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Yohanan ben Zakkai[a] (Hebrew: יוחנן בן זכאי‎, 1st century CE), sometimes abbreviated as Ribaz (ריב״ז) for Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai, was one of the Tannaim, an important Jewish sage in the era of the Second Temple, and a primary contributor to the core text of Rabbinical Judaism, the Mishnah. His name is often preceded by the honorific title, "Rabban." He is widely regarded as one of the most important Jewish figures of his time. His tomb is located in Tiberias, within the Maimonides burial compound.

He was the first Jewish sage attributed the title of rabbi in the Mishnah.[1]



Johanan ben Zakai on the Knesset Menorah

The Talmud reports that, in the mid first century, he was particularly active in opposing the Sadducees' interpretations of Jewish law,[2][3] and produced counter-arguments to the Sadducees' objection to the Pharisees.[4] So dedicated was he to opposing the Sadducee view of Jewish law, that he prevented the Jewish high priest, who was a Sadducee, from following the Sadducee interpretation of the Red Heifer ritual.[5]

His home, at this time, was in Arav, a village in the Galilee, where he spent eighteen years.[6][7] However, although living among them, he found the attitude of Galileans to be objectionable, allegedly exclaiming that they hated the Torah and would therefore "fall into the hands of robbers."[6]

During the siege of Jerusalem in the Great Jewish Revolt, he argued in favour of peace; according to the Talmud, when he found the anger of the besieged populace to be intolerable, he arranged a secret escape from the city inside a coffin, so that he could negotiate with Vespasian (who, at this time, was still just a military commander).[6][8] Yochanan correctly predicted that Vespasian would become Emperor, and that the temple would soon be destroyed; in return, Vespasian granted Yochanan three wishes: the salvation of Yavne and its sages, the descendants of Rabban Gamliel, who was of the Davidic dynasty, and a physician to treat Rabbi Tzadok, who had fasted for 40 years to stave off the destruction of Jerusalem.[9]

Upon the destruction of Jerusalem, Jochanan converted his school at Yavne into the Jewish religious centre, insisting that certain privileges, given by Jewish law uniquely to Jerusalem, should be transferred to Yavne.[10] His school functioned as a re-establishment of the Sanhedrin, so that Judaism could decide how to deal with the loss of the sacrificial altars of the temple in Jerusalem, and other pertinent questions. Referring to a passage in the Book of Hosea, "I desired mercy, and not sacrifice",[11] he helped persuade the council to replace animal sacrifice with prayer,[12] a practice that continues in today's worship services; eventually Rabbinic Judaism emerged from the council's conclusions.

In his last years he taught at Bror Hayil, a location near Yavne.[13] His students were present at his deathbed, and were requested by him, in his penultimate words, according to the Talmudic record, to reduce the risk of ritual contamination imparted by a corpse:

Put the vessels out of the house, that they may not become unclean[14]

More enigmatic were the Talmud's record of his last words, which seem to relate to Jewish messianism:[6]

prepare a throne for Hezekiah, the King of Judah, who is coming[14]

According to the Talmud, Yohanan ben Zakkai lived 120 years.[15] His students returned to Yavne upon his death, and he was buried in the city of Tiberias; eleven centuries later, Maimonides was buried nearby. In his role as leader of the Jewish Council, he was succeeded by Gamliel II.


Jewish tradition records Yohanan ben Zakkai as being extremely dedicated to religious study, claiming that no one ever found him engaged in anything but study.[16] He is considered to be someone who passed on the teachings of his predecessors; on the other hand, numerous homiletic and exegetical sayings are attributed to him[17] and he is known for establishing a number of edicts in the post-destruction era:[18]

  1. After the destruction of Jerusalem, the shofar shall be blown in beit din when Rosh HaShana falls on Shabbat (prior to the destruction, it was only blown in Jerusalem and its environs on Shabbat)
  2. After the destruction of Jerusalem, the Four Species shall be taken in the hand for the entire Sukkot (prior to the destruction, it was only taken for the entire holiday in Jerusalem and on the first of the holiday elsewhere)
  3. After the destruction of Jerusalem, eating of chadash (new grain) shall be prohibited for the entire Day of Waving or yom haneif (the day that the omer sacrifice was offered, the sixteenth of Nisan; prior to the destruction, it was prohibited only up until the time of the waving on that day)
  4. After the destruction of Jerusalem, witnesses for the new moon shall be accepted all day (prior to the destruction, witnesses were only accepted until the afternoon tamid offering)
  5. After the destruction of Jerusalem, witnesses for the new moon shall only go to the place of assembly, and not follow the Nasi or "prince" (prior to the destruction, witnesses were only accepted at the location of the Nasi in Jerusalem)
  6. Kohanim (those of the priestly caste) may not go up[dubious ] to bless the people while wearing footwear
  7. After the destruction of Jerusalem, witnesses for the new moon may not violate the Shabbat except for the months of Nisan and Tishrei (prior to the destruction, witnesses were allowed to violate the Sabbath for all months)
  8. After the destruction of Jerusalem, converts no longer separate monies for their conversion sacrifice (prior to the destruction, part of the conversion process was to bring a sacrifice in the Temple in Jerusalem)
  9. The identity of the ninth edict is disputed:
    1. After the destruction of Jerusalem, the Second Tithe was permitted to be exchanged for money within a day's journey of Jerusalem (prior to the destruction, exchanges were only permitted for those living farther than a day's journey)
    2. After the destruction of Jerusalem, the red string associated with the chatas of Yom Kippur was sent with the ish iti (designee) to Azazel (prior to the destruction, the red string was maintained on the premises of the Temple)


If you are holding a sapling in your hand and someone tells you, 'Come quickly, the messiah is here!', first finish planting the tree and then go to greet the messiah.[19]

If you have been studious in learning the Torah, do not take credit to yourself, since it is to this end that your were created.[20][21]

Some of Rabbi Yohanan's comments were of an esoteric nature.[17] On one occasion he advises that mankind should seek to understand the infinity of God, by imagining the heavens being extended to unthinkable distances.[22] He argued that Job's piety was not based on the love of God, but on the fear of Him.[23]

He was challenged to resolve several biblical curiosities by a Roman commander, who was familiar with the Torah, but whose name has been lost in confusion. Among the issues were the fact that the numbers[24][25][26] in the Book of Numbers didn't add up to their totals,[27][28] and the reasoning behind the ritual of the red heifer;[29] on this latter question the answer he gave didn't satisfy his own students, so he decreed that the ritual was one that shouldn't be questioned.[30]

Yochanan opposed rebellion against the Roman power whom he recognized to be the fourth world power of the prophesied series of four in Daniel 7:23. In the Talmud he wrote, "Because it is written (Daniel 7:23); “It shall devour the whole earth, and shall tread it down, and break it in pieces.” This is guilt-laden Rome, whose influence has gone out over all the world."[31]

Preceded by
Simeon ben Gamliel
70 - 80
Succeeded by
Gamliel II

See alsoEdit

Yochanan ben Zakai Synagogue Wall Painting


  1. ^ Sometimes transliterated as Johanan ben Zakkai, Yochanan ben Zakkai, or Yohanan ben Zaccai


  1. ^ Hezser, Catherine (1997). The Social Structure of the Rabbinic Movement in Roman Palestine. Mohr Siebeck. pp. 64–. ISBN 978-3-16-146797-4. We suggest that the avoidance of the title "Rabbi" for pre-70 sages may have originated with the editors of the Mishnah. The editors attributed the title to some sages and not to others. The avoidance of the title for pre-70 sages may perhaps be seen as a deliberate program on the part of these editors who wanted to create the impression that the “rabbinic movement" began with R. Yochanan b. Zakkai and that the Yavnean "academy" was something new, a notion that is sometimes already implicitly or explicitly suggested by some of the traditions available to them. This notion is not diminished by the occasional claim to continuity with the past which was limited to individual teachers and institutions and served to legitimize rabbinic authority.
  2. ^ Menahot 65a
  3. ^ Baba Batra 115b
  4. ^ Yadayim 4:5
  5. ^ Parah (Tosefta) 3:8
  6. ^ a b c d Jewish Encyclopedia, Yochanan ben Zakai
  7. ^ Jerusalem Talmud, Shabbat 16:8 (81b)
  8. ^ Bavli Gittin 56a&b
  9. ^ Bavli Gittin 56b
  10. ^ Rosh Ha Shanah 4:1-3
  11. ^ Hosea 6:6
  12. ^ Rabbi Nathan, Abot 4
  13. ^ Sanhedrin 32b
  14. ^ a b Berakot 28b
  15. ^ Sanhedrin 41a
  16. ^ Sukkot 28a
  17. ^ a b Jewish Encyclopedia, "Johanan ben Zakkai"
  18. ^ Bavli Rosh HaShana 31b
  19. ^ Rabbi Nathan, Abot, 31b
  20. ^ Yerushalmi, Shemuel. Avot de-Rabbi Nathan (14:2). Jerusalem: Mesoret.
  21. ^ Pirkei Abot 2:8
  22. ^ Hagigah 13a
  23. ^ Soṭah 5:5
  24. ^ Numbers 3:22
  25. ^ Numbers 3:28
  26. ^ Numbers 3:34
  27. ^ Numbers 3:39
  28. ^ Bekorot 5b [1]
  29. ^ Bemidbar Rabbah 19:8
  30. ^ Bemidbar Rabbah 19:8
  31. ^ Ginzberg, Louis. "Akiba ben Joseph". The Jewish Encyclopedia. 1. p. 304. in Froom, Le Roy (1948). The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers - Pre-Reformation and Reformation Restoration, and Second Departure. 2. p. 195.

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