MEIR, Jewish rabbi of the 2nd century, was born in Asia Minor and according to legend was a descendant of the family of Nero. He was the most notable of the disciples of Aqiba (q.v.), and after the Hadrianic repressions of A.D. 135 was instrumental in refounding the Palestinian schools at Usha. Among his teachers was also Elisha ben Abuya (q.v.), and Meir continued his devotion to Elisha after the latter's apostasy. He is said to have visited Rome to rescue his wife's sister. His wife, Beruriah, is often cited in the Talmud as an exemplar of generosity and faith. She was a daughter of the martyr IJananiah ben Teradion. On one occasion Meir, who had been frequently troubled by his ungodly neighbours, uttered a prayer for their extinction. " Nay," said Beruriah, " it is written (Ps. civ. 35) let sins be blotted out, not sinners "; whereupon Meir prayed for the evildoers' conversion. But she is best known for her conduct at the sudden death of her two sons. It was the Sabbath, and Meir returned home towards sunset. He repeatedly asked for the children, and Beruriah, after parrying his question, said: " Some time ago a precious thing was left with me on trust, and now the owner demands its return. Must I give it back ? " " How can you question it? " rejoined her husband. Beruriah then led him to the bed whereon were stretched the bodies of the children. Meir burst into tears. But the wife explained that this was the treasure of which she had spoken, adding the text from Job: " The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord." Meir himself was the author of many famous sayings: " Look not to the flask, but to its contents. Many a new vessel contains old wine, but there are old casks which do not contain even new wine." " Condole not with a mourner while his dead is laid out before him." " Man cometh into the world with closed hands as though claiming the ownership of all things; but he departeth hence with hands open and limp, as if to show that he taketh naught with him." '.' What God does is well done." " The tree itself supplies the handle of the axe which cuts it down." His wisdom was proverbial, and to him was in particular assigned an intimate acquaintance with fables, and he is reported to have known 300 Fox- Fables. " With the death of Rabbi Meir," says the Mishnah (Sola ix. 15), " Fabulists ceased to be."
Meir's wide sympathies were shown in his inclusion of all mankind in the hopes of salvation (Sifra to Leviticus xviii. 5). He was certainly on friendly terms with heathen scholars. Meir contributed largely to the material from which finally emerged the Mishnah. His dialectic skill was excessive, and it was said jestingly of him that he could give 150 reasons to prove a thing clean, and as many more to prove it unclean. His balanced judgment fitted him to carry on Aqiba's work, sifting and arranging the oral traditions, and thus preparing the ground for the Mishnaic Code.
Meir left Palestine some time before his death, owing to disagreements between him and the Patriarch. He died in Asia Minor, but his love for the Holy Land remained dominant to the last. " Bury me," he said, " by the shore, so that the sea which washes the land of my fathers may touch also my bones." The tomb shown as that of Meir at Tiberias is inauthentic.
See Bacher, Agada der Tannaiten, vol. 1 1. ch. i. ; Graetz, History of the Jews (Eng. trans.), vol. 11. ch. xvi.; Jewish Encyclopedia (whence some of the above cited sayings are quoted), viii. 432-435. On Meir's place in the history of the fable, see J. Jacobs, The Fables of Aesop, i. ill, etc. (see Index s.v.). (LA.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)