The venerable Hillel had eighty disciples, thirty of whom were worthy that the Shechinah should rest upon them, as it rested upon Moses our Rabbi; and thirty of them were worthy that the sun should stand still (for them), as it did for Joshua the son of Nun; and twenty of them stood midway in worth. The greatest of all of them was Jonathan ben Uzziel, and the least of all was Rabbi Yochanan ben Zacchai. It is said of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zacchai that he did not leave unstudied the Bible, the Mishna, the Gemara, the constitutions, the legends, the minutiae of the law, the niceties of the scribes, the arguments à fortiori and from similar premises, the theory of the change of the moon, the Gematria, the parable of the unripe grapes and
the foxes, the language of demons, of palm-trees, and of Ministering angels.
Bava Bathra, fol. 134, col. 1.
A male criminal is to be hanged with his face toward the people, but a female with her face toward the gibbet. So says Rabbi Eliezer; but the sages say the man only is hanged, not the woman. Rabbi Eliezer retorted, "Did not Simeon the son of Shetach hang women in Askelon?" To this they replied, "He indeed caused eighty women to be hanged, though two criminals are not to be condemned in one day."
Sanhedrin, fol. 45, col. 2-
We may here repeat the story of the execution of the eighty women here alluded to, as that is told by Rashi on the preceding page of the Talmud. Once a publican, an Israelite but a sinner, and a great and good man of the same place, having died on the same day, were about to be buried. While the citizens were engaged with the funeral of the latter, the relations of the other crossed their path, bearing the corpse to the sepulchre. Of a sudden a troop of enemies came upon the scene and caused them all to take to flight, one faithful disciple alone remaining by the bier of his Rabbi. After a while the citizens returned to inter the remains they had so unceremoniously left, but by some mistake they took the wrong bier and buried the publican with honor, in spite of the remonstrance of the disciple, while the relatives of the publican buried the Rabbi ignominiously. The poor disciple felt inconsolably distressed, and was anxious to know for what sin the great man had been buried with contempt, and for what merit the wicked man had been buried with such honor. His Rabbi then appeared to him in a dream, and said, "Comfort thou thy heart, and come I will show thee the honor I hold in Paradise, and I will also show thee that man in Gehenna, the hinge of the door of which even now creaks in his ears.[*] But because once on a time I listened to contemptuous talk about the Rabbis and did not check it, I have suffered an ignoble burial, while the publican enjoyed the honor that was intended for me because he once distributed gratuitously among the poor of the city a banquet he had prepared for the governor, but of which the governor did not come to partake." The disciple having asked the Rabbi how long this publican was to be thus severely treated, he replied, "Until the death of Simeon the son of Shetach, who is to take the publican's place in Gehenna." "Why so?" "Because, though he knows there are several Jewish witches in Askelon, he idly suffers them to ply their infernal trade and does not take any steps to extirpate them." On the morrow the disciple reported this speech to Simeon the son of Shetach, who at once proceeded to take action against the obnoxious witches. He engaged eighty stalwart young men, and choosing a rainy
[*. Which were formed into sockets for the gates of hell to turn in.]
day, supplied each with an extra garment folded up and stowed away in an earthern vessel. Thus provided, they were each at a given signal to snatch up one of the eighty witches and carry her away, a task they would find of easy execution, as, except in contact with the earth, these creatures were powerless. Then Simeon the son of Shetach, leaving his men in ambush, entered the rendezvous of the witches, who, accosting him, asked, "Who art thou?" He replied, "I am a wizard, and am come to experiment in magic." "What trick have you to show?" they said. He answered, "Even though the day is wet, I can produce eighty young men all in dry clothes." They smiled incredulously and said, "Let us see!" He went to the door, and at the signal the young men took the dry clothes out of the jars and put them on, then starting from their ambush, they rushed into the witches' den, and each seizing one, lifted her up and carried her off as directed. Thus overpowered, they were brought before the court, convicted of malpractices and led forth to execution.
Sanhedrin, fol. 44, col. 2.