The Tannaim part 3

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A new series by R. Aryeh Leibowitz of Yeshivat Sha’alvim. Continued from here: link

Part III: The Destruction of the Second Beis HaMikdash

The tenure of Hillel began around one-hundred years before the destruction of the second Beis HaMikdash (Shabbos 15a). Leadership of the Beis Din HaGadol after Hillel was passed on to his son, Shimon, and then his grandson, Raban Gamliel HaZaken. This title, Raban, was first used with R. Gamliel HaZaken, and then became a title reserved for the Nasi of the Beis Din HaGadol. Raban Gamliel HaZaken is credited in the Mishna with important takanos regarding witnesses that come to testify about the new moon (Rosh Hashanah 23b) and concerning divorce (Gittin 32a and 34b). 

Forty years before the destruction of the second Beis HaMikdash[1]There were several things that occurred forty years before the churban that were signs of the impending destruction. Throughout the period of the Beis HaMikdash, the placard that said … Continue reading – during Raban Gamliel HaZaken’s tenure as the Nasi of the Beis Din HaGadol and King Agripas’ reign as the Roman appointed King of Judea[2]Agripas was the grandson or great-grandson of Herod. Although he was culturally Roman, he had positive feelings towards Torah and mitzvos. The mishna in Sotah 41a tells of the time he was present at … Continue reading – the Beis Din HaGadol abandoned its regular meeting place in the Lishkas HaGazis and moved to a location outside of Yershualayim called חנות (or חנויות). The reason for this self-imposed exile from the Temple Mount was in order to prevent the adjudication of capital cases, as instances of murder had increased due to sectarian fighting during this time and the Beis Din HaGadol felt that the court system was not equipped to properly try so many cases (Rashi, Rosh Hashanah 31a s.v. מלשכת and Rashi, Sanhedrin 41a s.v. אלא).[3]Even though a regular court of twenty-three can adjudicate capitol cases, the halacha requires the Beis Din HaGadol to be in “the place that Hashem, your God, will chose” – in this case the … Continue reading Moreover, the Talmud (Makkos 7a) teaches that it is considered a disgrace if a Beis Din executes more than one person every seventy years (Tosafos Chochmei Anglia, Sanhedrin 41a).[4]This does not mean that no capital cases were tried during this period. When necessary, such as for a case of a zaken mamrei, the Beis Din HaGadol did return to the Lishkas HaGazis to function in … Continue reading 

The Roman siege of Yerushalayim was led by General Vespasian. Gittin 56b relates the heroic efforts of the elderly R. Yochanan Ben Zakkai, Hillel’ youngest student, to negotiate with the Roman General and secure the continuity of the Beis Din HaGadol and the great Torah scholars. Called back to Rome to assume the Emperorship, Vespasian was replaced by his son Titus who completed the siege of Yerushalayim and was successful in destroying the Beis HaMikdash.[5]On the surface, the destruction of the second Beis HaMikdash occurred as part of the Roman response to Jewish rebellions in Judea. However, Chazal identify several causes that were the deeper reasons … Continue reading

The Nasi of the Beis Din HaGadol during the time of the destruction was Raban Shimon ben Gamliel HaZaken, a prominent member of the Beis Hillel. He was killed, al kiddush Hashem, during the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash and is counted as one of the “Ten Martyrs (עשרה הרוגי מלכות).”[6]The Talmud teaches that he was a great-grandson of Hillel, who, as mentioned earlier, was the Nasi of the Beis Din HaGadol one-hundred years before the churban habayis. Hillel’s son was Shimon, his … Continue reading With the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash, the Beis Din HaGadol was relocated to Yavne, as per R. Yochanan Ben Zakkai’s request of Vespasian. 

The post destruction period was one of extreme suffering for the Jews of Eretz Yisrael.  The Romans imposed crushing taxes on the inhabitants of Eretz Yisrael and carried out cruel acts of religious persecution, including the targeted assassinations of Rabbinic leaders. Without the Beis HaMikdash and with the decreased autonomy of the Jews, the Sanhedrin’s ability to serve as a central body for teaching, interpreting, and preserving the Torah weakened. These responsibilities fell on the shoulders of the beleaguered individual Tannaim and their students. 

The Jewish community of Eretz Yisrael also faced internal struggles. The pervasive influence of Greek intellectualism and secular Hellenism threatened religious life. The sectarian Tzadukim also challenged the traditional community, questioning many of the basic tenets of Rabbinic Judaism. Both of these movement held particular influence among the politically influential upper class.

The period of the Tannaim after the destruction of the second Beis HaMikdash can itself be separated into three periods. During the first period, the center of learning was in Yavne, with important Tannaim also functioning in centrally located areas of the country, such as Lod and Bnai Brak. This period came to an end with the start of the Jewish led Bar-Kochba rebellion against the ruling Romans. The second period was the generation of the rebellion and its aftermath. Due to the rebellion, the Sanhedrin was forced to relocate to north Eretz Yisrael (Galil). There the weakened Sanhedrin moved between small towns – such as Usha, Shafre’am, Beit Shearim and Tzipori – likely to avoid the Romans.[7]Rosh Hashana 31a-32b states that there were ten stages of exile for the Sanhedrin during the period of the destruction of the second Beis HaMikdash and its aftermath in direct correlation to ten … Continue reading The final period was that of R. Yehuda HaNasi and his contemporaries. During R. Yehuda’s tenure, the Sanhedrin moved to its final location in Tevaria.[8]Rambam, Sanhedrin 14:12. However, there are indication that the Sanhderin continued to function, on some level, until the Romans decreed an end to the position of Nasi during the period of the later … Continue reading

 

Endnotes

Endnotes
1There were several things that occurred forty years before the churban that were signs of the impending destruction. Throughout the period of the Beis HaMikdash, the placard that said “לה’” for the שעירי יום כיפור used to always come out in the Kohen Gadol’s right hand and the crimson cloth (לשון של זהורית) used to always turn white when the שעיר לעזאזל was thrown off the cliff. However, forty years before the destruction, both of these miracles stopped occurring (Yuma 39b). The Talmud teaches that R. Tzadok, sensing the impending disaster, fasted for forty years until the destruction (Gittin 56a).
2Agripas was the grandson or great-grandson of Herod. Although he was culturally Roman, he had positive feelings towards Torah and mitzvos. The mishna in Sotah 41a tells of the time he was present at hakel and began to cry when he realized he was not halachically fit to be king. The Rabbis who were present consoled the distraught monarch.
3Even though a regular court of twenty-three can adjudicate capitol cases, the halacha requires the Beis Din HaGadol to be in “the place that Hashem, your God, will chose” – in this case the Lishkas HaGazis – as a prerequisite for any local court of twenty-three to adjudicate capital cases. Note that the Meiri (Sanhedrin 42b ד”ה זה שביארנו) writes that capital cases can be judged if there is any actual קביעות in Yerushalayim, not specifically in the Lishkas HaGazis.
4This does not mean that no capital cases were tried during this period. When necessary, such as for a case of a zaken mamrei, the Beis Din HaGadol did return to the Lishkas HaGazis to function in their official role as Beis Din HaGadol (Tosafos AZ 8b s.v. אלא).
5On the surface, the destruction of the second Beis HaMikdash occurred as part of the Roman response to Jewish rebellions in Judea. However, Chazal identify several causes that were the deeper reasons for the churban. It was only due to these sins that Hashem granted the Roman forces the ability to destroy the Beis HaMikdash.
6The Talmud teaches that he was a great-grandson of Hillel, who, as mentioned earlier, was the Nasi of the Beis Din HaGadol one-hundred years before the churban habayis. Hillel’s son was Shimon, his son was R. Gamliel HaZaken, and his son was R. Shimon b. Gamliel HaZaken.
7Rosh Hashana 31a-32b states that there were ten stages of exile for the Sanhedrin during the period of the destruction of the second Beis HaMikdash and its aftermath in direct correlation to ten stages of exile of the divine presence (מסעות השכינה) from Yerushalayim during the period of the destruction of the first Beis HaMikdash.
8Rambam, Sanhedrin 14:12. However, there are indication that the Sanhderin continued to function, on some level, until the Romans decreed an end to the position of Nasi during the period of the later Amoraim.

About Aryeh Leibowitz

Rabbi Leibowitz is a Ram at Yeshivat Sha'alvim and serves as the Assistant Dean of the Overseas Program.

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