The Tannaim part 5

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This is the final post in a new series by R. Aryeh Leibowitz of Yeshivat Sha’alvim. Continued from here: link

The Later Tannaim

The Bar Kochba Revolt

Throughout the post-churban period of Roman rule in Israel there were feuds and tension between the ruling Romans and their Jewish subjects. An early rebellion even forced R. Akiva to leave Israel for the city of Nehardea in Bavel.

Although the Bar Kochba Revolt (135 CE), led by R. Shimon b. Kosevah/Kochba, was certainly fueled by the general tension in the region, there were also immediate provocations.[1]These included: An increase in Roman persecution of the Jews (attributed by the Roman Emperor Trajan to Jewish support of the Persians), Emperor Hadrian reneging on a promise to allow the Beis … Continue reading At first, Bar Kochba seemed to have the support of R. Akiva. But with time, the rabbinic establishment was severely disenchanted with Bar Kochba.[2]The Yerushalmi, Ta’anis 4:5, states that the Rabbinic establishment supported Bar Kochba. However, in the Bavli, Sanhedrin 93b, is says that the Rabbi’s checked Bar Kochba to see if he had any … Continue reading The revolt ended with the catastrophic slaughter of multitudes of Jews in Beitar on the ninth of Av, which the Yerushalmi attributes to Bar Kochba’s cruel and unjustified murder of his uncle, the venerable sage, R. Elazar Hamodai, whose prayers has been protecting the Jews.

After the massacre, dead bodies were strewn all over the area of Beiter. Even after the battle was won and the revolt quashed, the Romans continued to hunt down Jews in the surrounding cities and murder them. Miraculously, the Jewish bodies did not rot, and the Romans eventually allowed then to be buried. At this occasion, the bracha of HaTov VeHaMeitiv was instituted in Birchas HaMazon.

Throughout this period, many Jews were persecuted for their dedication to Torah and mitzvos. One of the most important events for the next generation was the tremendous dedication of R. Yehudah ben Bava, a contemporary of R. Akiva, to continue semicha ordination, something that was expressly outlawed by the Romans. Avodah Zarah 8b teaches that R. Yehuda sacrificed his own life while conferring semicha to five of Rabbi Akiva’s primary students. These students were responsible for continuing the chain of tradition into the next generation during this horrible time of persecution.

After the revolt, the Roman Emperor Hadrian (אדריאנוס) set his mind to completely obliterating the Jewish nation. Unlike Vespasian, who acceded to R. Yochanan Ben Zakkai’s requests to leave a remnant of the Torah culture, Hadrian realized that Torah and mitzvos were the secret of Jewish survival. He therefore instituted laws to completely outlaw mitzvah observance. He set out on a murderous campaign against Torah scholars. He also sought to sever the people’s connection to Eretz Yisrael. He did this by plowing Yerushalayim and barring Jews from living there. He also changed the name of the country from Judea to Syria-Palestina.

However, Hadrian’s nefarious plans were short-lived. With his death, most of his oppressive laws were revoked by his successor. In short time, the vital sign of Jewish culture returned – the Sanhedrin was reconvened, meeting in the Galilean town of Usha. Several important takanos were instituted by the Sanhedrin during the Usha period.

The Later Tannaim

The central rabbinic figures after the Bar Kochba rebellion were R. Akiva’s students from his later years. Raban Shimon b. Gamliel served as the Nasi in the reconvened Sanhedrin in Usha. The Av Beis Din was Rav Nasan HaBavli,so called because he had come to Israel from Bavel.[3]R. Nasan’s memory is preserved by the law named after him, “שיעבודא דרבי נתן.” He is also considered the compiler of Avos DeRebbi Nasan, an expanded version of Pirkei Avos.

One of R. Akiva’s primary students was R. Meir. He also studied under R. Yishmael and Elisha b. Abuya (Acher). His wife was the scholarly Bruriah, daughter of the martyred R. Chananya ben Tradyon. His prime student was Sumchos.

R. Meir was a unique and brilliant scholar, seemingly too creative for the rest of the Sanhedrin, much like the earlier R. Eliezer b. Herkenus. In fact, Eruvin 13b states that the halacha does not follow R. Meir since the other scholars were not able to fully grasp his complex positions (עומד על סוף דעתו). In the Usha Sanhedrin, R. Meir served in the role of chacham,[4]One scholar suggests that the Chacham judged ritual laws (הוראה), while the Av Beis Din judged Monetary laws (דין). a position that was similar in stature to the Av Beis Din.[5]See Horiyos 13b for an attempt by R. Meir and R. Nasan to remove R. Shimon b. Gamliel, the Nasi, from his position. The attempt failed, and from then on R. Meir’s teachings were taught in the name … Continue reading Anonymously recorded mishnayos are assumed to reflect the teachings of R. Meir, although there are exceptions to this rule.

R. Shimon Bar Yochai is the “R. Shimon” of the Mishna. He is credited with the main teachings of the Sifri and the Zohar. He argued that the mitzvos could be applied based on the assessed reasoning behind the commandment (דרשינן טעמא דקרא). R. Shimon was vocal about his criticism of the Roman government, and this forced him and his son, R. Elazar, to live in a cave for thirteen years to escape persecution.[6]Some have noted that many of R. Shimon’s opinions reflect a specific focus on the importance of intentions, such as his opinion that one is not liable for a Shabbos transgression done without … Continue reading

R. Yehuda Bar Ilai, “R. Yehuda” of the Mishna, is the most quoted Tanna in the Mishna.[7]In addition, Temurah 15b states that when the Talmud relates a story about a certain “pious person (מעשה בחסיד אחד)” it generally means R. Yehuda, or sometimes R. Yehuda ben Bava. He is credited with the main teachings of the Sifra. In the Mishna, R. Yehuda often limits the application of a law, where he begins his statements saying “when was this stated (אימתי)” or “In what context was this stated (במה דברים אמרים).” The Amoraim (Sanhedrin 25) debate if this means that he is arguing with or explaining the initial position in the mishna. The halacha generally follows R. Yehuda when he argues with either R. Meir or R. Shimon.

R. Yosi bar Chalafta is “R. Yosi” of the Mishna.[8]Not to be confused with R. Yosi HaGalili, a contemporary of R. Akiva. He is the assumed author of the Seder Olam. He was known for his very logically sound positions (נמוקי עמו), and the halacha generally follows him when he argues with R. Meir, R. Shimon, and even R. Yehuda.

R. Yehuda HaNasi and the Mishna

R. Yehuda HaNasi, known in the literature of Chazal as “Rebbi” or “Rabbeinu HaKadosh” was born in Usha to his father, the Nasi, R. Shimon b. Gamliel. R. Yehuda studied under his illustrious father and the other students of R. Akiva. Chazal relate that in addition to his greatness in Torah scholarship, he was also extremely wealthy (תורה וגדולה במקום אחד). The Rambam writes (Perush HaMishna, Introduction) about Rebbi, “He was unique in his generation, singular in his time – a man that had all of the best character traits… He was complete in wisdom and virtue… complete in piety and humility and successful at properly distancing himself from [physical] luxuries.”

Towards the end of Rebbi’s father’s life, the Sanhedrin moved to the town of Shafre’am and then to Beit She’arim. When his father passed away, R. Yehudah HaNasi assumed the position of Nasi in Beit She’arim. Later in his life, the Sanhedrin moved to Tzipori and then finally to Tiverya (Tiberius), the final location of the Sanhedrin (Rambam, Sanhedrin 14:12)

During his lifetime, relatively good relations existed between the Jews and the Romans, and it appears that he maintained a personal relationship with several Roman figures, including the Emperor Atoninus.[9]This is likely Marcus Aurelius, the Roman Emperor from 161 C.E. to 180 C.E. Aurelius was also an accomplished Stoic philosopher, and Sanhedrin 91a records philosophic discussions between Rebbi and … Continue reading

R. Yehudah HaNasi is credited with redacting the Mishna. His redaction brought the period of the Tannaim to an end, and his students formed the bridge to the next period in the transmission of Torah, the period of the Amoraim.

Endnotes

Endnotes
1These included: An increase in Roman persecution of the Jews (attributed by the Roman Emperor Trajan to Jewish support of the Persians), Emperor Hadrian reneging on a promise to allow the Beis HaMikdash to be rebuilt, his building of a pagan shrine on the ruins of the Beis HaMikdash, and his decision to rename Yerushalayim Aelia Capitolina (The gentiles used this name until the Arab conquests in the 7th century).
2The Yerushalmi, Ta’anis 4:5, states that the Rabbinic establishment supported Bar Kochba. However, in the Bavli, Sanhedrin 93b, is says that the Rabbi’s checked Bar Kochba to see if he had any unique spiritual standing, when they saw that he did not, they abandoned him.
3R. Nasan’s memory is preserved by the law named after him, “שיעבודא דרבי נתן.” He is also considered the compiler of Avos DeRebbi Nasan, an expanded version of Pirkei Avos.
4One scholar suggests that the Chacham judged ritual laws (הוראה), while the Av Beis Din judged Monetary laws (דין).
5See Horiyos 13b for an attempt by R. Meir and R. Nasan to remove R. Shimon b. Gamliel, the Nasi, from his position. The attempt failed, and from then on R. Meir’s teachings were taught in the name of “אחרים” and those of R. Nasan as “יש אומרים.”
6Some have noted that many of R. Shimon’s opinions reflect a specific focus on the importance of intentions, such as his opinion that one is not liable for a Shabbos transgression done without intent for the melacha (דבר שאינו מתכוון) or done as a מלאכה שאינו צריכה לגופה.
7In addition, Temurah 15b states that when the Talmud relates a story about a certain “pious person (מעשה בחסיד אחד)” it generally means R. Yehuda, or sometimes R. Yehuda ben Bava.
8Not to be confused with R. Yosi HaGalili, a contemporary of R. Akiva.
9This is likely Marcus Aurelius, the Roman Emperor from 161 C.E. to 180 C.E. Aurelius was also an accomplished Stoic philosopher, and Sanhedrin 91a records philosophic discussions between Rebbi and Antoninus.

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student serves on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America. He also serves on the Editorial Boards of Jewish Action magazine, the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society and the Achieve Journal of Behavioral Health, Religion & Community, as well as the Board of OU Press. He has published five English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

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