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Gamliʾel of Yavneh


GAMLIʾEL OF YAVNEH , also known as Gamliʾel II, was a Palestinian tanna, rabbi, patriarch (nasiʾ ), and head of the academy at Yavneh in the late first and early second century. In contrast to contemporary authorities, who either bear no title or, more often, are referred to by the title rabbi, Gamliʾel was accorded the apparently honorific title rabban, which he shares with other leaders of the patriarchal house (see Avot 1.16, 1.18). His traditions are recorded in the Mishnah and related texts.

Gamliʾel bore major responsibility for the centralization of rabbinical authority at Yavneh following the war with the Romans in 6670. Succeeding the apparent founder of that academy, Yoanan ben Zakkʾai, Gamliʾel was in a position to guide the rabbinical effort in the reconstruction of a nation that had seen its spiritual center in the Jerusalem Temple destroyed, a nation that lacked clear leadership. To address this challenge, Gamliʾel supported the religious ascendency of the Yavneh academy and the political and religious authority of a Sanhedrin reconstituted under his leadership. He was later believed to have had a hereditary claim on the patriarchate.

It it reported that Gamliʾel sometimes conducted this campaign in an undiplomatic manner, but he won the support of contemporary rabbinical authorities. To assure a centralized authority, he insisted on the power of his court to fix the calendar for all of Jewry, to ensure the consistency of observance. To similar ends he demanded that individuals bow to the decision of the collective rabbinate in disputes, an insistence that in one instance is believed to have led to the ban on Eliʿezer ben Hyrcanus (B.T., B.M. 59b) and in another caused Yehoshuʿa ben ananyah to transgress what by his reckoning was Yom Kippur (R. ha-Sh. 2.89). Nevertheless, he is described as declaring that this demand was not to assure his own honor, but to assure that "disputes not be multiplied in Israel" (B.T., B.M. 59b).

In response to the vacuum left in the wake of the Temple's destruction, tradition bears witness to Gamliʾel's activity in establishing ritual and prayer norms. His academy formalized the eighteen-benediction prayer (Shemoneh ʿEsreh) that has been employed in various forms to this day. Perhaps to facilitate its acceptance as the core of Jewish daily worship, he allowed formal representatives to recite the prayer for untutored individuals. In addition, Gamliʾel contributed significantly to the formulation of a post-Temple Passover Seder.

Appropriately to the image of patriarch, Gamliʾel is described as having had extensive exchanges with "philosophers" and others outside the Judaic tradition. Gamliʾel's son Shimʿon reports that "in my father's house five hundred [children] studied Greek wisdom because they were close to the authorities" (B.T., Sot. 49b; Tosefta, Sot. 15.8). Sources relate that Roman authorities were sympathetic to Gamliʾel and the Judaism that he taught, and that Gamliʾel occasionally reciprocated their sympathy.

Gamliʾel's status is enhanced by the stories of his extensive travels, including a trip to Rome. He is also described as wealthy and spoiled, and his relationship with his righteous slave, Tabi, is legendary.

Gamliʾel was apparently a person of great piety and sensitivity. He was strict with himself, even when lenient with others, and he refused to excuse himself from his responsibilities to heaven for even one moment. To alleviate the immense burden put upon surviving relatives who had to see to the burial of their deceased, Gamliʾel had himself buried in simple shrouds, a practice followed by Jews to this day.

Gamliʾel's traditions are outstanding for the relatively high proportion that are set down in narrative form. This is probably connected to his patriarchal authority at a crucial period in history. He came to serve as a model for the rabbinic community. Also notable is the absence of significant contributions to criminal statutes, reflecting perhaps the diminished authority of the early patriarchate in this area.

See Also

Sanhedrin; Tannaim.


The most comprehensive review of Gamliʾel's traditions is Shammai Kanter's Rabban Gamaliel II, the Legal Traditions (Chico, Calif., 1980). On Gamliʾel's deposition from leadership of the Yavnean academy, an event central to his struggle for authority, see Robert Goldenberg's "The Deposition of Rabban Gamaliel II: An Examination of the Sources," Journal of Jewish Studies 23 (Autumn 1972): 167190. For a biography that also examines the nonlegal traditions, see "Gamaliʾel ben Shimʿon ha-neherag" in Aaron Hyman's Toledot tannaʾim ve-amoraʾim (1910; reprint, Jerusalem, 1964).

New Sources

Habas-Rubin, Ephrat. "Rabban Gamaliel of Yavneh and His Sons: The Patriarchate before and after the Bar Kokhva Revolt." Journal of Jewish Studies 50 (1999): 2137.

Hanna, Ralph, and David Lawton, eds. The Siege of Jerusalem. Oxford, 2003.

Neusner, Jacob. "Die Pharisäer vor und nach der Tempelzerstörung des Jahres 70 n.Chr." In Tempelkult und Tempelzerstörung: Festschrift für Clemens Thoma zum 60 Geburtstag, edited by Simon Laur and Hanspeter Ernst, pp. 71104. Bern and New York, 1995.

David Kraemer (1987)

Revised Bibliography

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