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Gemara Shabbos 20a and in other locations mentions כמאכל בן דרוסאי Rashi explains that Ben Drosai was a thief who ate his food when it was only cooked 1/3. Did Ben Drosai have some sort of Zechus that his name is often mentioned when it comes to Halchaos of Bishul on Shabbos?

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    Is there a precedent for saying that anyone whose name is invoked when discussing halacha must have some zechus to merit it? Might it just be for the fact that he was well known and so his name/practice was a convenient shorthand or a common phrase?
    – rosends
    Commented Oct 22, 2012 at 15:20
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    @Dan, I don't know about in Halacha, but certainly people discuss what zechus Balak and Korach had to get Parshios named after them.
    – HodofHod
    Commented Oct 22, 2012 at 16:21
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    I have heard that -- anyone whose name is listed in the torah, but not about the gemara.
    – rosends
    Commented Oct 22, 2012 at 16:24
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    I do not know how this helps the question, however the Rama M'Pano says that Ben Drosai was a Gilgul of Chofni the son of Aili Commented Oct 22, 2012 at 18:27
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    @HodofHod Simply emphasizing that there is no room for further dialogue between us on this topic, given that matters have been reduced to the irreducible dichotomy of a joke I grew up with, being your belief.
    – mevaqesh
    Commented Aug 17, 2016 at 3:42

3 Answers 3

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The Yerushalmi in question is in Avodah Zarah 4:4. Prof. Shamma Friedman has written about the historical Ben D'rsai (who based on the Yerushalmi was not a Jew).

According to this article, Rashi assumes that he was a thief, based on logic and not tradition. Based on the Yerushami, he was a person who aided Rav Yochanan to remove idolatry.

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According to our Maggid Shiur, the Talmud Yerushalmi claims that Ben Drosai sinned by worshiping idols.

In order to repent, he decided to start stealing from Avoda Zara; thus becoming a "hero" of a thief.

I cannot find any reference to this story by searching the Yerushalmi, though.

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Having found a few other views in recent months, I'm revising my answer:

Friedman's explanation for Ben Drosai's identity as mentioned by @AriKahn is well-known and reasonably plausible, but there are other reasonable suggestions out there:

Ben Drosai was Emperor Claudius:

Shlomy Raiskin suggested this just a couple of years after Friedman's essay was published.

According to Dio Cassius, Claudius ruled in 41 CE that boiled meat and hot water could not be sold in the market. The Romans, who apparently really liked eating boiled meat, found a way to (illegally) circumvent the law: They would boil the meat right there in the marketplace, instead of selling pre-boiled meat. However, since it was illegal, it can be assumed that often the meat wasn't fully cooked.

Why Ben Drosai? Because Claudius's nickname was Drusi filius, or "son of Drusi".

Ben Drosai was Rabbi Yonatan ben Dores:

According to Rabbi Dr. Shmuel Klein in his essay "לחקר השמות והכינוים", Leshonenu 1:4, ben Drosai was a Tanna named R' Yonatan ben Dores, also known as Abba Hadros (called in the Sifrei Abba Doresh (here and here), which Rabbi Klein said is a scribal error, and indeed, his correction does appear in at least one Sifrei MS brought in Finkelstein's edition - spelled אבה הדרוס in one place and אבה הדורס in the other). R' Yonatan ben Dores appears in Sifrei Zuta Bamidbar 35:12. According to Rabbi Klein, basing himself off of Josephus, R' Yonatan joined the zealots and would commonly stomp on fallen Roman soldiers, the verb דרס (daras) being relevant here. He probably did this per the verse "And you shall tread on their backs" (Devarim 33:29), which Onkelos translates as "וְאַתְּ עַל פְּרִיקַת צַוְּארֵי מַלְכֵיהוֹן תִּדְרֹךְ" - "You shall tread on the necks of kings", and the Targum Yerushalmi translates as "עַל פִּירְקַת צַוְורֵי מַלְכֵיהוֹן תְּהוֹן דַרְסִין" - same root of דרס is used.

This R' Yonatan was probably a vicious man, and to show his lust for the blood of his enemies, would eat his food cooked only a third of the way, and as an echo of his legend, such a meal became known as a "ben Drosai meal".

Ben Drosai was a generic pseudonym of a follower of Doras:

In Sinai 53 (1970), p. 87, Sh. Achikam (his full name isn't given) suggested that Bar Drosai from Rabbi Yochanan's time was a member of a group who followed in the footsteps of a man named Doras, who is said to have been the first of the sicarii, after Elazar ben Dinai was captured by the Romans. He pointed out that an oven that was made for a single use was named after ben Dinai (Mishna Kelim 5:10).

Ben Drosai was just a man from Khirbet Drussia with strange eating habits:

This was first suggested by Levi Yitzchak Rachmani in a report of a survey conducted in the area of Adulam, p. 228. This man just happened to be Rabbi Yochanan's servant and for some reason his strange eating habit became known. His nickname refers to the place he came from. For more information on this place, see here and here.

This idea was later suggested also by Ze'ev Vilnay a couple of years later in a small note published in Tarbiz 35, and again by Ze'ev Ehrlich in an essay published in Nikrot Tzurim 5 (1982).

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