The Chain of Tradition: The Meiri on Avot
Can a chain of tradition truly last thousands of years without breaking? Who are the elders, prophets and Rabbis who passed the Torah from Moshe Rabbeinu through the Middle Ages unto today? Join Rabbi David Sedley and from the mind of the 13th century Meiri, we will study his introduction to Avot, Ethics of the Fathers, and how that chain looked from his eyes.
The Chain of Tradition: The Meiri on Avot: Lesson 1
THE CHAIN OF TRADITION: EARLY ZUGOT: The Meiri wrote an introduction to Pirkei Avot in which he traces Jewish history from the very beginning of the world until his own time. We only have a few classes, so we will not be able to cover all of that. But let’s begin with the “zugot”, the pairs of Rabbis mentioned in Pirkei Avot. It is not quite clear whether they are considered tannaim (even though they are in the mishna) or soemthing else (zugot?). There is very little information known about most of them, other than their statement in Ethics of the Fathers. We’ll try to look at what we know about the first few, I once gave a class about Shimon HaTzadik, so I’ll skip him this time (you can check out that class by following this link: The High Priest: Holy of Holies. In this class we’ll look at Antigonos Ish Socho, Yosei ben Yo’ezer and Yosei ben Yohanan, and hopefully Yehoshua ben Perahia (asking whether he was really Jesus’ teacher) and Nitai Ha’Arbeili.
The Chain of Tradition: The Meiri on Avot: Lesson 2
THE CHAIN OF TRADITION: SHIMON BEN SHETACH AND YEHUDA BEN TABBAI: In this class we will examine what is known about the next two “pairs”. Shimon ben Shetach was the brother-in-law of King Yannai, which gave him influence at court, and also saved him when Yannai decided to kill all the Rabbis. At this time the split between Pharisees and Sadducees became clear, and people were forced to define themselves. Shimon was not afraid to deal with issue extra-legally, and executed the witches of Ashkelon. In revenge, the families of those witches had Shimon’s son executed. According to the Talmud, Shimon established the school system. He advocated fairness for Jews and non-Jews alike, leading to the popular phrase, “Praised be the God of Simeon ben Shetach!” Far less is known of Yehuda ben Tabbai, but in addition to his statements in Pirkei Avot, we know that he once executed a false witness who did not deserve the death penalty, an act which haunted him (literally) until his death.
The Chain of Tradition: The Meiri on Avot: Lesson 3
THE CHAIN OF TRADITION: SHAMAYA AND AVTALYON: In this shiur we will look at the very small amount we know about the next generation, the generation of Shamaya and Avtalyon. These two themselves were converts (or descended from converts). Josephus refers to Avtalyon as Pollio(n) which shows (amongst other things) the difficulty in transliteration Greek into Hebrew or vice versa. In that same generation were Akavia ben Mehallalel (according to the Meiri even though not everyone agrees), Yehuda ben Durtia, Admon and Chanan, and Rabbi Miasha. In addition, there were three hundred judges and hundreds of other Rabbis. Yet the information we have about that entire generation fits into a handful of pages. Though I suppose if we think what is known about almost any other culture from that time, a generation before the Common Era, we should be thankful that we have as much knowledge as we do.
The Chain of Tradition: The Meiri on Avot: Lesson 4
THE CHAIN OF TRADITION: SAVORAIM 01: Since I have covered many of the tanna’im and amora’im in previous series of shiurim, in this shiur we enter the world of the Savora’im. The Meiri lists several of the savora’im who put the final touches on the Gemara, after Ravina and Rav Ashi. Interestingly, Rambam does not admit to the existence of Savoraim, but holds that Ravina and Rav Ashi were the final editors of the Talmud. Though Rav Sherira Gaon, in his famous letter, does hold that they put the final touches on the Gemara. Who were the Savoraim? What was their role and their authority? Hopefully we will look at the answers to these questions in tonight’s shiur. See you there.
The Chain of Tradition: The Meiri on Avot: Lesson 7
THE CHAIN OF TRADITION: GEONIM 02: This is the final shiur of this series. We will make a race for the end of the Meiri’s introduction. Along the way we will speak about the end of the Geonic era (including Rav Saadia Gaon, Rav Sherira Gaon and his son Rav Hai). At the same time Rav Shmuel HaNagid lived in Cordoba, who lived an incredibly interesting life. Then we move to Kairouan to look at Rabbeinu Chananel, one of the earliest Rishonim.
Rabbi David Sedley lives in Jerusalem with his wife and six children. He was born and raised in New Zealand before making Aliya in 1992. He left Israel temporarily (for eight years) to serve as a communal Rabbi in Scotland and England and returned to Israel in 2004. He has translated Rabbeinu Yonah's commentary on Pirkei Avos and is the co-author of Sefiros: Spiritual Refinement Through Counting the Omer (both Judaica Press). Over the years Rabbi Sedley has worked as a journalist, a translator, a video director and in online reputation management. He also writes a weekly Torah blog on the Times of Israel.