Nasi (Hebrew: נָשִׂיא, romanizednāśī) is a title meaning "prince" in Biblical Hebrew, "Prince [of the Sanhedrin]" in Mishnaic Hebrew. Certain great figures from Jewish history have the title, including Judah ha-Nasi,[1] who was the chief redactor of the Mishnah as well as nasi of the Sanhedrin.

In Modern Hebrew, its meaning has changed to "president".



Genesis and ancient Israel


The noun nasi (including its grammatical variations) occurs 132 times in the Masoretic Text of the Hebrew Bible and is usually translated "prince", or occasionally "captain." The first use is for the twelve "princes" who will descend from Ishmael, in the Book of Genesis (Lech-Lecha, Genesis 17:20), and the second use (in Chayei Sarah Genesis 23:6), is the Hittites recognising Abraham as "a godly prince" (נְשִׂיא אֱלֹהִיםnǝśi ʾǝlohim).

In the Book of Leviticus (Vayikra, Leviticus 4:22–26), in the rites of sacrifices for leaders who err, there is the special offering made by a nasi.

In the Book of Numbers (Naso Numbers 7), the leader of each tribe is referred to as a nasi, and each one brings a gift to the Tabernacle. In Numbers 34:16–29, occurring 38 years later in the Biblical story, the nǝśiʾim (נְשִׂיאִים⁩, plural) of each tribe are listed again, as the leaders responsible for apportioning tribal inheritances.

Later in the history of ancient Israel, the title of nasi was given to the Kings of Judah (Ezekiel 44:2–18; Ezra 1:8). Similarly, the Mishnah defines the nasi of Leviticus 4 to mean the king.[2]

Second Temple period


During the Second Temple period (c. 530 BCE – 70 CE), the nasi was the highest-ranking member and leader of the Sanhedrin (סַנְהֶדְרִין from Koinē Greek: Συνέδριον, romanized: sunédrion, lit.'council'), including when it sat as a criminal court. The position was created in c. 191 BCE when the Sanhedrin lost confidence in the ability of the High Priest of Israel to serve as its head.[3]

In the time of the Roman Republic, the Romans recognized the nasi as Patriarch of the Jews and required all Jews to pay him a tax for the upkeep of that office, which ranked highly in the Roman official hierarchy.

After the Siege of Jerusalem (70 CE), in the time of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and the Jewish diaspora, the office of nasi in Palestine was comparable with the office of exilarch in Mesopotamia.[4]

Late Roman empire


This position as patriarch or head of court was reestablished several years after the Bar Kokhba revolt.[5] This made the nasi a power which both Jews and Romans respected. The Jewish community in Mesopotamia, referred to by the Jews as Babylonia, also recognized him. The nasi had leadership and served as a political representative to the authorities while the religious leadership was led by Torah scholars. He had the power to appoint and suspend communal leaders inside and outside of Israel.

The Romans respected the nasi and gave extra land and let control of own self-supported taxes. Under Jewish law, the intercalary thirteenth month in the Hebrew calendar, Adar Bet, was announced by the nasi.[6]

The last nasi of the Palestinian Sanhedrin was Gamaliel VI (d. 425); the Byzantine Empire subsequently issued an edict recorded in the legal code of the Codex Theodosianus of 426 that transformed the nasi tax into an imperial tax deposited into the Aerarium, or Roman treasury.

Middle Ages


The term nasi was later applied to those who held high offices in the Jewish community, and Jews who held prominence in the courts of non-Jewish rulers. The nasi were also prevalent during the 8th-century Frankish kingdom. They were a highly privileged group in Carolingian France. The Jews of Narbonne collaborated with Pepin the Short to end Muslim rule over their city in 759. The Jews accepted surrender and Pepin was able to hold off the Saracens in the Iberian peninsula. Pepin rewarded the Jews with land and privileges such as the right to judicial and religious autonomy. The heirs of the king and nasi held a close relationship until the tenth century.[7]

17th–20th-century Jewish community in Yemen


According to ethnologist Erich Brauer, among the Jews of Yemen, the title of nasi was conferred upon a man belonging to the community's most noble and richest family. There was no direct election for this post. In general, the nasi was also a scholar, well-versed in Torah, but this was not a condition for his office. Among his duties, he was a representative of the community in all its affairs before the government. He was also entrusted with the duty of collecting the annual jizya or poll-tax, as well as settling disputes arising between members of the community.[8]



The term nasi was used by Menachem Mendel Schneerson to refer to the spiritual leaders of Chabad. In particular, he used the term Nesi Hador (נשיא הדור‎; "prince of the generation") or Nesi doreinu (נשיא דורנו‎; "prince of our generation") to refer to his father-in-law, Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn.[9]

Modern Hebrew


In Modern Hebrew, nasi means "president", and is not used in its classical sense. The word nasi is used, in Israel, as the title of the President of Israel and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Israel. In Hebrew, the word "prince" is now expressed by a synonym: nasi (as in Yehuda HaNasi) and nasīkh (נָסִיך‎).

Much more recently, Adin Steinsaltz took the title nasi in an attempt to reestablish the Sanhedrin in its judicial capacity as the supreme court of Judaism.

List of Nesi'im


During the Mishnaic period, the office of nasi was filled as follows:[10][11]

Nasi Term in office
Yose ben Yoezer 170 BCE 140 BCE
Joshua ben Perachyah 140 BCE 100 BCE
Judah ben Tabbai (who later absconded)[12] 110 BCE ca. 80 BCE
Simeon ben Shetach ca. 80 BCE 60 BCE
Sh'maya 65 BCE c. 31 BCE
Hillel the Elder c. 31 BCE 9 CE
Shimon ben Hillel 9 9
Rabban Gamaliel the Elder 30 50
Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel 50 70
Rabban Yohanan ben Zakai 70 80
Rabban Gamaliel II of Yavne 80 118
Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah 118 120
Interregnum (Bar Kokhba revolt) 120 142
Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel II 142 165
Rabbi Judah I haNasi 165 220
Gamaliel III 220 230
Judah II Nesi'ah 230 270
Gamaliel IV 270 290
Judah III Nesi'ah 290 320
Hillel II 320 365
Gamaliel V 365 385
Judah IV 385 400
Gamaliel VI c. 400 425

List of presidents of Israel:

President Term in office
Chaim Weizmann 1949 1951
Yitzhak Ben-Zvi 1952 1963
Zalman Shazar 1963 1973
Ephraim Katzir 1973 1978
Yitzhak Navon 1978 1983
Chaim Herzog 1983 1993
Ezer Weizman 1993 2000
Moshe Katsav 2000 2007
Shimon Peres 2007 2014
Reuven Rivlin 2014 2021
Isaac Herzog 2021 incumbent



Rabban was a higher title than rabbi and was given to the nasi starting with Gamaliel the Elder.

The title rabban was restricted in usage to the descendants of Hillel the Elder, the sole exception being Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai (c. 30–90 CE), the leader in Jerusalem during the Siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE and who safeguarded the future of the Jewish people after the Great Revolt by pleading with the Emperor Vespasian.

Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah, who was nasi between 118 and 120 CE, was not given the title rabban, perhaps because he only occupied the office of nasi for a short while, after which it reverted to the descendants of Hillel.

Prior to Rabban Gamliel the Elder, no titles were used before anyone's name, in line with the Talmudic adage "Gadol miRabban shmo" ("Greater than the title rabban is a person's own name"). For this reason, Hillel the Elder has no title before his name: his name is in itself a title. Similarly, Moses and Abraham have no titles before their names, but an epithet is sometimes used to differentiate between biblical and historic personages, hence Avraham Avinu (Abraham 'Our Father') and Moshe Rabbeinu (Moses 'Our Teacher').

Starting with Rabbi Judah I haNasi (born 135 CE), not even the nasi was given the title rabban. In its place, Judah haNasi was given the lofty accolade Rabbeinu HaKadosh ('Our Holy Teacher').[13]

See also



  1. ^ Harry Gersh, The Sacred Books of the Jews, 1968, Stein and Day, New York, p. 104
  2. ^ Mishna Horayot 3:3 -ואיזה הוא הנשיא, זה המלך: שנאמר "ועשה אחת מכל מצוות ה' אלוהיו" (ויקרא ד,כב), ולהלן הוא {אומר "למען ילמד, ליראה את ה' אלוהיו" (דברים יז,יט)--מה "אלוהיו" האמור כאן, נשיא שאין על גביו אלא ה' אלוהיו, אף "אלוהיו" האמור כאן, נשיא שאין על גביו אלא ה' אלוהיו.
  3. ^ Goldwurm, Hersh and Holder, Meir, History of the Jewish People, I "The Second Temple Era" (Mesorah Publications: 1982) ISBN 0-89906-454-X.
  4. ^ Sherira Gaon (1988). The Iggeres of Rav Sherira Gaon. Translated by Nosson Dovid Rabinowich. Jerusalem: Rabbi Jacob Joseph School Press - Ahavath Torah Institute Moznaim. p. 86 (chapter 8). OCLC 923562173.
  5. ^ M. Avi-Yonah, The Jews under Roman and Byzantine Rule, Jerusalem 1984 sections II to V
  6. ^ Steinsaltz, Adin, The Essential Talmud: Thirtieth-anniversary Edition, trans. Chaya Galai (Basic Books: 2006) ISBN 0-465-08273-4, 16 - 18.
  7. ^ Zuckerman, Arthur J. (1972). A Jewish princedom in feudal France, 768-900. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-03298-6. OCLC 333768.
  8. ^ Erich Brauer, Ethnologie der jemenitischen Juden, Heidelberg 1934, pp. 281–282

    (Original German: Saphir hat die Organisation folgendermaßen beschrieben: "In jeder Stadt und jedem Dorf haben die Juden einen Mori. Er ist der Rabbiner, der Richter, der Schächter, Fleischbeschauer und Kinderlehrer. Ferner haben sie einen Naśī, den sie aus der Mitte der Gemeinde wählen…"

    Der Naśī gehört wohl immer der vornehmsten und reichsten Familie des Ortes an, denn Reichtum bedeutet auch hier Einfluß und Macht. Eine direkte Wahl des Gemeindevorstehers gibt es nicht; Reichtum und Eunfluß bestimmen die Auswahl.

    Im allgemeinen ist der Naśī auch ein Gelehrter, in der Tora bewandert, doch ist dies nicht Bedingung für sein Amt. Den Naśī von Ḫubēš schildert Jawneli als einen gänzlich ungebildeten Mann, der kaum ein Wort Hebräisch kann.

    Der Naśī ist Vertreter der Gemeinde in allen Dingen, welche die Regierung betreffen. Er führt die Liste, bajān, der mannbaren Gemeindemitglieder, nach der die ğizjā eingezogen wird. Er hat für Ordnung unter den Juden zu sorgen und Streitigkeiten zu schlichten. Bei Beschuldigungen jeder Art wird der Naśī zum Imam oder Šēḫ gerufen, der ihm aufträgt, den Schuldigen innerhalb einer bestimmten Frist herbeizuschaffen. Für die richtige Einziehung der Steuer, bei Strafen oder Kontributionen, die den Juden auferlegt werden, trägt der Naśī die Verantwortung. Besonders häufig werden diese Strafen wegen Übertretung des Verbotes, Branntwein an Muslime auszuschenken, verhängt.)
  9. ^ Schneersohn, Rabbi Menachem Mendel. Igrot Kodesh (in Hebrew). Retrieved 18 July 2017.
  10. ^ Sherira Gaon (1988). The Iggeres of Rav Sherira Gaon. Translated by Nosson Dovid Rabinowich. Jerusalem: Rabbi Jacob Joseph School Press - Ahavath Torah Institute Moznaim. pp. 86–88 (chapter 8). OCLC 923562173.
  11. ^ Kiara, S. (1987). Ezriel Hildesheimer (ed.). Sefer Halachot Gedolot (in Hebrew). Vol. 3. Jerusalem. p. 339 (Tosefet le-Hilkot Kodashim). OCLC 754744801. These are the nasi'im of Israel: Hillel the Elder, Shimon his son, Gamliel his son, Rabban Simeon ben Gamliel who was killed with R. Ismael ben Elisha. These [lived] during the Second Temple period.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  12. ^ Mishnah (Hagigah 2:2)
  13. ^ Goldwurm and Holder, 322

Further reading


Jeremy Cohen, "The Nasi of Narbonne: A Problem in Medieval Historiography," AJS Review, 2 (1977): pp. 45–76,

Jones, Lindsay, ed. Encyclopedia of Religion. Detroit: Gale, 2005. s.v. "Yehudah Ha-Nasi."

Pearl, Chaim, ed. The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life and Thought. New York: Digitalia, Inc., 1996. s.v. "Judah the Prince (Judah Ha-Nasi)."

Pearl, Chaim, ed. The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life and Thought. New York: Digitalia, Inc., 1996. s.v. "Prince (Heb. Nasi)."