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One of two leaders of the return from the Babylonian captivity in the 5th century B.C.E. He was a teacher of the Law and, presumably, author of the Book of Ezra in the Bible. About 458 B.C.E., 60 years after the Return and the rebuilding of the Temple, social and religious conditions in Judea deteriorated, causing great concern among Babylonian Jewry. Ezra, a priest and learned scribe, or sofer, led a mission of Babylonian Jewish notables to Judea to correct this condition. He carried an authorization from King Artaxerxes to appoint officials and act as an administrator. Ezra acted vigorously; he instituted religious reforms that preserved the identity and continuity of the Jewish people. By his act, the scribes took over the responsibility of teaching the people. Ezra called an assembly of the people in the Temple courts where portions of the Torah were read out loud to them. The Levites circulated among the people explaining the text, and the people pledged obedience. This was the First Great Assembly, an institution that continued for about two centuries. Not the least of Ezra’s achievements was the custom he began of reading Portions from the Torah on Sabbaths, Mondays, and Thursdays. This was a form of worship and teaching which spread from the Temple to synagogues all over the Land. It is no wonder that, in the Talmud, Ezra has been compared to Moses.

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