ONIAS (ḤONI) HA-ME'AGGEL ("the circle-drawer"):

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Teacher and miracle-worker; lived in the first century B.C. Tradition declares him to have been a descendant of Moses (Tan., Wayera, ed. Buber, p. 22). He was an Essene, stood in high repute, and was respected on account of his pious life and his ability to work miracles. He had many pupils and, according to later accounts, was a great scholar, so that in his day halakic sentences were clear and intelligible; for whenever he entered the schoolhouse he used to reply lucidly to all questions and answer all objections addressed to him by the rabbis (Ta'an. 23a). Nevertheless no halakah of his has been preserved.

His "Miracles."

Onias is better known through his miracles. Once when a drought had lasted almost throughout the month of Adar and the people had supplicated in vain for rain, they came to Onias to ask him to bring rain by his prayers. Onias thereupon drew a circle (hence probably his name, "the circle-drawer"), and, placing himself in the center of it, prayed for rain; and his prayer was immediately answered. When the rain had continued to fall for some time in torrents, and there was danger that it might prove harmful instead of a blessing, he prayed that it might cease; and this prayer also received an immediate answer. Simon b. Sheṭaḥ, who was displeased at the unseemly tone of Onias' prayer, said to him: "Wert thou not Ḥoni I would put a ban upon thee; but what shall I do to thee since thou sinnest before God and yet He does thy will? Of thee was it said [Prov. xxiii. 25]: 'Thy father and thy mother shall be glad, and she that bare thee shall rejoice.'" In the same way the members of the Sanhedrin showed their respect for him by interpreting the verses Job xxii. 28 et seq. to refer to him (Ta'an. l.c.). It was related of him that whenever he entered the hall of the Temple the place became brightly lighted up (Yer. Ta'an. l.c.).

The end of this pious scholar was a sad one. During the war between the two Hasmoneans Hyrcanus and Aristobulus, after the death of Queen Salome, Aristobulus, who had shut himself up on the Temple mount, was besieged by Hyrcanus. The soldiers of the latter found Onias, who lived in a lonely district, and, dragging him into Hyrcanus' camp, tried to force him to use the power of his prayers to destroy the besieged. Instead of cursing the besieged the pious man uttered the following prayer: "Lord of the earth, since the besieged as well as the besiegers are Thy people, I beg that Thou wilt not answer the curses which they may utter against each other." The rude soldiers, who did not sympathize with these brotherly sentiments of Onias, stoned him on the spot (Josephus, "Ant." xiv. 2, § 1; comp. Jew. Encyc. vi. 517b, s.v. Hyrcanus II.). This story of Onias' death is not mentioned in theTalmud; and there is another tradition according to which he is said to have slept seventy years, and when he awoke, as no one would believe that he was Onias and as he was refused the respect due to him, he himself sought death (Ta'an. l.c.). According to Yerushalmi (Ta'an. l.c.) he went to sleep at the time of the destruction of the First Temple and did not awake until after the building of the Second Temple. But this tradition in the Jerusalem Talmud may refer to his grandfather, who also was called Onias (comp. Brüll, "Einleitung in die Mischna," i. 24-25, Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1876). The parallel with the Seven Sleepers and with Rip Van Winkle is of course obvious.

  • Yuḥasin, s.v.;
  • Heilprin, Seder ha-Dorot, ii. 63b;
  • Levinsohn, Bet Yehudah, i. 129, Warsaw, 1878;
  • Grätz, Gesch. 2d ed., iii. 157;
  • Schürer, Gesch. i. 293 et seq.;
  • M. Braunschweiger, Die Lehrer der Mischna, pp. 80-81, Frankfort-on-the-Main. 1903.
W. B. J. Z. L.
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