Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Who Were the Jewish Scholars and the Sanhedrin During Roman Occupation ?

Nadene Goldfoot     

Antigonus of Sokho,  who lived in about 200 BCE,  was a Jewish sage.  He said,
"Be not like servants who serve their master in the hope of receiving a reward, but be like those servants who serve their master with no expectation of receiving a reward;  and let the fear of Heaven be upon you."  
He was the teacher of the first men to be the heads of the Sanhedrin.  


Hillel was born in the 1st century BCE and was a scholar who founded a school known as the "House of Hillel." or Bet Hillel.  He was also the ancestor of a dynasty of patriarchs who held office in the Sanhedrin until the 5th century.  He was one of the Jews born in Babylon (today's Iraq) but had come and settled in Judah and earned a living by manual labor while studying with Shemaiah and Avtalyon who made up the 4th of the Zugot. The Zugot (pairs) were 5 generations of scholars.  The first named is the president or Nasi of the Sanhedrin and the second is the senior judge of the court or bet din.  Shemaiah  lived in the 2nd half of the 1st century BCE and  was the head of the Sanhedrin at the end of the Hasmonean Period. and Avtalyon was the chief judge

 Shemaiah and Avtalyon  were proselytes, converts to Judaism, descended from Sennacherib, who was the king of Assyria (today's Iraq and SE Turkey)  in 705-681 BCE. and was the son of Sargon II..  Shemaiah was the leader of the Pharisees.  Avtalyon  was a leader of the Pharisees in the middle of the 1st century BC and by tradition vice-president of the great Sanhedrin of Jerusalem.   He was of heathen descent  Avtalyon is also written about in Josephus.  "Avtalyon  was one of the most influential and beloved men of his time. Once, when the high priest was being escorted home from the Temple by the people, at the close of a Day of Atonement, the Talmud (Yoma, 71b) relates that the crowd deserted him upon the approach of Avtalion and his colleague and followed them.   Avtalion used his influence with the people in persuading the men of Jerusalem, in the year 37 BC, to open the gates of their city to Herod the Great. The king was not ungrateful and rewarded Abtalion, or, as Josephus calls him, Pollion, with great honors."   ( B and V are the same Hebrew letter, so here wikipedia used the B.)  

 Sennacherib had invaded Judah in 701 BCE and had captured 46 cities, but not Jerusalem and had taken many prisoners.  A plague broke out in his camp and had forced him to retreat.  So, 400 years later, two Assyrians  had become the heads of the Sanhedrin.

Hillel was appointed president of the Sanhedrin and together with Shammai, were the last of the pairs or Zugot of scholars.  He was noted for his humility and leniency.  It was like these two were debating partners and would take opposite sides.  Hillel won all the debates.  He had 7 rules of Bible interpretation.  It was Hillel who wrote the negative form of the Golden Rule, "Do not do unto others that which you would not have them do unto you."  No doubt it was Hillel whose interpretations were studied in the time of Jesus in Jerusalem.  Shammai foresaw the dangers of Roman hegemony (influence over the Jewish morality)  and wrote many rules intended to keep the Jews from mixing with the heathen.  He took a rigorous point of view in moral and religious matters.  

The 5 Zugot were:
1. Yose ben Joezer and Yose ben Johanan (2nd century BCE) pupil of Antigonus of Sokho (200 BCE) an early mishnaic sage.  
2. Joshua ben Perahiah and Nittai the Arbelite (2nd century BCE)  
3. Judah ben Tabbai and Simeon ben Shetah (1st century BCE) Judah headed Pharisee party
4 Shemaiah and Avtalyon (1st century BCE)
5. Hillel and Shammai (1st century BCE)-lived during Herod's reign

Joshua  born: in c4 BCE and died in 29 CE in Judah at age c33  in the middle of the Roman occupation.  In Greek, his name translates into Jesus who.  was also executed on the Roman cross along with thousands of other Jews.  He was to become the messiah for millions of people who follow Christianity.  The New Testament is written about him.  These Gospels represent the entire Jewish people as eager for the death of Jesus and who rejected Pilate's proposal to release him.  According to these writings, Jews took the responsibility of  Jesus's blood on themselves and their descendants.  This reflects the anti-Jewish sentiment of the early Christians and the bigger desire to absolve the Romans from guilt in the death of their savior as Rome became the center for Christianity.   There are no sources for the life of Jesus of Nazareth in Jewish literature except what it found in the Gospels and by Josephus, who reflected a Christian philosophy.  He knew he was writing for possible Christian Romans.   Though Jesus was a threat to the Romans, he was not a threat to the Jews of the time.   The Jews were hoping for a messiah to come along, but when one did that filled the bill, it turned out to be Bar Kokhba a little later after Jesus had died.  .
 These were terrible times for the Jews of being occupied by the Romans.  In the year 50 CE, Ben Joseph Akiva was born.  He was to become the greatest scholar of his time and to be known as Rabbi Akiva.  He was born to poor Jews and with the hatred going on for Jews by the Romans, remained uneducated until he was 40 years old.

 He had married Rachel, daughter of a rich man, Kalba Sabbua, so that tells me that he had something to offer this rich girl, probably good looks and intelligence and sincerity.  Rachel was educated as rich girls of that day could be, so she helped her husband, Akiva, to study.

 Akiva devoted himself to learning.  He studied with many leading scholars and developed his own method of biblical interpretation by using every word and sign in the Torah as a particular significance and saw it could be used to establish a source for accepted halakhic decision.  He then collected and arranged the whole Oral Law according to subjects, .  This method was used  on with the Mishnah later recorded by Rabbi Judah Ha-Nasi (135-220) and his colleagues.

Akiva became famous and had thousands of students study at his school in Bene Brak in Judah.  This rabbi traveled a lot for the Jews on political missions.  He traveled with Rabbi Gamaliel, grandson of Hillel  and president of the Sanhedrin at Jerusalem, to Rome to get the reversal of Domitian's legislation against the Jews.  This was Domitian, the last Roman emperor, who worshipped  Jupiter and expected everyone else to do so.   "Titus Flavius Caesar Domitianus Augustus; 24 October 51 – 18 September 96) was Roman emperor from 81 to 96.  Domitian was the third and last emperor of the Flavian dynasty."  Traveling outside of Judah and visiting other Jewish communities was another duty Akiva took upon himself.

The Roman government who had taken over Judah prohibited the study of the Law-Torah.  Akiva ignored this decree, of course, even publicly.  Therefore, he was arrested as a rebel and kept for a long time in prison, and was finally killed at Caesarea, probably on a cross, the main way of execution for the Romans.  His disciples were the spiritual leaders of the Jewish people during the following generations.  No rabbi of the talmudic period made a more profound impression on Jewish history and on the imagination of the Jewish people than Rabbi Akiva.  .

Meir was born in the 2nd century and was a pupil of Akiva.  He was a member of the Sanhedrin at Usha (near Haifa) after the Hadrianic persecution.  The Sanhedrin was a group of 71 ordained scholars who were both functioning as the Supreme Court and as creating legislature.  Their job was to proclaim the New Moon, declare leap years,  make decisions on state offenses and doubtful questions of Jewish law.  In Jewish literature, there is no evidence of a political body except during the troubled decades which preceded the destruction of the Temple way in the past. in 597 BCE. After the suppression of the Bar Kokhba revolt, a synod was held at Usha where far-reaching legislation was enacted .  It was also the seat of the Sanhedrin for a time.  Its academy was led by distinguished scholars including Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Yose ha-Gelili, the Galilean of the 2nd century CE, the leading figure in the Jabneh academy where he often debated with Rabbi Akiva.  He was known for his high moral standards.  

The head of the Sanhedrin was called the Nasi, who in its later history was usually a descendant of Hillel, and an Av Bet Din.  Before 70 CE, the Sanhedrin met in the Temple chamber called the Hall of Hewn Stone.   A very bright pupil, it was his Mishnah that he created that became the basis of the accepted Mishsnah of Rabbi Judah Ha-Nasi.  His brilliance was recognized and it was said that  when a decision of the rabbis differed from Meir's opinion it was "because his colleagues could not plumb the depth of his reasoning."  In other words, they just didn't understand the depth of his words.

He was also a great orator and was noted for his parables and fables, evidently something used quite often by rabbis of those days.  He was also a Torah scribe, one who knew how to write and was a writer of Torah.  Besides all that, he led a clean life, so his personal conduct exemplified his teachings as well.  The Sanhedrin disappeared from the Jewish scene before the end of the 4th century CE.
At this period, Ben Kosiba Simeon or son of the star- Bar Kokhba was born, nephew of Rabbi Eleazar of Modiin and a descendant of King David,  the man who became Judah's general and fought against the Romans from 132 to 135 when he was killed.  To many of the Jews of Judah, this man was the Messiah because he was what was expected to come and save the Jews; a descendant of David, a real man and a fighter against the Romans.  Rabbi Akiva was one of his main enthusiastic supporters.  Akiva told his people, "This is the king-messiah!"  (Y Taanit IV, 8)  It was Bar Kokhba who had led the revolt against Hadrian in 132 .  It was Rabbi Akiva who had proclaimed him as the Messiah, but not all rabbis accepted his view.

We know this general had great personal strength, and was autocratic and irascible from letter written by him discovered near the Dead Sea.  The revolt came about from the rebuilding of Jerusalem as a Roman colony and prohibiting circumcision on baby boys.  This revolt was brewing for some time.  Bar Kokhba's soldiers captured Jerusalem in 132 and held it for the 3 years.  It was in 133 that the Romans had their counterattack with an army of 35,000 under Hadrian and Julius Severus.  They first entered Galilee, then fought for the Valley of Jezreel, Ephraim, and the Judean Hills, retaking Jerusalem.  Betar was the Jews' last stronghold. The Romans destroyed 50 fortresses and  985 villages .  580,000 Jews died as casualties.  Others died from hunger and disease.  Judea tell into desolation.  Jerusalem was turned into a heathen city, barred to Jews.

Our heroes were rabbis who were debaters.  You had to defend your ideas against others of equal intelligence and knowledge.  Family and ancestors mattered.  We haven't changed.  Intelligence and common sense  is necessary to live in today's world.  No wonder we have produced outstanding lawyers.  The people in our Knesset in Jerusalem come from good stock.

Resource:  The New Standard Jewish Encyhclopedia
Update for Amoraim: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rav_Kahana_II

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