Judah Ha-Nasi

views updated Jun 11 2018


JUDAH HA-NASI (latter half of the second and beginning of the third century c.e.), patriarch of Judea and redactor of the *Mishnah. He is referred to also as "rabbenuha-kadosh" ("our holy teacher") or simply as "Rabbi." Judah was the son of Rabban Simeon b. *Gamaliel and the seventh (or sixth?) generation descended from Hillel (see *Nasi), having been born, according to an aggadic tradition, "on the day that R. Akiva died" during the Hadrianic persecutions (Kid. 72b). Both his contemporaries and later generations held him in veneration, and regarded him as the savior of Israel, as much as *Simeon the Just, *Mattathias the Hasmonean, and *Mordecai and Esther (Meg. 11a). In him the sages found all the qualities which they enumerated as becoming to the righteous (Avot 6:8). They even associated his name with messianic hopes to the extent of applying to him the verse (Lam. 4:20): "The breath of our nostrils, the anointed of the Lord" (tj, Shab. 16:1, 15c), and in his days chose for the proclamation of the new month the password: "David, King of Israel, lives and exists" (rh 25a). His wisdom, sanctity, and humility, as well as his wealth and close ties with the Roman emperor, became the subject of numerous legends. In addition to his father, his teachers included *Judah b. Ilai (tj, bm 3:1, 9a), *Simeon b. Yohai (Shab. 147b), *Eleazar b. Shammua (Er. 53a), *Jacob b. Korshai (tj, Shab. 10:5, 12c), and, apparently, R. *Meir (Shab. 13b). His mastery of the vast volume of tradition, his great application to his studies (Ket. 104a), his humility (Sot. 9:15), coupled with self-confidence, sound judgment, and a rule that was based on a strict discipline (Ket. 103b), combined to give authority to his leadership and an undisputed status to the patriarchate.

His Power in Ereẓ Israel and Relationship with Rome

Judah lived in *Bet She'arim where he had his yeshivah (Sanh. 32b) but, because of ill-health, moved toward the end of his life to *Sepphoris where the air was salubrious (Ket. 103b); according to one tradition he lived there for 17 years (tj, Ket. 12:3, 35a). He applied himself to the strengthening of the economic position of the Jews in Ereẓ Israel, their settlement on its soil, and to shaping the country's national religious institutions. He devoted himself to spreading a knowledge of the Torah and the observance of its mitzvot among all sections of the people, and to maintaining the unity of the nation. His position was recognized by the Roman administration, and this, together with his wealth, enabled him to reinforce the dignity of the patriarchate and give it a quasi-royal status. Various identifications have been suggested for *Antoninus whose friendship for, and discussions with, Judah ha-Nasi form the subject of aggadic stories. These aggadot and conversations, which reveal a Stoic influence, were intended to demonstrate the wisdom of Judah and the superiority of the Torah. For this purpose a philosopher-emperor was chosen – probably Marcus Aurelius – who was on friendly terms with the patriarch and respected the Jewish religion. Judah ha-Nasi's contacts with the Roman authorities in the economic and political spheres probably provided the historical background to these aggadic stories, which tell that Antoninus gave him the tenancy of estates in Golan (tj, Shev. 6:1, 36d) and that they were partners in cattle breeding (Midrash Bereshit Rabbah, ed. by Theodor and Albeck, 20:6, p.190). The balsam trees of his household are mentioned along with those on the emperor's estates (Bet. 43a), the reference being undoubtedly to the plantations of balsam trees at En-Gedi and Jericho which were "imperial estates." The grant of greater judicial autonomy, attested by Origen in his letter to Julius Africanus (J.P. Migne (ed.), Patrologia Graeca, 11 (1857), 47ff.), was presumably the result of such contacts, and it is possible that Judah ha-Nasi actually met one and perhaps two Roman emperors during their stay in Ereẓ Israel, most probably Septimius *Severus and Antoninus *Caracalla, whose good relations with the Jews are attested by the inscription of Kazyon near Safed dated 197–198 c.e. (S. Klein (ed.), Sefer ha-Yishuv, 1 (1939), 151) and also by Jerome (commentary on Dan. 11:34).

Circumspection marked Judah ha-Nasi's relations with the Roman authorities. In contrast to the Samaritans, the Jews adopted a policy of nonintervention in the civil war which broke out after the murder of Clodius in 192 c.e. between Septimius Severus and his rival Pescennius Niger. Judah was also careful not to flaunt his position outside Ereẓ Israel, as is illustrated in the following story: "Rabbi said to R. Afes: 'Write a letter in my name to our lord, the emperor Antoninus.' He arose and wrote: 'From Judah ha-Nasi to our lord, the emperor Antoninus.' [Judah] took and read it, tore it up, and wrote: 'To our lord the emperor from your servant Judah.' He [R. Afes] said to him: 'Rabbi, why do you lower your dignity?' He answered him: 'Am I, then better than my ancestor? Did he not declare [Gen. 32:5]: 'Thus shall ye say unto my lord Esau: Thus saith thy servant Jacob'?'" (Gen. R. 75:5). When he went to the Roman authorities at Acre, he refrained from taking with him "Romans," apparently soldiers stationed in his neighborhood (Gen. R. 78:15). His attitude toward the Roman Empire was a negative one, there being ascribed to him the statement that "the destroyers of the Second Temple [Rome] are destined to fall into the hand of Persia" (Yoma 10a). Despite the external splendor of the empire, he realized its faults. At the sight of a legion of fine and distinguished men, whose heads reached up to the capital of the pillars at Caesarea, his son Simeon exclaimed: "How fattened are the calves of Esau!" But Rabbi answered him: "These legions are worth nothing" (Tanḥ Va-Yeshev, 3), knowing as he did that they both raised up and murdered emperors and were a source of weakness and degeneration. Certain that God would bring an end to the Roman Empire, even as He had done to the kingdoms of Babylonia, Media, and Greece, Judah ha-Nasi referred to those who wished to hasten the advent of the redemption as "complainers, the descendants of complainers" (pdrk 130). Aware that the Jews in Ereẓ Israel were unable to influence the course of great political events which were to be left to "Him that called the generations from the beginning," Judah realized that the time was nevertheless opportune to work for the unity of the nation and its internal consolidation.

Judah's Bet Din and Its Rulings

After the destruction of the Second Temple, and especially after the Bar Kokhba revolt, the non-Jewish population increased in several parts of Ereẓ Israel. In order to ease the financial burden on the Jews, enabling them to remain on their lands, Judah ha-Nasi exempted several places from the tithes (Beth-Shean, Caesarea, Bet Guvrin, Kefar Ẓemah: tj, Dem. 2:1, 22c) by excluding them from the sanctity ascribed to Ereẓ Israel. In order that lands which had been confiscated from Jews should not remain in the possession of non-Jews, Rabbi assembled a bet din which decided by a vote "that if the property had been in the hands of the *sikarikon [the occupier of confiscated property] for 12 months, whoever first purchased it acquired the title, but had to give a quarter [of the price] to the original owner" (Git. 5:6; ibid., 58b). Judah ha-Nasi also attempted to permit the produce of the sabbatical year in an effort to ease the grave economic situation (tj, Ta'an. 3:1, 66b–c). Although several of Judah ha-Nasi's regulations are given as those of his bet din ("Rabbi and his bet din decided by a vote": Oho. 18:9), the sources testify to the antagonism and even the opposition of contemporary sages (see Tosef., Oho. 18:18; Ḥul. 6b), but he subjected the bet din to his authority, maintaining that "the Holy One, blessed be He, left this crown to us that we may invest ourselves therewith" (tj, Dem. 2:1, 22c and see Ḥul. 6b). Judah ha-Nasi was not assisted, as his father had been, by an av bet din or a ḥakham, but instead concentrated all authority in his own hands (tj, Sanh. 1:3, 19a) including the supervision of the various communities and their religious and judicial institutions (Gen. R. 81:2; tj, Yev. 12:7, 13a).

Judah ha-Nasi and his bet din exercised their influence not only over Galilee but also over the south, and sages of the south were close to him. He showed a special interest in the *Holy Congregation in Jerusalem, which included two sages who were on intimate terms with him – *Simeon b. Menasya and *Yose b. Meshullam (tj, Ma'as. Sh. 2:10, 53d; Eccles. R. 9:9). The proclamation of the new month and the intercalation of the year were significant areas of the Diaspora's dependence on Ereẓ Israel as the religious center of the Jewish people. After the destruction of the Second Temple the year was intercalated in Judea (Tosef., Sanh. 2:13) but was transferred in the days of Judah ha-Nasi to Galilee (tj, Sanh. 1:2, 18c), in order to enhance the prestige of the patriarchate, whose seat was there. He also abolished the fire signals announcing the new month and instead introduced regulations calculated to expedite both the hearing of witnesses and the dispatch of messengers (tj, rh 2:1, 58a). At all events there is no reference to an attempt at intercalating the year in Babylonia as had been done in the preceding generation by *Hananiah, the nephew of R. Joshua (in tj, Ned. 6:8, 40a, the name is wrongly given as Rabbi: see Ber. 63b). In his relations with the Babylonian Diaspora Judah ha-Nasi displayed the same blend of concession and strength: the nasi was king, with none superior to him. He was, however, prepared to show honor to the exilarch (Hor. 11a–b; tj, Kil. 9:4, 32a). He opposed the sages of Ereẓ Israel who wished to make Babylonia as "dough" in comparison with Ereẓ Israel, that is to declare the Jews of Ereẓ Israel to be of pure descent and those of Babylonia as descended from families suspected of containing an alien element, so that if a Babylonian Jew wished to marry into an Ereẓ Israel family he would have to prove the purity of his descent. Judah ha-Nasi said: "You are putting thorns between my eyes. If you wish, R. Ḥanina b. Ḥama will join issue with you." R. Ḥanina b. Ḥama joined issue with them and said to them: "I have this tradition from R. Ishmael b. Yose who stated on his father's authority: 'All countries are as dough in comparison with Ereẓ Israel and Ereẓ Israel is as dough in comparison with Babylonia'" (Kid. 71a). Furthermore, the inclusion of Babylonian sages in his intimate circle helped to cement Judah ha-Nasi's ties with the important Babylonian Diaspora.

The Aristocracy of Learning

Judah ha-Nasi's numerous activities designed to resuscitate Jewish settlement in Ereẓ Israel are reflected in his desire to give Hebrew precedence over Aramaic, as shown by his remark: "What has the Syrian tongue to do with Ereẓ Israel? Speak either Hebrew or Greek" (bk 82b–83a). Even the maidservant of his household knew Hebrew, and it is related that the sages learned from her the meaning of rare Hebrew words (rh 26b; Meg. 18a). Judah's preference for Hebrew is shown in a halakhah quoted in his name: "I declare that the Shema is to be said only in Hebrew," thus controverting the earlier halakhah that it may be said in any language (Tosef., Sot. 7:7).

The patriarchate, which Judah ha-Nasi elevated to the spiritual and social leadership of the nation, was marked by a lordly manner and a regal splendor. He had guards (eunuchs – Ber. 16b) who punished recalcitrants (Eccles. R. 10:2). There was a hierarchy in the patriarch's court, sages close to him being engaged in special functions and dining at his table (Er. 73a). His wealth enabled him to give generous assistance to students. Affluent circles were attracted to his court, and support for the saying "Rabbi showed respect to rich men" (Er. 86a) can be found in the stories about the son of Bonyis and the son of Elasah (Judah ha-Nasi's wealthy son-in-law) who were not learned in the Torah (Er. 85b; tj, mk 3:1, 81c; Ned. 51a). Judah's aristocracy of learning found expression in a bluntly negative attitude toward the unlearned. By exempting sages from the city taxes (bb 8a), he undoubtedly increased the burden of taxation on artisans and intensified the hostility between the sages and the uneducated; this hostility was mainly religious and intellectual, but was tinged with economic and class antagonism and is a conspicuous feature of the story told in the baraita that he opened his storehouse of food in a year of scarcity to the learned but not to the ignorant. When, however, he was told that there were scholars who refused to disclose their learning because they had no wish to benefit from the honor due to the Torah, he thereafter gave to all the needy without distinction (bb 8a). Yet his negative attitude toward the ignorant did not change, there being ascribed to him the statement: "Trouble comes to the world only on account of the unlearned" (ibid.).

There was opposition to several other actions of Judah ha-Nasi. Simeon b. Eleazar criticized his method of making appointments (Mid. Tan., ed. by Hoffmann, 8; and tj, Ta'an. 4:2, 68a). Even R. Ḥiyya, one of his intimate circle, did not refrain from demonstrating opposition to Judah ha-Nasi's interference in the freedom of teaching by his decree that "pupils are not to be taught in the open public market place" (mk 16a). On one occasion, when *Judah and *Hezekiah, the sons of Ḥiyya, dined with Judah ha-Nasi and were somewhat under the effects of wine, they said: "The son of David [i.e., the Messiah] cannot come until the two ruling houses in Israel will have come to an end, namely, the exilarchate in Babylonia and the patriarchate in Ereẓ Israel" (Sanh. 38a). This remark of theirs echoes the views of the sages who belonged to pietistic circles and were ill-disposed to the domination of the patriarchate and to its affluent and regal habits.

Tradition bestowed on Rabbi the title of Ha-Kadosh (the Holy One), but the very form in which this is transmitted: "Why were you called our holy teacher?" (Shab. 118b) testifies to its late date. Unlike sages who were given the title of "holy" because they did not look at iconic statues or at the human figures engraved on coins (tj, Av. Zar. 3;1, 42c), Judah ha-Nasi, since he was concerned with the needs of others (Eccles. R. 5:11) and in contact with the Roman authorities, was quite unable to act in this manner, especially in view of the statement of his uncle Ḥanina b. Gamaliel that "members of my father's household used seals with human features engraved on them" (tj, Av. Zar. 3:1, 42c). It is very doubtful whether his preference for Greek over Aramaic, which was widely used by the people (Sot. 49b), his injunction that it is a father's duty to teach his son civics (Mekh., Pisḥa, 18), and even his statement: "Which is the right course that a man should choose for himself? That which is honorable to himself and also brings him honor from men" (Avot 2:1) were able to satisfy the pietists and activists among the sages. The reply of Eleazar b. Simeon's widow to Judah ha-Nasi's proposal of marriage, "Shall a utensil, in which holy food has been used, be used for profane purposes?" (bm 84b) reflects the opposition of the sages to the secular aspect of the sway exercised by him in his patriarchate, an opposition that also found expression in *Phinehas b. Jair's refusal to accept the patriarch's hospitality (Ḥul. 7b; and see tj, Dem. 1:3, 22a). Whereas Judah ha-Nasi was severe with sages close to him, such as Bar Kappara and Ḥiyya, even to the extent of punishing them (mk 16a), he adopted a conciliatory attitude toward Phinehas b. Jair, as he did to the other pietists among the sages (see Shab. 152a), thus allaying tension and preventing a breach between them and himself. General esteem for Judah ha-Nasi's momentous achievements most probably played a decisive role in the attitude of the majority of the sages toward him. For at no other time did the sages exercise such a sway over all sections of the nation, and at no other period did the honor of the Torah reach such heights. At the head of the nation was one who was not only a courageous personality but also a sage whose indisputable religious and halakhic greatness is shown in his work of codifying the Mishnah, with which his name is permanently associated.

The Redaction of the Mishnah

There is no clear tradition extant regarding Judah ha-Nasi's approach and method in his redaction of the Mishnah. But from the work itself, as also from a comparison with the beraitot in the Tosefta, in the halakhic Midrashim, and in the Jerusalem and Babylonian Talmuds, the picture which emerges is that the Mishnah was not intended to serve as a collection of legal judgments in the accepted sense of the word, for in the main it does not constitute the definitive and decided halakhah, nor "a receptacle for the Oral Law," but rather a legal canon. The amoraim did indeed attribute to him emendations, interpolations, additions, and judgments with regard to the sources at his disposal. Not a few Mishnayot show such elaboration, while many quoted anonymously are the subject of divergent views in the beraitot. However, Judah ha-Nasi's redaction was not limited only to such instances but is apparent in the selection and compilation he made from the mishnaic collections of various battei midrash without even altering their phraseology. He apparently aimed at giving his Mishnah a variegated form and at making it representative of all the known collections of mishnayot, in order that it might be generally acceptable. Mention is made of the "thirteen different interpretations" of the Mishnayot, some of which Judah ha-Nasi taught to Ḥiyya (Ned. 41a), and from which he, exercising his judgment, selected and polished his Mishnah. Due to the pains he took, his compilation became the Mishnah and all the other collections – the "outside mishnayot," the *beraitot. A "canon" was fixed, a standard by which the remainder of the mishnayot were judged. It marked the conclusion of the Mishnah, to which no new material was added as had hitherto been done to the other mishnayot. Instead, the new material was included in the Talmud, which was studied as a commentary on the Mishnah. Thus, although Judah ha-Nasi produced a legal codex, it did not put an end to the development of the halakhah but rather provided it with a solid foundation. His status and personal authority likewise helped to make his collection of mishnayot the basis of study and of legal decisions, second in significance and sanctity only to the Scriptures.

The admiration of Judah ha-Nasi's contemporaries for him and their appreciation of his personality found expression in Bar Kappara's announcement of his death: "The angels and the mortals took hold of the holy ark. The angels overpowered the mortals and the holy ark has been captured" (Ket. 104a; and tj, Kil. 9:4, 32b), and in Yannai's proclamation on that day: "There is no priesthood today" (i.e., the laws pertaining to the priests were suspended for Judah ha-Nasi's funeral; tj, Ber. 3:1, 6a); in the statement of Hillel b. Vallas that "not since the days of Moses were learning and high office combined in one person until Rabbi" (Git. 59a); and in the addendum to the Mishnah that "when Rabbi died humility and the fear of sin ceased" (Sot. 9:15; and see Maimonides' commentary ad loc.).

Many amoraim of the first generation were Judah's pupils: *Ḥanina b. Ḥama, *Yannai ha-Kohen, *Levi, *Rav, and also Ḥiyya, who was both his pupil and associate. On his deathbed he gave the following instructions: "My son Simeon [is to be] ḥakham, my son Gamaliel patriarch, Ḥanina b. Ḥama shall preside" (Ket. 103b). A comparison between this version and that in the Jerusalem Talmud (tj, Ta'an. 4:2, 68a) shows that Judah ha-Nasi's intention was clearly to reinstate the form of group leadership which had prevailed before his time: patriarch, av bet din, and ḥakham, but that he left the right of appointment in the hands of the patriarch – his son – and not of the Sanhedrin, as had previously been the case [but cf. Goodblatt, 371–72]. Judah ha-Nasi was buried at Bet *She'arim (tj, Kil. 9:4, 32b; tj, Ket. 12:3, 35a: Eccles. R. 7:12; cf. Levine, 112–13). The medieval tradition that his tomb is at Sepphoris is not supported by the sources.

Tendencies in Recent Research

From about 1975 there has been a radical change in the scholarly attitude toward the talmudic aggadah as a source for the historical biography of the tannaim and the amoraim. Starting with J. *Neusner's later work on Johanan ben Zakkai (Development of a Legend) attention has shifted away from the critical analysis of talmudic traditions, in order to isolate "kernels" of historical fact which may then be used in order to reconstruct the image of a concrete historical figure, and has focused instead on the development of the talmudic legends themselves. This approach has been particularly successful with respect to figures like *Beruryah and *Elisha ben Avuya, whose very existence as historical figures is questionable at best, or like Rabban *Johanan ben Zakkai, whose historical identity lies buried in the shadowy past of the earliest tannaitic traditions, and is known to us primarily through the medium of a far later "normative tradition" consisting mostly of legend. The case of Judah ha-Nasi is exceptional, however, in that his concrete historical identity is present to us, both in the form of the Mishnah which he himself redacted, and as reflected in many contemporary reports and traditions which were recorded and redacted in or shortly after his own lifetime, sometimes by his own disciples and in his own academy. Therefore, even in the "post-Neusner" era historians have profitably continued to investigate the concrete historical role which Judah ha-Nasi played in Ereẓ Israel at the end of the second and the beginning of the third centuries, on the basis of talmudic tradition and contemporary archaeological and documentary evidence (see, for example, Levine). Nevertheless, two of Neusner's insights must be kept in mind when evaluating the historical reliability of different and often conflicting talmudic traditions. The first is that the Rabbis themselves were uninterested in talmudic biography as such, and almost never preserved continuous historical records concerning even the most significant rabbinic figures. Historical accounts – even the earliest and most "authentic" – are fragmentary, usually describing some particular episode or anecdote, and almost always reflecting some ethical, theological, or polemical agenda. The second insight derives from Neusner's synoptic studies, in which he concluded that later talmudic traditions are often literary expansions and elaborations of earlier literary sources, and therefore cannot always be considered to be independent historical sources. This second insight has been most thoroughly and rigorously developed in recent decades by S. *Friedman, who, in a series of studies on the historical aggadot of the Babylonian Talmud, has shown that its elaborate and colorful descriptions of events in the lives of the tannaim and the amoraim are often the product of deliberate and considered editorial revision of earlier sources. Using Friedman's method, S. Wald ("Hate and Peace") has recently analyzed an important Babylonian aggadah concerning Judah ha-Nasi found in bb 8a. This tradition has been used by various scholars as evidence for Judah ha-Nasi's vast wealth (Levine, 100), his establishment of an "aristocracy of learning" (see above), the kinds of taxes imposed by the Roman government on the Palestinian Jewish community (Levine, 103–4), and even as evidence for the "portrait of Judah ha-Nasi as a leader" (Meir, 226–27). Wald has shown that the first half of this tradition represents a conscious Babylonian revision of various Palestinian traditions, reflecting a particularly virulent form of consistent anti-amha-areẓ polemic characteristic of an important trend in post-amoraic Babylonian tradition (see Wald, Pesaḥimiii, 211–39). The second half of this tradition – which was viewed by Levine as independent corroboration of the imposition in the time of Judah ha-Nasi of the "aurum coronarium" mentioned also in Bavli bb 143a – was shown by Wald to be a later Babylonian reworking of the earlier Babylonian tradition found further on in tb, bb 143a, whose relative originality and authenticity is confirmed by a parallel tradition found in tj, Yoma 1:2, 39a. The second half of this tradition also reflects the same post-amoraic anti-am-ha-areẓ polemic. This example may serve as a warning against accepting the historical aggadot of the Babylonian Talmud at face value, even under the best of circumstances. When examined against the background of its immediate literary sources, and in the context of the ideological tendency of the family of Babylonian traditions to which it belongs, this aggadah is seen to reflect the ideological agenda of its redactor, who had little or no interest in the historical figure of Judah ha-Nasi or even in providing a coherent "image of Judah ha-Nasi as a leader."


Graetz, Hist, index; S. Krauss, Antoninus und Rabbi (1910); Klein, in: jqr, 2 (1911–12), 545–56; idem, in: mgwj, 78 (1934), 168f.; Frankel, Mishnah, 201–8; G. Bader, Jewish Spiritual Heroes, 1 (1940), 411–36; Wallach, in: jqr, 31 (1940/41), 259–86; A. Buechler, Studies in Jewish History, ed. by I. Brodie and J. Rabbinowitz (1956), 179–244; B. Mazar, Beit She'arim, 1 (19572), 15–18; Ḥ. Albeck, Mavo la-Mishnah (1959), 99–115; Urbach, in: Molad, 17 (1959), 422–40; idem, in: Divrei ha-Akademyah ha-Le'ummit ha-Yisre'elit le-Madda'im, 2 (1965), 51–53; Alon, Toledot, 2 (19612), 129–58; Epstein, Mishnah, 1 (19642), 7–18; Epstein, Tanna'im, 200–30. add. bibliography: L.I. Levine, in: Z. Baras, S. Safrai, M. Stern, and Y. Tsafrir (eds.), Eretz Israel from the Destruction of the Second Temple to the Moslem Conquest (Heb., 1982), 94–118; A.I. Baumgarten, in: E.P. Sanders et al. (eds.), Jewish and Christian Self-Definition, 2 (1981), 213–25, 382–91; idem, in: Journal for the Study of Judaism, 12:2 (1982), 135–72; S.J.D. Cohen, in: paajr, 48 (1981), 62–68; D. Goodblatt, in: Ẓion,49 (1984), 349–74; S. Friedman, "The Historical Aggadah of the Babylonian Talmud" (Hebrew), in: S. Friedman (ed.), Saul Lieberman Memorial Volume (1993), 119–64; O. Meir, Rabbi Judah the Patriarch (Heb., 1999); S. Wald, "Hate and Peace in Rabbinic Consciousness," in: A. Bar-Levav (ed.), War and Peace (Heb., 2005); idem, Pesaḥim iii (Heb., 2000), 211–39.

[Encyclopaedia Hebraica /

Stephen G. Wald (2nd ed.)]

Judah I

views updated May 14 2018

Judah I

The Jewish scholar Judah I (ca. 135-ca. 220), also called Judah Ha-Nasi, was head of the Sanhedrin and edited the Mishnah, a collection of the Oral Law.

The son and successor of Rabban Simeon, Judah received his Jewish training at his father's home at Usha and at the academies of Akiba ben Joseph's disciples. He also received a broad secular schooling in foreign languages, particularly Greek. However, Judah favored Hebrew and made it the language of his household.

Shortly after his father died (ca. 170), Judah succeeded him to the powerful office of Nasi, or head of the Sanhedrin. Judah was known for his great learning and was commonly called Rabbi, or master par excellence. He was also called Ha-Nasi, or the Prince. He was a wealthy man who gave of his riches and conducted his office with great dignity.

Not long after he assumed his post, Judah was compelled by a devastating plague of locusts and other hardships to move from Usha to Bet Shearim, another town in Galilee. He also transferred his academy there. Later, because of illness, he went to Sepphoris, north of Nazareth, where he spent the last 17 years of his life.

Judah was concerned with retaining Palestine as the spiritual center of Diaspora Jewry. He therefore limited ordination to scholars who agreed to remain there. For this reason, the eminent sage Abba Arika (the Tall), who later founded the great yeshiva at Sura in Babylonia, received only partial ordination.

Judah associated freely with colleagues and pupils and extolled the dignity of labor. The path that one should choose in life, he urged, should be a source of honor to the individual as well as to mankind. Judah's unselfishness, teachings, and meritorious conduct earned for him the appellation of Ha-Kadosh, the Saint.

Although Judah aspired to establish his office as the supreme authority in Judaism, he did not succeed in doing so. However, his Mishnah, or compilation of the Oral Law, achieved this objective. The Oral Law was a body of oral tradition; it consisted of explanations and amplifications of the written, or scriptural, text. Since the days of Hillel (died A.D. 10) and his contemporary Shammai, attempts had been made to arrange systematically the confused and growing mass of oral laws. At Yavneh, in the days of Gamaliel II (ca. 80-115), an effort was made to resolve the disputes between the schools of Hillel and Shammai in order to produce a unified and undisputed version of the Oral Law. Akiba ben Joseph (died ca. 135) arranged these Halakahs, or Oral Laws, in a logical system, thereby laying the groundwork of Judah's Mishnah. Judah prepared a standard and authoritative version. Unlike the existing collections of the Oral Law, that of Rabbi was composite in nature and included laws and traditions expounded by him as well as other Tannaim (Mishnaic teachers).

The compendium prepared by Judah was a momentous work that required over a half century of labor and was completed about 217. Judah generally assembled the ritual regulations in separate volumes. Because of his personal prestige and authority as the titular head of Jewry, Judah's Mishnah became the norm. Some 148 scholars are mentioned in Rabbi's Mishnah by name, but many more contributed to it anonymously.

The Mishnah was not a code, strictly speaking, because it contained nonlegal as well as legal matter. It has been spoken of as a legal digest. Though Jews generally spoke Aramaic at the time, the language of the Mishnah is Hebrew, couched in a concise, lucid style. It appears that Judah's Mishnah was not completed entirely by him, for it contains insertions by authorities of the following generation.

Judah's Mishnah soon became a text for students and a guide and reference work for scholars and rabbis. It provided the foundation and structure for the work of the next generation of teachers, known as Amoraim, or discoursers or expounders of the Mishnah, who continued the work of the Tannaim. Several centuries later (ca. 600), the Amoraim produced the Gemara. The Mishnah and the Gemara together constitute the Talmud.

Further Reading

To understand the Oral Law, the reader should peruse Herbert Danby's excellent English translation of the Mishna (1933). Recommended for background material and orientation is George Foote Moore, Judaism in the First Centuries of the Christian Era, vol. 1 (1927). A good treatment of the work of Judah Ha-Nasi and his colleagues is presented in Judah Goldin, "Period of the Talmud," in the first volume of Louis Finkelstein, ed., The Jews (1949; 2d ed. 1955). For a general background sketch of the Halakahs see the essay "The Significance of the Halacha for Jewish History" in Louis Ginsberg, On Jewish Law and Lore (1955). □

Judah Ha-Nasi

views updated Jun 11 2018


Head of Palestinian Jewry and codifier of the mish nah; b. probably in Galilee, c. 135; d. Galilee, c. 220. Judah was the son of Simeon II ben Gamaliel II, who was the grandson of gamaliel (mentioned in Acts 5.34;22.3), who was in turn the grandson of Hillel. As the patriarch or head of Palestinian Jewry, Judah received as a permanent epithet the title ha-Nasi (the Prince), originally given to the president of the Great Sanhedrin in Jerusalem. In the Mishnah he is referred to simply as Rabbi (the teacher par excellence), and in the gemarah he is often called Rabbenu (our teacher) or Rabbenu ha-kadosh (our saintly teacher). He was instructed in the halakah of the Oral Law by the most famous rabbis of his time, but he summed up his experience as a student, and later as a teacher, in the words: "Much of the Law have I learned from my teachers, more from my colleagues, but most of all from my students"(Mak. 10a).

According to his contemporaries, humility and fear of sin were his dominant traits. Although he was very rich, he led a simple and unassuming life because he was convinced that "he who accepts the pleasures of this world is deprived of the pleasures of the world to come" [Avot de-Rabbi Natan 28, ed. S. Schechter (New York 1945) 85]. When he succeeded his father as leader of the Jews in Palestine, he established the seat of the patriarchate and the academy, first at Bet Shearim and later at Sepphoris. (Both of these places are within a ten mile radius of Nazareth.) He conducted the patriarchate with royal dignity, and his authority was recognized by the Romans as well as by the Jews. His tomb was discovered in one of the catacombs of Bet Shearim during the excavations made there in 1953 [Israel Exploration Journal 4 (1956) 88107].

Rabbi Judah's greatest and lasting contribution to ju daism was his compilation and codification of the Oral Law in the collection of legal sayings called the Mishnah. Other collected teachings of earlier rabbis had been attempted before his time, but his collection soon eclipsed these and became the sole authoritative expression of the Halakah. Until his time, the traditional interpretation of the Mosaic Law was handed down orally, and hence was known as the Oral Law as distinctive from the written Law of Moses. Judah's revolutionary procedure consisted of recording the Oral Law in writing (in Mishnaic Hebrew). The earlier transmitters of the Oral Law, the Tannaim (repeaters), belonged to different schools that held variant opinions. This resulted in uncertainty as to what was really binding, and the divergent opinions ascribed to the ancient sages could be accepted or rejected at will. Judah's main contribution lay in the judicious selections he made from the copious material at his disposal. Since the publication of his Mishnah at the end of the second or beginning of the third century, the primary pursuit of Jewish sages has been commenting on its contents.

See Also: talmud.

Bibliography: w. bacher, The Jewish Encyclopedia. ed. j. singer (New York 190106) 7:33333. d. j. bornstein, Encyclopaedia Judaica: Das Judentum in Geschichte und Gegenwart. (Berlin 192834) 8:102335. l. lazarus, Universal Jewish Encyclopedia (New York 193944) 6: 229230. k. schubert, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner (Freiberg 195765) 5:889. a. guttmann, "The Patriarch Judah I: His Birth and Death," Hebrew Union College Annual 25 (1954) 239261.

[m. j. stiassny]

Judah ha-Nasi

views updated May 18 2018

Judah ha-Nasi (late 2nd cent. CE). Jewish leader and legal expert. Judah ha-Nasi, a direct descendant of Hillel, devoted his life as nasi to building up the unity of the Jewish people in Erez Israel and spreading the knowledge of Torah. His name is particularly associated with the redaction of the Mishnah.