Yehudah HaNasi (Judah the Prince)
(135 - 219 CE)
Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi was the editor of the Mishnah in its final form. He is referred to as Rebbi, Teacher par
excellence, and as Rabbeinu HaKadosh, our Holy Rabbi.
He was the son of Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel II, and
was born eighty years after the destruction of the Second
Temple. At the time of his birth, a Roman edict was in place forbidding the practice of Brit
Milah, Circumcision. However, his mother was on good terms
with the Roman governors wife, and they agreed to perpetrate a
deception upon the Roman authorities.
Yehudah, who had been circumcised, was given temporarily
to the wife of the governor, while the Roman child, who of course was
uncircumcised, was held by the Jewish mother, completely fooling the
authorities, including the governor himself. Later, when that Roman
child grew up to become Marcus Aurelius, an enlightened and compassionate
ruler, he and Rebbi became close friends, which redounded to the benefit
of the Jewish People.
As a child, Yehudah studied Torah under the tutelage of his father, in Usha, and under Rabbi Yehudah ben
Ilai of Usha and Rabbi Yaakov ben Kurshai. Later, he studied under Rabbi
Shimon bar Yochai in Tekoa, and from Rabbi Yosi ben Chalafta and Rabbi
Elazar ben Shamua, viewing Rabbi Meir, as it were, from the back.
All of his teachers conveyed to him the tradition of halachot,
Jewish Laws, from the period of the Anshei Knesset HaGedolah, until Rabbi Akiva.
He established his first Torah academy at Shfaram;
later he moved to Beit Shearim, where he remained for many years. He
became sickly, suffering from pain in his teeth, his eyes and finally
in his intestines. When his infirmities became more severe, he was advised
by his doctors to move to Zippori,
built on a mountain-top, where the air was clear and healthful.
His students were Rabbi Chiya ( the Great),
Abba Aricha (known as Rav), Rabbah bar bar Chana and Shmuel
Yarchinai, a beloved student who also served as his personal physician.
He is credited with saying I learned much from my teachers, more
than that did I learn from my colleagues, but most of all from my students!
As Nasi, he became very wealthy, comparable to Roman
rulers. But he gave much of his wealth to the support of the poor. It
was said of him, From the days of Mosheh Rabbeinu till Rabbeinu
HaKadosh, there was never found great Torah knowledge combined with
To understand to a small extent Rebbis perspective
on life, we can turn to his sayings in Pirkei Avot. In Avot (2:1), we
find, among other wise admonitions, the following: Calculate the eternal
reward for a mitzvah against the temporary loss it may cause, and the
eternal cost of a sin against the momentary benefit it may bring. Also,
consider three aspects of what is above you, and you will avoid sin.
1. Mans deeds are observed.
2. His words are heard.
3. He cannot escape the consequences of his behavior because everything
he does or says is indelibly recorded.
His Mishnah, which he composed to prevent the loss of Torah knowledge
by the Jewish People due to their continuous persecutions, was organized
into six sections:
1. Zeraim basically, the agricultural and related laws and customs
of the Jewish People while resident in the Land of Isreal
2. Moed - the laws concerning the holidays of the Jewish People in the
time of the Temple and afterwards
3. Nashim - Laws concerning family life observed by the People of Israel
4. Nezikin Laws concerning the person-to-person relationships
among the Jewish People in the areas of business, damages, etc.
5. Kodshim Laws concerning sacrifices and dietary practices and
prohibitions practiced by the Jewish People
6. Taharot Laws of family purity that have watched
over the Jewish People throughout the generations
Rebbi died at the age of seventy, having served as
Nasi more than thirty years.
When he died, Bar Kappara said, Angels and humans
struggled over the Holy Ark. The Angels overcame the humans, and the
Holy Ark has been captured!