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Judah haNasi

[hah-nah-see]
Rabbi Judah haNasi, (יהודה הנשיא, pronounced Yehuda haNasi, "Judah the Prince"), also known as "Rabbi" and "Rabeinu HaKadosh" (Hebrew: רבינו הקדוש, "our holy rabbi"), was a key leader of the Jewish community of Judea toward the end of the 2nd century CE, during the occupation by the Roman Empire. He is best known as the chief editor/redactor of the Mishnah. He was of the Davidic line, the royal line of King David, hence the title nasi, meaning Prince; the title nasi was also used for presidents of the Sanhedrin.

Biography

Judah haNasi was born in 135. According to the midrash, he came into the world on the same day that Rabbi Akiva died a martyr's death (Midrash Genesis Rabbah lviii.; Midrash Eccl. Rabbah i. 10) The Talmud suggests that this was a result of Divine Providence: God had granted the Jewish people another leader of great stature to succeed Rabbi Akiva. His place of birth is unknown; nor is it recorded where his father, Shimon ben Gamliel II, sought refuge with his family during the persecutions under Hadrian.

On the restoration of order in the Land of Israel, Usha became the seat of the academy and Judah spent his youth there. His father presumably gave him the same education that he himself had received, including Greek (Talmud Sotah 49b). This knowledge of Greek enabled him to become the Jews' intermediary with the Roman authorities. He favored Greek as the language of the country over Syriac (Aramaic) (Sotah, ibid). It is said that in Judah's house, only Hebrew was spoken and even the maids spoke it (Meg. 18a; R. H. 26b; Naz. 3a; 'Er. 53a).

According to the Talmud (Avodah Zarah 10a-b), Rabbi Judah the Prince was very wealthy and greatly revered in Rome. He had a close friendship with "Antoninus", possibly the Emperor Caracalla, who would consult Rabbi Judah on various worldly and spiritual matters.

The Talmud records the tradition that Rabbi Judah haNasi was buried in the necropolis of Beit She'arim, in the Lower Galilee.

Compiler of the Mishna

According to Jewish tradition, God gave the Jewish nation the Written Law - Torah - and revealed to Moses additional laws and customs, called the Oral Law. For centuries, only the Torah appeared as a written text. Fearing that the oral traditions might be forgotten, Rabbi Judah Hanasi undertook the mission of compiling them in what became known as the Mishna. The Mishna consists of 63 tractates codifying Jewish law, which are the basis of the Talmud.

Talmudic legends

In the Talmud (Bava Metziah 85a), one of the most prominent rabbis is Judah haNasi, often referred to as "Rabbi." The title "Nasi" is often translated, in accordance with its historic meaning, as "Prince"; in modern Hebrew, it is translated as "President."

Various stories are told about Judah haNasi, to illustrate different aspects of his character. One of them, illustrating fickleness, begins by telling of a calf breaking free from being led to slaughter. According to the story, the calf tried to hide under Judah haNasi's robes, bellowing with terror, but he pushed the animal away, saying: "Go - for this purpose you were created"; for this heaven inflicted upon him kidney stones, painful flatulence, and other gastric problems, saying "Since he showed no pity, let us bring suffering upon him".

The story remarks that when Judah haNasi prayed for relief, the prayers were ignored, just as he had ignored the pleas of the calf. Nevertheless, it goes on by describing him subsequently preventing his maid from violently expelling baby weasels from his house, on the basis that "It is written: 'His Mercy is upon all his works'"; for this, heaven removed the gastric problems from him, saying "Since he has shown compassion, let us be compassionate with him".

Rabbi Judah HaNasi also said "One ignorant of the Torah should not eat flesh" - possibly as a result of these experiences.

References

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