Judah Hak-kodesh

Judah Hak-Kodesh or the Holy, son of Simon, of the tribe of Benjamin, and a descendant of Hillel I, is one of the most celebrated characters in Jewish history. He was born at Tiberias, according to accounts, about 135, on the same day on which Rabbi Akiba suffered martyrdom — an event predicted, according to his admirers, in the verse of Solomon: "One sun ariseth, and one sun goeth down." While yet a youth he was, on account of his extraordinary proficiency in Jewish law, admitted to the Sanhedrim, and on the death of his father followed him in the presidency of that learned body. The manner in which he administered the duties of this high office was in itself sufficient to win for him "the praise of his people in all their generations." Maimonides describes him as having been a man so nobly gifted by the Almighty with the choicest endowments as to be the phoenix and ornament of his age. But the best evidence of the high estimation in which his contemporaries held him is afforded by the many favorable epithets which they fastened on him. Besides the title of Nasi, which his position as president of the Sanhedrim secured him, he was more generally known as "Rabbi," which was applied to him κατ᾿ έξοχήν,s with no further note of individual distinction. He was known as the "saint," the "holy one," the meek. Being, like Hillel I, of the house of David, he sometimes was, as Bar-Cocheba had previously been, looked upon as the promised Messiah. But this opinion was, after all, confined only to a few. Certain it is, however, that he exerted an influence over the Jewish nation of his day far wider and more powerful in its extent than had ever fallen to the lot of any Nasi, even any member of his house since the days of Hillel. This may be due perhaps not so much to his vast erudition as to his wealth, which enabled him to become the supporter of hundreds and thousands of poor youths, who after they had sat at his feet, went out all over the Jewish abodes to sound aloud the praises of their noble master and teacher in Israel. But Judah hak-Kodesh has far greater claims for our consideration: he has built himself a far more enduring monument as the Moses of later Rabbinism (q.v.), as the compiler of the Mishna (q.v.), or code of traditional law, the embodiment of all the authorized interpretations of the Mosaic law, the traditions, the decisions of the learned. and the precedents of the courts or schools — a sort of Jewish Pandects. "In attempting this Herculean task," says Etheridge (Introd. Jewish Lit. p. 88), "he may have been moved by the peculiar condition of the Jewish community. They were a scattered people, liable at any hour to the renewal of a wasting persecution, and maintaining their religious standing in the presence of an ever advancing Christianity, and in defiance of the menaces of a world which always viewed them with hatred. Their schools, tolerated today, might tomorrow be under the imperial interdict, and the lips of the Rabbins, which now kept the knowledge of the law, become dumb by the terror of the oppressor. These circumstances possessed him with the apprehension that the traditional learning received from their fathers would, without a fixed memorial, at no distant time be either greatly corrupted or altogether perish from among them. It was his wish also to furnish the Hebrew people with such a documentary code as would be a sufficient guide for them, not only in the affairs of religion, but also in their dealings with one another hi civil life, so as to render it unnecessary for them to have recourse to suits at law at the heathen tribunals. In addition to these motives, he was probably actuated also by the prevailing spirit of codification, which was one of the characteristics of the age. Legal science was in the ascendant, and the great law schools of Rome, Berytus, and Alexandria were in their meridian; and Judah, who loved his law better than they could theirs, wished to give it the same advantages of simplification, system, and immutability which such jurists as Salvius Julianus had accomplished for the Roman laws in the time of Hadrian, and Ulpian was laboring at in his own day." The Mishna is divided into six parts (sedarim): the first treats of agriculture, the second of festivals, the third of marriages, the fourth of civil affairs, the fifth of sacrifices and religious ceremonies, and the sixth of legal purification. The text was published with short glosses at Amsterdam (1631, 8vo), and often reprinted, with more or less extensive commentaries, at Amsterdam, Venice, Constantinople, etc. (See a list of the editions, translations, etc., in First, Biblioth. Judaica.) His last days Judah hak-Kodesh spent at Sepphoris, whither he removed on account of his failing health. The exact date of his death is not known, but it must have occurred between 190 and 194. He is frequently spoken of as a friend and contemporary of one of the emperors Antoninus, generally supposed to be Marcus Aurelius, but Grätz and other critics are inclined to doubt the possibility of an intimate relation between this head of the Jewish Church and a Roman emperor. See, however, Bodeck, M. A. Antoninus als Freund u. Zeitgenosse des R. Jehuda ha-Nasi (Lpz. 1868); Contemp. Rev. 1869, p. 81 sq. Grätz, Geschichte d. Juden, 4, 246 sq. See also Schneeberger, Life and Works of Rabbi Jehuda ha-Nasi (Berl. 1870); Jost, Gesch. d. Judenth. u. s. Sekten, 2, 425 sq. (J.H.W.)

Topical Outlines Nave's Bible Topics International Standard Bible Encyclopedia Online King James Bible King James Dictionary

Verse reference tagging and popups powered by VerseClick™.