Life, History and Torah of the Rabbis
In the first century, Rabbis Hillel and Shammai founded two schools, each based on different philosophies. From these separate schools of thought came a great many brilliant minds. In this course with Rabbi David Sedley we will discuss the history and the background that helped mold these Rabbis and the future of the Jewish people. In addition to learning about Hillel and Shammai, we will also discuss Rabbi Yehoshua, Rabbi Eliezer, Rabban Gamliel, and others.
Life, History and Torah of the Rabbis: Lesson 1
HILLEL AND THE HALACHIC SYSTEM: In this class we begin looking at the origins of machloket. The earliest tannaim had only a single area of disagreement – whether one leans on an animal that is sacrificed on a festival or not. Hillel arrived and resolved the doubts of Bnei Beteira, and thereby became the leader of the Jewish world. Within only a few generations almost every area of halacha became a matter of dispute. We will learn about Hillel’s origins, and the radical change that he introduced to the system of halacha. We will see that he was both the contination of a long tradition, and at the same time an innovator who altered the future course of Judaism (which ultimately allowed for the survival of Judaism in a post-Temple period and throughout subsequent history).
Life, History and Torah of the Rabbis: Lesson 2
HILLEL THE INNOVATOR: This shiur continues and clarifies the previous shiur, and continues to look at the life and teachings of Hillel. We begin with trying to understand exactly what Hillel introduced with his 7 hermeneutical principles (we’ll look at Hirsch’s attack and rejection of Graetz’s approach). We’ll try to figure out whether Hillel is mentioned by Josephus (Lehman thinks he is, but under a pseudonym). Hopefully we’ll have time to work out who the skull belonged to, that Hillel saw floating in the water. And we’ll look at his care and concern for the well-being of others.
Life, History and Torah of the Rabbis: Lesson 3
HILLEL’S TEACHINGS, AND MENACHEM: In this class we will continue learning about Hillel, focussing on his teachings, his decrees and his appraoch to life. We will also look (briefly) at Menachem, who appears and disappears in the mishna almost instantaneiously. The mishna teaches that before there were HIllel and Shammai, there were Hillel and Menachem. But then Menachem left and Shammai came along. We’ll see what we can find out about Menachem’s life, why he left, and where he went to.
Life, History and Torah of the Rabbis: Lesson 4
SHAMMAI THE ELDER: In this shiur we will look at the very few sources which speak about Shammai himself (as opposed to his school of Beit Shammai). We will glean the few biographical sources that we can find, and discuss his approach to halacha and life, and how it differs than that of Hillel’s. The mishna says that the arguments between Hillel and Shammai were “arguments for the sake of Heaven”. We will begin to look at the origin of machloket and where it led within a couple of generations.
Life, History and Torah of the Rabbis: Lesson 6
RABBAN YOCHANAN BEN ZAKKAI AND YAVNE: This class continues where we left off last week. We will look at Rabban Gamliel’s nine decrees, and try to find a common denominator between them. We will also look at Yavne, and see that there were in fact two times that the Sanhedrin came to Yavne. Amongst the more important (for modern Judaism) decisions made in Yavne were the eighteen blessings of the Amida (and the nineteenth) as well as finalizing the canon of Scripture.
Life, History and Torah of the Rabbis: Lesson 7
RABBI YEHOSHUA AND RABBI ELIEZER: This shiur is an introduction to the lives of the two foremost students of Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai, Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrkanus and Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananiah. They were the two Torah giants of their era, with completely different worldviews. This ultimately led to the famous dispute regarding the oven of Achnai, and the excommunication of Rabbi Eliezer. We will also look at G-d’s involvement in the development of halacha, and the meaning of the phrase “It is not in Heaven”.
Life, History and Torah of the Rabbis: Lesson 9
RABBI YEHOSHUA AND EMPEROR HADRIAN: In this shiur we will look at the relationship between Rabbi Yehoshua and Hadrian. Although eventually Hadrian would ruthlessly put down the Bar Kochba revolt, and massacre thousands in Beitar, he earlier had a good relationship with some Jews, including Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananiah. According to some, Hadrian originally planned to rebuild the Temple, until he changed his mind and instead created Aelia Capitalina. In this shiur we will also look at the theological discussions between Hadrian and Rabbi Yehoshua, and examine the different ways in which Jewish beliefs are presented.
Life, History and Torah of the Rabbis: Lesson 10
RABBAN GAMLIEL AND RABBI YEHOSHUA: Rabban Gamliel tried to unite the Jewish people and Rabbinic leadership after the destruction of the Temple. To this end he was forced to be harsh with those who argued with him. He excommunicated Rabbi Eliezer (his brother in law) and he publicly humiliated Rabbi Yehoshua, which ultimately led to Rabban Gamliel being deposed from his position as Nasi. Nevertheless, after Rabban Gamliel’s death it was Rabbi Yehoshua and Rabbi Eliezer who made arrangements for his funeral. Rabban Gamliel also received authority from the Roman leadership to act as official leader, creating the position of Nasi, which became a hereditary position. Despite his authoritarian role, Rabban Gamliel was concerned for the welfare of others. His innovation to bring down the cost of funerals resulted in an additional blesing being recited in a house of mourning in his honour. And his arguments with Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua were solely for the sake of Heaven, but never personal, as evidenced by the close relationship between them.
Life, History and Torah of the Rabbis: Lesson 8
RABBI ELIEZER: In this class we will begin with Rabbi Eliezer’s background, how he rose from being a simple son of a landowner to becoming on of the greatest Sages in history. We will see that both G-d and Moshe remarked on his righteousness and greatness. We know that he is associated with Beit Shammai. We will look at some of his teachings, and ask how he became part of Beit Shammai, though his teacher was Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai, one of Hillel’s students. The halacha is (almost) never in accordance with the opinion of Rabbi Eliezer. Yet after his death the Rabbis removed the ban on him and accorded him the respect and honour that he deserved. He also foretold the Rabbis of the impending suffering and tragedy that would befall them.
Rabbi David Sedley lives in Jerusalem with his wife and six children. He was born and raised in New Zealand before making Aliya in 1992. He left Israel temporarily (for eight years) to serve as a communal Rabbi in Scotland and England and returned to Israel in 2004. He has translated Rabbeinu Yonah's commentary on Pirkei Avos and is the co-author of Sefiros: Spiritual Refinement Through Counting the Omer (both Judaica Press). Over the years Rabbi Sedley has worked as a journalist, a translator, a video director and in online reputation management. He also writes a weekly Torah blog on the Times of Israel.