing in a field. They greeted him, but he did not return their greeting. Toward evening he gathered wood for his fire, put the wood and his hoe on one shoulder and his cloak on the other. All the way home he wore shoes, but when he passed through water he removed them. When he approached thorns and thistles he raised up his garment. And so the story goes on describing his apparently eccentric behavior, which puzzled the two sages, who nevertheless followed him into his home. Without speaking to the sages he and his wife went up to roof and prayed, and his wife's prayer was answered first. Despite the disclaimers of the humble and saintly man, the sages thanked him for bringing the much needed rain. Before they left, they asked him about his puzzling behavior, and he explained how every element reflected some aspect of practical wisdom or ethical concern. For example his refusal to return their greeting was explained by the fact as a day laborer, he feared to take time off during his work hours lest by so doing he would be defrauding his employer. Similarly, he put the wood and his hoe on one shoulder and the cloak on the other because the cloak was borrowed, and the owner of the cloak had not given him permission to rest wood or a hoe on his cloak, and so on. The story belongs to a genre of tales of the saints, common in the pagan and Christian world in antiquity. It is somewhat remarkable in the talmudic context because its hero, though not himself a sage, turns out to exemplify many of the most noble values which the sages admired, and was even capable of instructing the sages through his behavior regarding these values (Kalmin, 225–232). In line with its principle of "creative historiography," the Talmud informs us that this saintly figure, Abba Ḥilkiah, was in fact the grandson (son of the son) of Ḥoni ha-Me'aggel\>\> , the famous "rainmaker" mentioned in Mishnah Ta'an. 3:8. Similarly, the Talmud tells us that Ḥanan ha-Naḥbah, another saintly rainmaker who is the protagonist of the following story in Ta'an. 23b, was also the grandson (son of the daughter\!) of Ḥoni. -BIBLIOGRAPHY: Hyman, Toledot, s.v.; R. Kalmin, in: L.I. Levine (ed.), Continuity and Change (Hebrew) (2004), 210–232. (Stephen G. Wald (2nd ed.)
Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.