The Tannaim part 4

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

The Tannaim of Yavne

R. Yochanan Ben Zakkai and R. Gamliel of Yavne

The Rabbinic community during and after the Churban was led by Raban Yochanan Ben Zakkai, who succeeded the martyred R. Shimon b. Gamliel HaZaken as the Nasi of the Sanhedrin. R. Yochanan ben Zakkai was a student of Hillel.[1]He must have been a very young student of Hillel, who lived one-hundred years before the churban. Succah 28a and Bava Basra 134a refer to R. Yochanan ben Zakkai as the “smallest” of Hillel’s … Continue reading His many takanos appear in the Mishna, most of them dedicated to commemorating the loss of the Beis HaMikdash and anticipating its quick rebuilding. R. Yochanan’s students formed the backbone of the next generation of Tannaim, those that would establish Torah in the post-churban period in Eretz Yisrael.

R. Yochanan’s younger contemporary was Raban Gamliel of Yavne. He was a direct descendant of Hillel and the rightful successor to the position of Nasi after the death of R. Shimon ben Gamliel. To avoid the wrath of the Romans, R. Yochanan ben Zakkai first served as Nasi in the newly convened Yavne Sanhedrin, but as soon as it was deemed safe, Raban Gamliel was installed.

Raban Gamliel played a crucial role in the post-churban generation that reestablished Torah in Yavne. As Nasi, he established the positions of Beis Hillel as the normative halakhic ruling. During his tenure, the Sanhedrin debated several important issues, and he personally engaged in a few heated debates with the Av Beis Din, R. Yehoshua. A number of these debates are recorded in the Mishna and Gemara. During one particularly bitter debate, Raban Gamliel was removed from his position and replaced with the young R. Elazar Ben Azaryah. Eventually he was reinstated, and he and R. Elazar ben Azarya served together as Nasi of the Sanhedrin (Berachos 27b-28a). Raban Gamliel died as an aftermath of the expulsion of R. Eliezer from the Sanhedrin due to a debate about the oven of Achnai (Bava Metzia 85).

R. Eliezer and R. Yehoshua

R. Eliezer and R. Yehoshua were the two leading members of the Sanhedrin during the tenure of Raban Gamliel. R. Eliezer ben Herkenus, also known as R. Eliezer HaGadol, is the “R. Eliezer” quoted often in the Mishna. Possibly the greatest of R. Yochanan Ben Zakkai’s students (See Avos 2:8), R. Eliezer, along with R. Yehoshua, aided R. Yochanan b. Zakkai’s escape from a besieged Yerushalayim during the churban, and thereby contributed to the securing of Yavne. In Yavne, R. Eliezer served as a prominent member of the Yavne Sanhedrin under his brother-in-law, the Nasi, Raban Gamliel. He was strongly opinionated, and fiercely debated the other Tannaim on many issues. He is referred to as a Shamuti, indicating that he studied under scholars from the Beis Shammai, even though his primary teacher was R. Yochanan Ben Zakkai of the Beis Hillel. In fact, Sukkah 28a relates many pious practices of R. Eliezer that he learned from R. Yochanan ben Zakkai. In the famous debate of the Oven of Achnai, R. Eliezer argued against all the other Tannaim. The events of that fierce debate led to his expulsion from the Sanhedrin. He lived the remainder of his life in Lod. The midrashic work, Pirkei De’Rebe Eliezer is ascribed to him.

R. Yehoshua ben Chananya is the “R. Yehoshua” in the Mishna. In his youth, he served as a Levi in the Beis HaMikdash. Like R. Eliezer, he was a primary student of R. Yochanan Ben Zakkai. In Yavne, R. Yehoshua served as the Av Beis Din alongside the Nasi, Raban Gamliel. The Mishna records many of his halakhic arguments with R. Eliezer.

R. Akiva and his Colleagues

R. Akiva b. Yosef was a student of R. Eliezer and R. Yehoshua. He famously hosted his teachers in his home in Bnei Brak for the Pesach Seder described in the Hagadah. Chazal (Avos DeRabi Nasan 6:2) relate that R. Akiva started his Torah studies later in life. Nonetheless, he was the leading scholar of his generation, and his greatness in Torah is compared to that of Moshe Rabbeinu (Menachos 29b). At the end of his life, R. Akiva was incarcerated by the Roman authorities for teaching Torah in public. He was killed, al kidush Hashem, by the Romans and is counted as one of the Ten Martyrs (עשרה הרוגי מלכות).

Yevamos 62b relates that thousands of Rabbi Akiva’s students died in a plague, yet R. Akiva did not despair. Instead, he trained an entire new generation of scholars. These scholars were the leading Tannaim of the following generation.

R. Yishmael b. Elisha, is the “R. Yishmael”of the Mishna.[2]The Gemara refers to R. Yishmael as “הולכי אושא” in Bava Basra 28a-b. Note that this R. Yishmael is not the same person as R. Yishmael b. Elisha, who served as the Kohen Gadol right … Continue reading He was a student of R. Eliezer and R. Yehoshua, and was known as R. Akiva’s interlocutor. Based on Hillel’s seven principles of interpreting the Torah, R. Yishmael taught thirteen principles of interpretation (middos of derasha), which are recited as part of the daily prayer service of Shachris.[3]R. Yishmael and R. Akiva argued on fundamental issues of interpreting the Torah text. For example, when dealing with generalizations and particulars, R. Akiva favoring the ריבוי מיעוט … Continue reading R. Yishmael was a prominent member of the Sanhedrin in Usha.

R. Tarfon studied under R. Yochana ben Zakkai, but he was also a student of the Beis Shammai (See Mishna Brachos 10b). Like R. Eliezer before him, R. Tarfon flourished in the city of Lod.

R. Elazar b. Azaryah was a descendant of Ezra HaSofer and assumed the role of Nasi at the age of seventeen when R. Gamlilel of Yavne was demoted from the position. The day he became Nasi is referred to by Chazal as “that day (בו ביום).” On “that day” many benches were added to the study hall due to R. Elazar’s willingness to overlook the strict requirements instituted by R. Gamliel for admission. Additionally, the entire tractate Eduyos was compiled on “that day.” After R. Gamliel was reinstated, R. Elazar ben Azarya and R. Gamliel served jointly as Nasi.

Endnotes

Endnotes
1He must have been a very young student of Hillel, who lived one-hundred years before the churban. Succah 28a and Bava Basra 134a refer to R. Yochanan ben Zakkai as the “smallest” of Hillel’s students. The Kesef Mishna (Mamrim 2:2) explains that this statement does not mean that he was the least knowledgeable in Torah, for he emerged as the leader of his generation! Rather this statement is to be interpreted as a reference to his knowledge in some of the other, non-Torah, fields of knowledge that are enumerated in the Gemara there.
2The Gemara refers to R. Yishmael as “הולכי אושא” in Bava Basra 28a-b. Note that this R. Yishmael is not the same person as R. Yishmael b. Elisha, who served as the Kohen Gadol right before the churban and was one of the Ten Martyrs.
3R. Yishmael and R. Akiva argued on fundamental issues of interpreting the Torah text. For example, when dealing with generalizations and particulars, R. Akiva favoring the ריבוי מיעוט method of analysis, whereas R. Yishamel preferred the כלל ופרט method. R. Akiva also favored darshaning extra letters or words, while R. Yishmael focused more on the basic intent of the verse.

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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