Nittel Nacht 5778: Was Rabban Gamliel a Secret Christian?

Acts 5:27-42

When they had brought them, they had them stand before the council. The high priest questioned them, saying, "We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man's blood on us." But Peter and the apostles answered, "We must obey God rather than any human authority. The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him." When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. But a Pharisee in he council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, respected by all the people, stood up and ordered the men to be put outside for a short time. Then he said to the, "Fellow Israelites, consider carefully what you propose to do to these men. For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him; but he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and disappeared. After him Judas the Galilean rose up at the time of the census and got people to follow him; he also perished, and all who followed him were scattered. So in the present case, I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them - in that case you may even be found fighting against God!"

They were convinced by him, and when they had called in the apostles, they had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. As they left the council, they rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name. And every day in the temple and at home they did not cease to proclaim Jesus as the Messiah.


Acts 21:40 - 22:5

When he had given him permission, Paul stood on the steps and motioned to the people for silence; and when there was a great hush, he addressed them in the Hebrew language, saying: "Brothers and fathers, listen to the defense that I now make before you." When they heard him addressing them in Hebrew, they became even more quiet. Then, he said: "I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, educated strictly according to our ancestral law, being zealous for God, just as all of you are today. I persecuted this Way up to the point of death by binding both men and women and putting them in prison, as the high priest and the whole council of elders can testify about me. From them I also received letters to the brothers in Damascus, and I went there in order to bind those who were there and to bring them back to Jerusalem for punishment . . . ."


(ו) מַעֲשֶׂה שֶׁזָּרַע רַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן אִישׁ הַמִּצְפָּה לִפְנֵי רַבָּן גַּמְלִיאֵל, וְעָלוּ לְלִשְׁכַּת הַגָּזִית וְשָׁאָלוּ. אָמַר נַחוּם הַלַּבְלָר, מְקֻבָּל אֲנִי מֵרַבִּי מְיָאשָׁא, שֶׁקִּבֵּל מֵאַבָּא, שֶׁקִּבֵּל מִן הַזּוּגוֹת, שֶׁקִּבְּלוּ מִן הַנְּבִיאִים, הֲלָכָה לְמשֶׁה מִסִּינַי, בְּזוֹרֵעַ אֶת שָׂדֵהוּ שְׁנֵי מִינֵי חִטִּין, אִם עֲשָׂאָן גֹּרֶן אַחַת, נוֹתֵן פֵּאָה אַחַת. שְׁתֵּי גְרָנוֹת, נוֹתֵן שְׁתֵּי פֵאוֹת:

(6) It happened that Rabbi Shimon of Mitzpah sowed [and came] before Rabban Gamliel, and they went up to the Chamber of Hewn Stone [meeting place of the Great Sanhedrin] and they asked. Nachum the clerk said: I have received it from Rabbi Meyasha, who received it from [his] father, who received it from the Zugot [pairs of leading Sages from the earliest years of the Tannaitic period], who received it from the Prophets, [as a] Law of Moshe from Sinai: in [a case of] one who sows his field with two kinds of wheat - if he makes them into one granary, he gives one Peah; if two granaries, two Peot.


(יב) יוֹעֶזֶר אִישׁ הַבִּירָה הָיָה מִתַּלְמִידֵי בֵּית שַׁמַּאי, וְאָמַר, שָׁאַלְתִּי אֶת רַבָּן גַּמְלִיאֵל הַזָּקֵן עוֹמֵד בְּשַׁעַר הַמִּזְרָח, וְאָמַר, לְעוֹלָם אֵינוֹ אוֹסֵר, עַד שֶׁיְּהֵא בּוֹ כְדֵי לְחַמֵּץ:

(12) Yoezer, a man of Birah, was one of the disciples of the House of Shammai, and he said, I asked Rabban Gamliel the Elder, as he was standing at the Eastern Gate, and he said, regardless of whether the forbidden fell in first, or last, never does the dough become prohibited, unless there is a sufficient amount to cause fermentation on its own.


(טו) מעשה בר' חלפתא שהלך לפני רבן גמליאל ומצאו יושב על שולחנו ובידו תרגום של איוב והיה קורא בו א"ל רבי תרשיני לומר מה שראו עיני אמר לו אמור צופה הייתי ברבן גמליאל הזקן אבי (אמך) [אביך] שהיה יושב על גב הבנין בהר הבית והביאו לפניו תרגום של איוב ואמר (לבניו) [לבנאי] סלק את השורה ושקע זה תחתיו

It is related of Rabbi Halafta that, when he visited Rabban Gamliel, he found him sitting at his table and reading the translation of Job. He said to him: "Master, will you permit me to tell you what my eyes saw?" "Tell me," he replied. "I saw Rabban Gamliel the Elder, your grandfather, as he sat atop the building on the Temple Mount when a translation of Job was brought to him, and he instructed the builders to remove a row of stones and bury it underneath."

תקיפאי קדמאי לעינוותני בתראי דתניא מעשה ברבן גמליאל שהיה יושב על גב מעלה בהר הבית והיה יוחנן סופר הלז עומד לפניו ושלש איגרות חתוכות לפניו מונחות אמר לו טול איגרתא חדא וכתוב לאחנא בני גלילאה עילאה ולאחנא בני גלילאה תתאה שלומכון יסגא מהודעין אנחנא לכון דזמן ביעורא מטא לאפרושי מעשרא ממעטנא דזיתא וטול איגרתא חדא וכתוב לאחנא בני דרומא שלומכון יסגא מהודעין אנחנא לכון דזמן ביעורא מטא לאפרושי מעשרא מעומרי שיבליא וטול איגרתא חדא וכתוב לאחנא בני גלוותא בבבל ולאחנא דבמדי ולשאר כל גלוותא דישראל שלומכון יסגא לעלם מהודעין אנחנא לכון דגוזליא רכיכין ואימריא ערקין וזמנא דאביבא לא מטא ושפרא מילתא באנפאי ובאנפי חביריי ואוסיפית על שתא דא יומין תלתין דילמא בתר דעברוהו:
the earlier, stern authorities and the later, humble authorities, for although Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel was known as particularly humble, his proclamation was written with less modesty than that of his father, Rabban Gamliel, who was known to be particularly stern. As it is taught in a baraita (Tosefta 2:6): There was an incident involving Rabban Gamliel, who was sitting on a step on the Temple Mount, and Yoḥanan, that scribe, was standing before him, and three blank documents cut from parchment and ready for writing were set before him. Rabban Gamliel said to the scribe: Take one document, and write: To our brothers, the people of the Upper Galilee, and to our brothers, the people of the Lower Galilee, may your peace increase. We are informing you that the time has come for eradication of tithes that had been separated from produce but not yet given to their designated recipients, as is to be done in the fourth and seventh years of the Sabbatical-Year cycle, to separate the tithe from the vat of olives, because most of the local olives were grown in the Galilee. Rabban Gamliel continued, instructing the scribe: And take one document, and write: To our brothers, the people of the South, meaning the area of Judea and its environs, may your peace increase. We are informing you that the time has come for eradication, to separate the tithe from the mounds of stalks of grains, because most of the local grain was grown in the Judea region. Rabban Gamliel continued to instruct the scribe: And take one document, and write: To our brothers, the people of the Diaspora in Babylonia, and to our brothers who are in Medea, and to the rest of the entire Jewish Diaspora, may your peace increase forever. We are informing you that the fledglings are tender, and the lambs are thin, and time for the spring has not come. And consequently, the matter is good before me and before my colleagues, i.e., in our estimation, and I have consequently added thirty days to this year. The third letter indicates that evidently Rabban Gamliel included others in his decision. The Gemara rejects this, and explains: Perhaps this incident occurred after they deposed Rabban Gamliel from his position as Nasi. When he was reinstated, he shared his office with Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya. Therefore, he wrote the decision in the name of his colleagues as well.

(ה) חָצֵר גְּדוֹלָה הָיְתָה בִירוּשָׁלַיִם, וּבֵית יַעְזֵק הָיְתָה נִקְרֵאת, וּלְשָׁם כָּל הָעֵדִים מִתְכַּנְּסִים, וּבֵית דִּין בּוֹדְקִין אוֹתָם שָׁם. וּסְעוּדוֹת גְּדוֹלוֹת עוֹשִׂין לָהֶם בִּשְׁבִיל שֶׁיְּהוּ רְגִילִין לָבֹא. בָּרִאשׁוֹנָה לֹא הָיוּ זָזִין מִשָּׁם כָּל הַיּוֹם, הִתְקִין רַבָּן גַּמְלִיאֵל הַזָּקֵן שֶׁיְּהוּ מְהַלְּכִין אַלְפַּיִם אַמָּה לְכָל רוּחַ. וְלֹא אֵלּוּ בִלְבַד, אֶלָּא אַף הַחֲכָמָה הַבָּאָה לְיַלֵּד, וְהַבָּא לְהַצִּיל מִן הַדְּלֵקָה וּמִן הַגַּיִס וּמִן הַנָּהָר וּמִן הַמַּפֹּלֶת, הֲרֵי אֵלּוּ כְאַנְשֵׁי הָעִיר, וְיֵשׁ לָהֶם אַלְפַּיִם אַמָּה לְכָל רוּחַ:

(5) There was a large courtyard in Jerusalem and it was called Beit Ya'azek; it was there that all the witnesses gathered, and the court would examine them there. Large meals were made for them, in order that they be accustomed to come [and testify]. At first, they did not move from [that courtyard] all day [on Shabbat. Later,] Rabban Gamliel the Elder ordained that they would [be permitted to] go two thousand amot [a specific unit of length] on every side; and it is not only [witnesses that were given this dispensation on Shabbat], but also the midwife, who comes to deliver [a baby]; and one who comes to save [others] from a fire, or from [the attack of a hostile] troop, or from a [flood], or from under the ruins of fallen buildings; behold they are considered as inhabitants of that town [to which they arrived on Shabbat], and [hence] they have two thousand amot on every side [of the town in which they are allowed to move].


(ז) אָמַר רַבִּי עֲקִיבָא, כְּשֶׁיָּרַדְתִּי לִנְהַרְדְּעָא לְעַבֵּר הַשָּׁנָה, מָצָאתִי נְחֶמְיָה אִישׁ בֵּית דְּלִי, אָמַר לִי, שָׁמַעְתִּי שֶׁאֵין מַשִּׂיאִין אֶת הָאִשָּׁה בְאֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל עַל פִּי עֵד אֶחָד, אֶלָּא רַבִּי יְהוּדָה בֶן בָּבָא. וְנוּמֵתִי לוֹ, כֵּן הַדְּבָרִים. אָמַר לִי, אֱמֹר לָהֶם מִשְּׁמִי, אַתֶּם יוֹדְעִים שֶׁהַמְּדִינָה מְשֻׁבֶּשֶׁת בִּגְיָסוֹת, מְקֻבְּלָנִי מֵרַבָּן גַּמְלִיאֵל הַזָּקֵן, שֶׁמַּשִּׂיאִין אֶת הָאִשָּׁה עַל פִּי עֵד אֶחָד. וּכְשֶׁבָּאתִי וְהִרְצֵיתִי הַדְּבָרִים לִפְנֵי רַבָּן גַּמְלִיאֵל, שָׂמַח לִדְבָרַי, וְאָמַר, מָצָאנוּ חָבֵר לְרַבִּי יְהוּדָה בֶן בָּבָא. מִתּוֹךְ הַדְּבָרִים נִזְכַּר רַבָּן גַּמְלִיאֵל, שֶׁנֶּהֶרְגוּ הֲרוּגִים בְּתֵל אַרְזָא, וְהִשִּׂיא רַבָּן גַּמְלִיאֵל הַזָּקֵן נְשׁוֹתֵיהֶם עַל פִּי עֵד אֶחָד, וְהֻחְזְקוּ לִהְיוֹת מַשִּׂיאִין עַל פִּי עֵד אֶחָד. וְהֻחְזְקוּ לִהְיוֹת מַשִּׂיאִין עֵד מִפִּי עֵד, מִפִּי עֶבֶד, מִפִּי אִשָּׁה, מִפִּי שִׁפְחָה.

(7) Rabbi Akiva said: When I went down to Nehardea to intercalate the year, I found Nechemiah of Beit Delhi who said to me, "I heard that in the Land of Israel only Rabbi Yehudah ben Bava allows a woman to marry based on a single witness." And I said to him, "That is so". He said to me, "Tell them in my name: You know that the country is rife with soldiers; I have a tradition from Rabban Gamliel the Elder that we allow a woman to marry based on a single witness. And when I went and reported this before Rabban Gamliel he exulted in my words and said, 'We have found a colleague for Rabbi Yehudah ben Bava.' Through the conversation Rabban Gamliel recalled that people were killed at Tel Arza and Rabban Gamliel allowed their wives to marry based on a single witness, and they established a rule to allow women to marry based on a single witness, and they established a rule to allow women to marry based on [what] a witness [heard] from a witness, and based on [the testimony of] a slave, [or] based on [the testimony of] a woman, [or] based on [the testimony of] a maidservant.


(ב) בָּרִאשׁוֹנָה הָיָה עוֹשֶׂה בֵית דִּין בְּמָקוֹם אַחֵר וּמְבַטְּלוֹ. הִתְקִין רַבָּן גַּמְלִיאֵל הַזָּקֵן שֶׁלֹּא יְהוּ עוֹשִׂין כֵּן, מִפְּנֵי תִקּוּן הָעוֹלָם. בָּרִאשׁוֹנָה הָיָה מְשַׁנֶּה שְׁמוֹ וּשְׁמָהּ, שֵׁם עִירוֹ וְשֵׁם עִירָהּ. וְהִתְקִין רַבָּן גַּמְלִיאֵל הַזָּקֵן שֶׁיְּהֵא כוֹתֵב, אִישׁ פְּלוֹנִי וְכָל שֵׁם שֶׁיֵּשׁ לוֹ, אִשָּׁה פְלוֹנִית וְכָל שׁוּם שֶׁיֵּשׁ לָהּ, מִפְּנֵי תִקּוּן הָעוֹלָם:

(2) At first, a man [who had already sent his wife a bill of divorce by means of a messenger] would set up a religious court in a different place [from where the wife lived] and cancel [the bill of divorce]. Rabban Gamliel the Elder enacted that they not be able to do this, due to [the need for] repairing the world [Tikkun HaOlam]. At first, a man could change his name and her name, the name of his city, or the name of her city. Rabban Gamliel the Elder enacted that one would write: "The man, So-and-so, and any other name that he has, and the woman, So-and-so, and any other name that she has," due to Tikkun HaOlam.


גמ׳ אמר רב יהודה אמר שמואל שלחו ליה בני מדינת הים לרבן גמליאל בני אדם הבאים משם לכאן שמו יוסף וקוראין לו יוחנן יוחנן וקוראין לו יוסף היאך מגרשין נשותיהן עמד ר"ג והתקין שיהו כותבין איש פלוני וכל שום שיש לו אשה פלונית וכל שום שיש לה מפני תיקון העולם

GEMARA: Rav Yehuda says that Shmuel says: The residents of a country overseas sent an inquiry to Rabban Gamliel: With regard to people who come from there, Eretz Yisrael, to here, for example, someone whose name is Yosef but here they call him Yoḥanan, or someone whose name is Yoḥanan, but here they call him Yosef, how do they write bills of divorce to effectively divorce their wives? Rabban Gamliel arose and instituted that they should write: The man so-and-so, and any other name that he has, the woman so-and-so, and any other name that she has, for the betterment of the world.


(יב) הִלֵּל וְשַׁמַּאי קִבְּלוּ מֵהֶם. הִלֵּל אוֹמֵר, הֱוֵי מִתַּלְמִידָיו שֶׁל אַהֲרֹן, אוֹהֵב שָׁלוֹם וְרוֹדֵף שָׁלוֹם, אוֹהֵב אֶת הַבְּרִיּוֹת וּמְקָרְבָן לַתּוֹרָה:

(12) Hillel and Shammai received from them. Hillel says, "Be of the disciples of Aharon, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving the creatures and bringing them closer to Torah."


(טז) רַבָּן גַּמְלִיאֵל הָיָה אוֹמֵר, עֲשֵׂה לְךָ רַב, וְהִסְתַּלֵּק מִן הַסָּפֵק, וְאַל תַּרְבֶּה לְעַשֵּׂר אֹמָדוֹת:

(16) Rabban Gamliel says, "Make for yourself a mentor, remove yourself from doubt and do not frequently tithe by estimation."


(טו) מִשֶּׁמֵּת רַבִּי מֵאִיר, בָּטְלוּ מוֹשְׁלֵי מְשָׁלִים. מִשֶּׁמֵּת בֶּן עַזַּאי, בָּטְלוּ הַשַּׁקְדָּנִים. מִשֶּׁמֵּת בֶּן זוֹמָא, בָּטְלוּ הַדַּרְשָׁנִים. מִשֶּׁמֵּת רַבִּי יְהוֹשֻׁעַ, פָּסְקָה טוֹבָה מִן הָעוֹלָם. מִשֶּׁמֵּת רַבָּן שִׁמְעוֹן בֶּן גַּמְלִיאֵל, בָּא גוֹבַי וְרַבּוּ צָרוֹת. מִשֶּׁמֵּת רַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר בֶּן עֲזַרְיָה, פָּסַק הָעשֶׁר מִן הַחֲכָמִים. מִשֶּׁמֵּת רַבִּי עֲקִיבָא, בָּטַל כְּבוֹד הַתּוֹרָה. מִשֶּׁמֵּת רַבִּי חֲנִינָא בֶּן דּוֹסָא, בָּטְלוּ אַנְשֵׁי מַעֲשֶׂה. מִשֶּׁמֵּת רַבִּי יוֹסֵי קַטְנוּתָא, פָּסְקוּ חֲסִידִים. וְלָמָּה נִקְרָא שְׁמוֹ קַטְנוּתָא, שֶׁהָיָה קַטְנוּתָן שֶׁל חֲסִידִים. מִשֶּׁמֵּת רַבָּן יוֹחָנָן בֶּן זַכַּאי, בָּטַל זִיו הַחָכְמָה. מִשֶּׁמֵּת רַבָּן גַּמְלִיאֵל הַזָּקֵן, בָּטַל כְּבוֹד הַתּוֹרָה וּמֵתָה טָהֳרָה וּפְרִישׁוּת . . . .

(15) When Rabbi Meir died, the composers of fables ceased. When Ben Azzai died, the diligent students [of Torah] ceased. When Ben Zoma died, the expounders ceased. When Rabbi Yehoshua died, goodness ceased from the world. When Rabban Shimon ben Gamaliel died, locusts came and troubles multiplied. When Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah died, the sages ceased to be wealthy. When Rabbi Akiba died, the glory of the Torah ceased. When Rabbi Hanina ben Dosa died, men of wondrous deeds ceased. When Rabbi Yose Katnuta died, the pious men (hasidim) ceased—and why was his name called Katnuta? Because he was the youngest of the pious men. When Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai died, the splendor of wisdom ceased. When Rabban Gamaliel the elder died, the glory of the torah ceased, and purity and separateness perished . . . .


The Sages (Rabbi Binyamin Lau)

Nonetheless, it was Rabban Gamliel who said, "Do not accustom yourself to tithing by estimate." Tithing by estimate inevitably produces mistakes. When a person tithed too little produce, the tithes would be valid but the remaining fruit would remain in the category of tevel, and hence prohibited. Tithing too much produce meant that while the fruit is ritually acceptable it contains an element of hullin. Rabban Gamliel presented a solution to the problem of doubt and of mistakes, not by adopting the path of stringency, but rather "acquiring a teacher for yourself."