Dean of the Academy of Jabneh and Lydda and one of the more famous Tannaim (Jewish teachers of the first two Christian centuries). He lived in the second half of the first century and first quarter of the second century (d. c. 123). Born in a priestly family, he served as a youth in the Temple of Jerusalem. He studied in the Beth Shammai school, and also under gamaliel the Elder and johananben zakkai. But he was an independent halakist (see halakah) and authored legal rulings on many subjects discussed in the talmud, in such fields as lost objects, payment of debts, damage caused by animals, relief for the poor, and special benedictions. Among his students were akiba ben joseph, who later became his colleague in teaching, and Judah ben Ilai, who became one of the teachers of judah ha–nasi, the editor of the mishnah.
Tarphon, though a wealthy man and a leader in his community, was noted for his humility, charity, and piety. He was emphatic in his adherence to traditional religious principles. He valued labor and industriousness very highly and liked to picture the relationship of man toward God as similar to that of a laborer toward his master, e.g., "The day is short, the labor vast, the toilers idle, the reward great, and the Master urgent" (pirke avoth 1.15). His poetic expressions often reflected his loving memories of the temple; to express approval of what someone said, he would say, "Like a knop and a blossom" (Bereshet Raba 91.12; cf. Ex 25.31–36), i.e., "You have spoken as beautifully as the adornments of the lampstand in the temple." He was affectionately called the "father of all Israel." According to one version of a midrash, he was one of the famous Ten Martyrs of his era.
Bibliography: The Jewish Encyclopedia 12:56–57. Universal Jewish Encyclopedia 10:172–173. m. margulies, ed., Entsiklopediyah lehakhme ha-Talmud veha-geonim 2 v. (Tel Aviv 1960).