The Tannaim spanned from the time of the Mishna which ran from close to 100 years before the destruction of the Second Temple to just over 100 years after the churban. Join Rabbi David Sedley as he highlights some of their major personalities and how they influenced much of the future halachic discourse.
The Tannaim: Hillel the Elder
Hillel was one of the earliest rabbis mentioned in the mishna. His influence on future generations was enormous — almost the entire mishna follows his opinions.
In this class we look at his life and Jerusalem at the end of the Second Temple period. Then we go through some of his views and opinions on halakha and hashkafa.
The Tannaim: Shammai the Elder
Many people mistakenly think that Shammai was stringent while Hillel was lenient. In this class, I argue that the real point of argument was that Shammai represented justice whereas Hillel represented kindness.
History teaches us that Hillel’s opinions were accepted and his students wrote and codified the Oral Law, while Shammai’s students soon ceased being part of Orthodox Jewish tradition.
The Tannaim: Rabban Gamliel
Rabban Gamliel struggled to rebuild and reshape Judaism following the destruction of the Second Temple.
He was a man of contradictions.
He needed to reestablish the role of “Nasi” and show leadership, while personally being full of empathy for those around him.
He was a direct descendant of Hillel, yet many of his views followed Shammai.
Eventually everything fell apart when he was deposed as head of the yeshiva — though only for a few days.
There is no recording this week
The Tannaim: Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrkanos
Rabbi Eliezer was always right, even when he was wrong. He was a traditionalist in a changing world, and to a certain extent got left behind. What makes him even more interesting (or perhaps it is the reason for his traditionalism), is that he did not come from a rabbinic family and did not grow up steeped in tradition (unlike his main rabbinic partner and rival, Rabbi Yehoshua).
He became an outcast, his opinions were rejected, he was excommunicated and was even accused of being from Beit Shammai.
In this class, we will look at his humble origins and the great heights he reached, and where he ended up.
The Tannaim: Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananya
In this class we begin with the dispute between Rabbi Yehoshua and Rabbi Eliezer which led to the latter being excommunicated.
We discuss Rabbi Yehoshua’s brilliance, which was recognized by everyone, from Hadrian to Athens.
We’ll also speak about how he radically changed Judaism, effectively removing God from the process of halakha.
The Tannaim: Rabbi Akiva
The Tannaim: Rabbi Meir
In this class we speak about Rabbi Meir, who compiled a version of proto-Mishna which Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi used as the basis for his mishna.
Rabbi Meir was a student of both Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Yishmael. He was married to Beruriah, daughter of one of the Ten Martyrs, Rabbi Chananiah ben Teradyon.
There is a tradition that he was a descendant of Emperor Nero (hence Rabbi Meir’s other name of Rabbi Nehorai). He also became known as Acherim, as a punishment for his impudence towards Rabban Shimon ben Gamilel.
Rabbi Meir was a scribe by profession, and his version of the Torah was slightly different than the one we have today.
Even though he was the greatest rabbi of his generation, the halakah almost never follows his opinion because he and his students were too brilliant for the other rabbis to understand.
There are stories of Rabbi Meir working miracles, but he is almost certainly not “Rabbi Meir Baal Hanes” (Rabbi Meir the Miracle Worker) who is buried in Tiberias. However, the prayer recited to help find lost objects is attributed to Rabbi Meir.
The Tannaim: Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Elisha ben Avuhya
This class is part two of the shiur on Rabbi Meir (but don’t worry if you missed the last one — this class stands on its own).
We discuss Rabbi Meir’s brilliance in halacha — so brilliant that the other rabbis could not understand him or his students.
We look at his custom of finding meaning in people’s names and how it saved his money from being stolen.
Then we take a detour to examine the life of one of Rabbi Meir’s teachers — Elisha ben Avuhya who became a heretic and was afterwards known as “Acher” (the other). What caused Elisha to lose his faith? We look at the lengths Rabbi Meir went to in order to bring him back to the right path.
Finally, we look at Rabbi Meir the miracle worker, and discuss whether he is Rabbi Meir Baal Haness, who is buried in Tiberias and who’s name some people mention when they lose an item.
The Tannaim: Rabbi Yehuda bar Ilai
Rabbi Yehuda was a student of his father, Rabbi Ilai, of Rabbi Tarfon and of Rabbi Akiva. He received ordination from Rabbi Yehuda ben Bava.
He was a colleague of Rabbi Meir, Rabbi Yossei and Rabbi Shimon, but his title was “Rosh Hamedabrim” — “First Speaker,” due to his brilliance, his view of the Romans and his close connection to the Nasi, Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel.
He was poor, humble and kind, yet also had an streak of anger.
In this shiur we will look at many of these sources, and try to put together the story of Rabbi Yehuda’s life and teachings.
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.