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Pirqei Avot 1:4 – “This is my inspiration!”


Yose ben Yo’ezer of Zereda and Yose ben Yohanan of Jerusalem received from them. Yose ben Yo’ezer of Zereda used to say: “Let your house be a meeting place for Sages; sit in the dust at their feet, and with thirst, drink in their words.”

 Some thoughts:

Yose ben Yo’ezer’s, Z”L, advice seems to be a very relevant advice for our days. Today it is not the wise, those we can learn valuable lessons from, people who know what they are talking about, people who have deep insights in life, we invite in, or even relate to. Today it is X-Factor, Paradise Hotel, people who are famous just for being famous, people who get known from getting drunk, Jersey Shore, more or less opportunistic (and sometimes even corrupt) politicians, and other people the like, who are getting our attention.

I often wonder what can be learned from a pop-actress, who are promoting herself as being drunk all the time or suffering from hangovers after being drunk. Or from two girls travelling around the country, getting by more on looking good than knowing what to do in life.

When these examples are what makes people known and attracted, and this is what people – especially the young among us – want to make the example for their lives, then I believe that we are far from an ethical society, where the knowledge and insights in law and the reasons behind laws, is a guiding principle. As Yose ben Yo’ezer says it, we should focus on the Sages of our times, not on the drunkards.

Who are introduced here?

Yose ben Yo’ezer  from Zereda was the one half of the first Zug (pair), having the title of “Nasi.” He lived in the period of the Hasmonean revolt against the Seleucid ruler[1] and was a staunch opponent against Hellenism, so much that he declared all other lands for being unclean, in order for Jews not to settle outside Eretz Yisrael[2], as well as being a member of the Hasidean party. He was a Kohen, and known as “The Hasid of the Kohanim.”

He is mentioned various places, both as taking part in halachic discussions[3], as part of a controversy with his nephew, Alchimus[4], and in an account telling about him that he gave all his property to the Temple, since he believed that his son wasn’t worthy of inheriting him[5]

Yose ben Yohanan of Jerusalem was the other half of the first Zug, taking the position as the Av Beyt Din. As well as was the case with Yose ben Yo’ezer, Yose ben Yohanan was also a member of the Hasidean party, but still had disagreements with Yose ben Yo’ezer, who was considered more liberal, on some questions, which in the end created two different schools of opinions.

New Terms:

Av Beyt Din: The vice leader of the Sanhedrin, the highest religious court, was called Av Beyt Din (אב בית דין), “Father of the religious court,” and constituted the one half of the sitting “zug,” during the period of Zugot.

Eretz Yisrael (E”Y): The Land of Israel is in Hebrew called Eretz Yisrael (ארץ ישראל), and constitutes more of a religious definition than a political definition, since certain specific rules apply to E”Y, even in our days. It is not to be confused with the modern state of Israel, which in Hebrew is called Medinat Yisrael, the State of Israel.

Halachah: Jewish Jurisprudence is in Hebrew called Halachah (הלכה), from the root heh, lamed, khaf, halach – “to walk” – which means to hint that “this is the path in which the Jew should walk.”

Hasidean: From the root “hesed,” the Hasidean (or in Hebrew, Hassidim) formed a religious party, who took part in the revolt against the Seleucid ruler in the second century BCE. They are believed to have been very strict in their religious observance, and were strongly opposed to Hellenism.

Hasmonean: The Hasmoneans were the rulers of Judea, from the liberation from the Seleucid to the Romans conquest of Judea. It succeeded to keep independence in 103 years, from ca. 140 BCE until ca. 37 BCE, where the rule were taken from them by Herod the great, who founded the Herodian dynasty.

Hellenism: Hellenism was the dominant cultural system in the classical periods Middle East, being a mix of Greek and Oriental culture. It was the result of Alexander the Great’s dream of a united (known) world.

Nasi: The leader of the Sanhedrin was called Nasi (נשיא), “Prince.” Together with the Av Beyt Din, he constituted the highest Halachic authority in Israel. Later on the term has been used about the leader of the Jews, when there was one who was deemed significant and influential enough to be called leader. Today the term is used for the president of Israel.

Zug: The Hebrew term for “pair,” zug (זוג), was used for the sitting “pair,” who governed the Sanhedrin, in the period of “Zugot” (זוגות), which is a term used in describing a period in the history of Halachah, which covers the time of the Second Temple, from ca. 515 BCE until ca. 70 CE.

[1] As described in the two books of Maccabean.

[2] Talmud Bavli, Shabbat 46a.

[3] With his colleague, in the Mishnah, Eduyot 8:4, and Talmud Bavli, Pessahim 15a.

[4] Bereshit Rabba 1:65.

[5] Talmud Bavli, Bava Batra 133b.

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