Who was Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai? (Jewish Biography as History) Dr. Henry Abramson

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Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai (d. c. 85 ce) was one of the most influential figures in ancient Jewish history. Emerging from the ruins of the destroyed Temple, Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai led the Jewish people through the dangerous first years after the devastation of the last remnants of their state by the Romans. A disciple of Hillel, he was of the “national-realist” school that favored tactical surrender to the overwhelming power of the Roman Empire. In his most famous act, he arranged to fake his own death in order to escape his enemies among the Zealots to negotiate a peace treaty with Vespasian, who would later become Emperor. “Give me Yavneh and its scholars,” asked Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai, setting in place the foundation for the existence of Judaism after the Temple could no longer serve as the center of Jewish religious life. Part of the Jewish Biography as History series available at http://www.jewishhistorylectures.com.


6 thoughts on “Who was Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai? (Jewish Biography as History) Dr. Henry Abramson

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  1. Prof Abramson,
    Have enjoyed your lectures.
    Heard you are coming up north next year?
    NYC? Where will you be teaching?
    Michael Sherman

  2. Dear Professor Abramson, your assessment of Ben Zakkai is simple. traditional, and insufficient, doing injustice both, to Ben Zakkai and the Jewish people. Ben Zakkai revived the Jewish people with his supremely courageous action of forsaking forever earthly Jerusalem. Zakkai, then and there , brought to life our Judaism of humility and justice, divorced from Templ and Priesthood. Zakkai freed us from the murderous fanaticism of the”Kannaim”, teaching us to be on guard against all religious fanatics.

  3. This fascinating lecture discusses the overwhelming problem that G-d bestowed upon Reb Yochanan ben Zakkai: helping klal yisroel deal with the destruction the second temple. As a leader of a nation, he did not choose the task, as they say, the task chose him. He was already a leader of the nation, very respected and well-liked, when disaster struck. The fantastic story about his great escape from Jerusalem and heroic entrance into the Roman general’s dwellings is unlike any other. That is where we see Reb Yochanan’s wisdom and intelligence at its best. It was at that moment, when he was allowed but three wishes and he knew how to laser focus the nation’s needs into three requests, that he proved himself a great leader. It proved that he understood the needs of G-ds nation in such a global manner, zooming out and looking at the bigger picture, at the historical timeline, and comprehending the secret to our nation’s survival. He asked for Yavneh, the city of torah study, he knew that the study of torah is the secret and the key to our nation’s utter survival. Thus, he met the nation’s spiritual needs. But, he did not forget the equally pressing matters of the nation’s political situation, and asked to spare the Gamliel family. They were the ‘royal’ family, so to speak, from whom the messiah is said to come from. Ultimately, his greatest accomplishment was making the executive decision to write down the oral Torah. And so, Reb Yochana is truly a great example of a phenomenal Jewish leader.

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