DESPITE THE FACT THAT JUDEA WAS CONVULSED by the last agonies of political death throughout the fifty years preceding the destruction of the temple and in spite of the brutal yoke of the Roman empire which did not allow the Jews to breathe freely, the study of the Torah nevertheless did not decrease during these years of crisis. Outside the enemy spread terror and thousands of patriots gave up their lives in the attempt to destroy him, but within their homes the people devoted themselves to study and ignored the dangers which beset them.
The Romans did not yet realize then how the study of the Torah might influence and encourage the patriotism of the nation. It therefore did not occur to them to hinder the pursuit of learning. Only after the destruction of the temple did it dawn upon them that the Jews find strength and consolation in the Torah. Before the destruction, the Roman political leaders were convinced that the temple was the only stimulus to Jewish rebellion and the same belief was held by the Jewish sympathizers of Rome. The Roman empire therefore concentrated all its efforts against the temple and not against learning.
Aside from the Nasi and his followers there were tens of other scholars who delved into the Torah and they exerted a great influence on the life of the people. Among the most important of these scholars was Rabbi Chanina, deputy of the High Priest.
A “deputy of the priests” was a person whose duty it was to stand beside the High Priest during the service on the Day of Atonement. Deputies were appointed for a long period of time and they maintained their office even while High Priests were being changed. There were usually several deputies at the same time but only one of them prepared to act as Assistant to the High Priest. If for any reason something happened to the High Priest, which prevented him from continuing the service, the deputy stood ready to take his place. But so long as the High Priest could perform his duty, the deputy merely stood beside him and was not allowed to do any of his work.1)רש״י יומא ל״ט א׳.
The title “Sgan” (deputy) is the equivalent of overseer. The deputies were assistants of the High Priest and overseers and superintendents of the temple who were ready to help the High Priest whenever necessary.
Rabbi Chanina (sometimes referred to as Chananiah) was one of the outstanding scholars during the last days of the second temple. When the patriotic movement at first became active, Chanina identified himself with the peaceful elements of the nation who openly condemned the patriots. He then said that people should pray for the welfare of the government, for were it not for the fear of government people would swallow each other alive.2)אבות פרק ג׳ משנה ב׳. On another occasion he highly praised peace and compared it in importance to the work of creation.3)ספרי פּ׳ נשא.
But later, when the conduct of the Romans became more murderous, Chanina joined the party of the patriots together with the Nasi, Rabban Simeon ben Gamliel. He then openly criticized the wealthy Jews who abandoned the rule of God for the rule of man, for “whosoever considers the words of the Torah is absolved from the fear of the sword, from hunger, from evil desires and from the rule of man as the Torah says: ‘Because you have not served God joyfully and wholeheartedly when you had enough of everything you will have to serve the enemies, which God will send upon you, in hunger and in thirst, naked and abandoned by everyone.’ Such a man will want to eat a piece of barley bread and he will not find it but at the same time he will have to give his enemy good bread and fat meats; he will thirst for a drop of vinegar or beer and will not find it but his enemies will demand the best of wines and he will have to supply it to them; he will want to wear a cloak of wool or flax and will have none but his enemies will demand from him the best of silks and he will have to give it to them. Thus he will remain forsaken by all without a candle, without a knife and a table and even without a pinch of salt.”4)אבות דר׳ נתן פרק כ׳.
It is told that Rabbi Chanina inaugurated special privileges for his office even as Rabban Simeon ben Gamliel did. As long as the temple was in existence he was the highest authority in all matters pertaining to sacrifices. Frequently he supported his opinions by citing the customary procedure of his father and the customs of his father were based on family traditions.
He was particularly interested in preserving the detailed memory of all the customs of the service in the temple. Believing that the temple would soon be rebuilt he wanted to be sure that the customs in the new temple should not differ from those in the old one.5)פּסחים י״ד א׳, גטין כ׳ ב׳, זבחים פּ״ד א׳.
Chanina, deputy of the priests, influenced Jewish life in other ways aside from temple service procedure. In his time there lived in a village near Jerusalem a man who loaned money. This man was in the habit of writing the note of loan himself and the borrower merely signed the note or attested to his signature by a witness. Rabbi Chanina declared these notes to be valid although the accepted law of the time stated that the borrower must write the note himself. Chanina believed that as long as the signatures of the witnesses to the transaction were authentic it mattered not by whose hand the note was written.
The life and influence of Chanina occurred during the last years of the second temple. He also stated that during his performance of the service various miracles took place. One of them concerned the Menorah that was lit but once a year on Rosh Hashana but continued to burn throughout the year.6)מדרש תנחומא פּ׳ תצוה פּיסקא ג׳.
Because of the mourning for the temple Chanina held that as long as it was in ruins no one should bathe on Tisha B’Av, not even a person who has to perform an ablution, but in this he was contradicted by other scholars.7)ירושלמי ביצה פרק ב׳ הלכה ו׳.
The name of Chanina is not mentioned among the martyrs but the opinion prevails that he was executed and the date of his death is said to be 25 Sivan, the same as that of Simeon ben Gamliel and Rabbi Ishmael ben Elisha. This does not mean, however, that he was killed before the destruction of the temple, for it is known that he survived it. It merely indicates that the date of his death coincides with that of the two martyrs.
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At about the same time there lived two Tanaim whom the Jerusalem Talmud refers to as the “judges of robberies” and the Babylonian Talmud calls the “judges of decrees.” This contradiction, however, is easily explained by the difference in pronounciation in the two countries.
It was the duty of these judges to settle various disputes and to punish those whom they found guilty of robbery. They also considered cases of damages and the infliction of minor wounds. These judges were generally elected by the community which also paid their fees in order to avoid their being bribed by one or another of the contending parties. Their verdict was final and they had the authority to enforce it.
There were many such judges, for Jerusalem alone counted 394 courts, each of which had 25 judges, according to the Talmud. But the Mishna names only two judges whose decisions served as a basis for future verdicts. These two were Admon ben Gadai and Chanan ben Avi Shalom.
The rule which these judges followed in arriving at a decision was to consider the specific circumstances of the place and time. We must also remember that of all the sentences passed by these judges not one involved actual robbery. They concerned financial disputes and the judges gave their verdict according to the dictates of reason. Scholars of later date used these decisions as a basis for passing sentence.
Admon ben Gadai issued seven sentences, four of which became a basis for future law although they were based on reason and not on texts of the Torah. Chanan ben Avi Shalom contributed two decisions in the same spirit.8)כתובות ק״ה ב׳.
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Mention should also be made of Joshua ben Gamala who was elected High Priest several years before the destruction of the temple. This office he obtained through bribe in spite of the fact that he was not even descended from priests and that he married a widow. Martha, the daughter of Boetus, married Joshua and in order to obtain the office of High Priest for him she sent a bag full of gold to king Agrippa the second.9)יומא י״ח א׳, יבמות ס״א א׳.
During the last rebellion Joshua ben Gamala opposed the patriots and was against the war with Rome. Agrippa soon removed him from office, as was his custom with High Priests, and Joshua remained a member of the Sanhedrin. When large numbers of Idumeans came from Galilee to Jerusalem to seek refuge from the Romans, Joshua ben Gamala together with the High Priest Anan strongly opposed their admission into the city. But the majority of the inhabitants of the city opposed their will and when the Idumeans were finally admitted they attacked Joshua ben Gamala and the High Priest Anan and killed them.
Joshua ben Gamala was very rich and he spent much money to beautify the temple and to increase its vessels. It is told that he had a golden vessel made for the purpose of casting the lot to determine which of the two sacrifices was to be offered in the temple and which was to be sent to Azazel.10)יומא ל״ז א׳.
Despite the fact that Joshua ben Gamala bought the office of High Priest, the Talmud mentions his name favorably, because he ruled that there must be teachers in every city in Judea to instruct the children so that the Torah might not be forgotten.*)The story of the manner in which Joshua ben Gamala became High Priest is related by Josephus and is verified on two occasions by the Talmud. But the Talmud states that Martha gave the bribe to Jannai instead of to Agrippa. This is due to the fact that aside from Agrippa I all the kings who ruled during the second temple are referred to in the Talmud as Jannai. Tosephoth remarks that it could not have been Alexander Jannai, the brother in law of Simeon ben Shetach, because the latter was High Priest himself and would never consent to give this office to another. There still remains some doubt as to the identity of Joshua ben Gamala because of the inconsistency that the man who “saved the Torah from being forgotten among Jews” should stoop to buy the high priesthood for money. It is for this reason that many historians claim that we are dealing with two different personalities. Rashi and Tosephoth (Baba Bathra, 21) maintain that it is one and the same person.