Johanan Ben Zaccai - Encyclopedia




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JOHANAN BEN ZACCAI, Palestinian rabbi, contemporary of the Apostles. He was a disciple of Hillel, and after the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem by Titus was the main instrument in the preservation of the Jewish religion. During tl}e last decades of the Temple Johanan was a member of the Sanhedrin and a skilled controversialist against the Sadducees. He is also reported to have been head of a great school in the capital. In the war with Rome he belonged to the peace party, and finding that the Zealots were resolved on carrying their revolt to its inevitable sequel, Johanan had himself conveyed out of Jerusalem in a coffin. In the Roman camp the rabbi was courteously received, and Vespasian (whose future elevation to the imperial dignity Johanan, like Josephus, is said to have foretold) agreed to grant him any boon he desired. Johanan obtained permission to found a college at Jamnia (Jabneh), which became the centre of Jewish culture. It practically exercised the judicial functions of the Sanhedrin (see Jews, § 40 ad fin.). That chief literary expression of Pharisaism, the Mishnah, was the outcome of the work begun at Jamnia. Johanan solaced his disciples on the fall of the Temple by the double thought that charity could replace sacrifice, and that a life devoted to the religious law could form a fitting continuation of the old theocratic state. "Johanan felt the fall of his people more deeply than anyone else, but - and in this lies his historical importance - he did more than any one else to prepare the way for Israel to rise again" (Bacher).

See Graetz, History of the Jews (Eng. trans.), vol. ii. ch. xiii.; Weiss, Dor dor ve-doreshav, ii. 36; Bacher, Die Agada der Tannaiten, vol. i. ch. iii. (I. A.)

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