The period of the spiritual activity of the High Priest Jochanan also marked the rise of another “pair” of spiritual leaders. Sympathizing then with the Pharisees, Jochanan recognized the necessity of bringing to the forefront of religious life the two most outstanding scholars, one of whom was to occupy the post of Nasi of the Sanhedrin and the other was to be head of the Supreme Court, even as in the days of Jose b. Joezer and Jose b. Jochanan. He accordingly appointed Joshua ben Perachia Nasi and Nittai of Arbela head of the Supreme Court.
Whatever innovations were introduced by these scholars were credited to Jochanan because, as political and religious leader of the nation, he had sufficient authority to enforce them. But when Jochanan transferred his allegiance to the Sadducees after the Sanhedrin sentenced Jehuda b. Gadidia only to be flogged for slandering him, he removed all the Pharisees from the Sanhedrin and abolished all their legislation. Joshua b. Perachia feared to remain in the country and fled to Egypt where, it may be assumed, he was joined by Nittai of Arbela.
Out of Egypt Joshua b. Perachia wrote to the Jews of Palestine that the wheat shipped from Alexandria should be considered unclean because he believed it was being contaminated by unclean hands in the process of irrigation and fertilization which was being practiced in Egypt. This restriction was based on the text of the Torah (Leviticus, 11). Others explained his prohibition of the use of Alexandrian wheat on the grounds that by using irrigation and other artificial methods to encourage the plant growth, human beings interfere with the natural laws and attempt to improve the natural course of development as it was ordained by God.
But the leaders in Jerusalem refused to abide by this prohibition of Joshua b. Perachia and said that even though he might consider it unclean all other Jews might consider it fit for consumption.1)תוספתא מכשירין פרק ג׳.
It is regrettable that no mention is made of the relation of Joshua b. Perachia to the temple of Onias in Alexandria. It is possible that he did not openly condemn the temple of Onias because it was held in great reverence by the Jews of Egypt, but secretly he must have been opposed to it. He was too deeply attached to Jerusalem and to its temple to reconcile himself to the idea that Jews can have another temple outside of Jerusalem. He therefore tried to create the impression that whatever comes out of Egypt is impure, both the grain that was shipped out as well as the sacrifices that were offered there.
The manner in which Onias, the son of Simeon the Just, left Jerusalem and erected the “temple of Onias” to compete with the temple in Jerusalem was related in a previous chapter. It is characteristic that the scholars had no definit attitude toward this temple. They were convinced that it was built for sacred purposes and therefore stated that “the temple of Onias is not a house of idolatry.”2)מגלה י׳ א׳.
But in spite of the official sanction which they gave to this temple they never wholeheartedly approved of it. The priests of the temple of Onias they held on a level with priests of Bamoth (high places built for purposes of offering sacrifices) which were built for sacred and not for idolatrous purposes. This type of Bamah was also forbidden during the time that the temple existed, but a Bamah which was erected by an individual for sacred purposes was permitted. They therefore looked upon the temple of Onias as a private Bamah built for sacred purposes.
The Mishna established a rule that whoever vowed to bring a burnt offering in the temple of Onias must offer this sacrifice in the temple in Jerusalem, but if the person sacrificed the burnt offering in the temple of Onias he has fulfilled his vow. Josephus relates that during the civil war between the princes Hyrcanus and Aristobulus, when the Jews of the various cities of Palestine could not go to Jerusalem to sacrifice the Paschal lamb, they went to the temple of Onias to bring this offering.
It is interesting to note the contradictions which characterize Josephus’ writings of the temple of Onias. On one occasion he states that when Onias built this temple he persuaded the king of Egypt that a temple located in Egypt would serve to keep alive the hatred of the Jews toward Antiochus and would arouse their revenge against Antiochus for having destroyed the temple in Jerusalem. Several pages further Josephus maintains that by building this temple Onias sought to avenge himself for the wrong which he considered was done by the Jews of Jerusalem.
Of the teachings of Joshua b. Perachia there has come down to us one noble maxim: Make thee a teacher and win thee a friend and judge every man favorably.3)אָבות פרק א׳ משנה ו׳.
The political and social conditions in Palestine were such that if a person wanted to remain true to the traditions of his people he needed a teacher and a guide whom he might imitate; he needed a friend to correct any error in his ways. Joshua b. Perachia especially believed in judging people fairly. Even though he was forced to flee Jerusalem and to seek refuge in Alexandria, he never spoke evil of the high priest Jochanan who was responsible for his exile.
But Nittai of Arbela held a more pessimistic point of view. He stated: Keep far from an evil neighbor and do not consort with the wicked and do not despair in time of punishment. This pessimism of Nittai of Arbela, which ended on a hopeful note, was an outgrowth of his life experiences. It is probable that he was friendly to the Sadducees in his youth and realized later the dangers which are inherent in friendship with them. But he did not despair of the situation and never gave up hoping that the times would change for the better.
In time conditions did change in Jerusalem. The High Priest Jochanan died and in his will he appointed his wife queen and his son Aristobulus High Priest. But Aristobulus seized the royal crown and, when was chided by his mother for not adhering to his father’s will, he imprisoned her together with three of his younger brothers. While in prison the queen was allowed to die of starvation. A disagreement between Aristobulus and his brother Antigonos, who was the leader of the army, led to the assassination of Antigonos. Aristobulus died a short time later and was succeeded by his widow Salome. She freed the third son of Jochanan, Alexander Jannai. Alexander married the childless widow of his brother, even though as High Priest he was forbidden to marry a widow, and together they reigned over the land.
Queen Salome was friendly to the Pharisees and she appointed her brother Simeon b. Shetach religious head. Simeon immediately invited Joshua b. Perachia to return from Egypt. Joshua hastened to Jerusalem but whether he resumed his previous position remains unknown.
It is related that Joshua b. Perachia once came in conflict with one of his disciples named Jeshu. (Some would have it that Jeshu was identical with Jesus, but this is altogether impossible since Jesus lived during the latter part of the reign of Herod. This would place the event in the 160th year of the life of Joshua b. Perachia.) Once, when Joshua lived in Egypt, he was kindly treated by the proprietress of his hostelry. Joshua praised her to his disciples and said: “See what a beautiful woman she is.” The disciple named Jeshu said to him: “Rabbi, she is not beautiful for her eyes are almond shaped.” Thereupon Joshua said to him: “Wicked man, are you concerned with such trifles?” and he drove him away. This disciple returned numerous times to attempt to reconcile his master but Joshua paid no attention to him. Once the disciple came while Joshua was in the midst of reciting the Shema and was ready to forgive him. Joshua motioned to him with his hand to wait until he would complete the prayer. The disciple misunderstood this motion and believed that he was being driven out. He thereupon left and began to devote himself to magic. Joshua went to the house of his disciple to tell him that he would be forgiven if he repented, but he was told that it was too late.