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JUDAH THE PRINCE (Yehudah Hanasi; ca.135-222 C.E.)

Also called Rabbi and Rabenu ha-Kadosh, our Holy Rabbi. His life work consisted of editing, compiling, and classifying the Mishnah, the entire body of Jewish oral law which had been accumulated during the preceding four centuries. He arranged the Mishnah in six sections, each one dealing with a particular set of laws. This work exerted a crucial influence on the development of the religious, cultural, and social life of the Jewish people.

Judah the Prince was born on the day Rabbi Akiba died, a coincidence symbolic of the continuity of Jewish scholarship. A descendant of Hillel, who established a famous school of interpreters of the Law, he succeeded his father as Nasi, or head of the Sanhedrin, the highest legislative and judicial council of the time. His preoccupation with Jewish law did not prevent the great rabbi and scholar from acquiring a thorough knowledge of Greek language and culture. But it was his vast knowledge of Jewish law that earned him the recognition of the scholars of his time. His learning as well as his wealth added dignity and splendor to his leadership of the Jewish people as head of the Sanhedrin. Even the Roman authorities respected his station. His house resembled a royal court. Yet Rabbi Judah himself was a modest and self-denying person, highly responsive to the needs of his fellow man. In time of famine, he distributed his wealth freely to the poor. His main interests lay in learning and in his students whom he loved deeply. “I learned much from my teachers,” he once said, “much more from my comrades, and most of all from my students.”

Judah the Prince lived first in Bet Shearim and then in Zippori, Galilee. He was the last of the Tannaim, closing a great period of Jewish scholarship.

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