Tomb of Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi


What an impressive entrance. It’s interesting that there are two burial caves that their entrance is so impressive, I’m referring to the entrance surface, the 3 beautiful arches and the terrace above. One is the cave of the coffins, and this cave, where Yehuda HaNasi and his family are buried.

Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi, headed the public institutions of the Jews in Israel sometime between 175 and 220 CE. This is considered the Golden Age of Jewish life in Israel during the late Roman period. During his presidency, normal relations were maintained with the Roman authorities, and he managed to establish close relationships with the Roman rulers. The economy stabilized and improved, also following regulations he established. The institutions he led which were, the presidency of the Sanhedrin, the head of the courts, & the head of the yeshiva, shaped the life here, and I will also add that they had significant impact on the Diaspora. On one hand, he succeeded in driving the Jewish elite to get closer to him, and on the other hand he enabled access to the simple ordinary population which was not familiar with the Torah and was till then were rejected by the leadership institutions. But his great enterprise, which defined him in Jewish history, was the signing of the Mishnah.

The Mishna is a written collection of the Jewish oral traditions also known as the Oral Torah.

Still, his influences on the political, economic, and social environments – were important in his time, but also had impact on future generations. Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi was an excellent statesman. He supported the Roman authorities, and in return they strengthened his status. Rabbi received from the emperor as a gift or lease, lands in towns and villages in various places in the north of the country. One of the places was Beit She’arim & its surroundings, which was considered King’s land in the Second Temple period & probably served as a source of income for the presidential family. In addition, he was given special rights, such as the power to pass a death sentence, a power which was not granted to leaders in other provinces. Rabbi Yehuda approached the Jews who served on the city councils, & they – noticing his wealth and status among the Roman authorities, accepted his leadership & judgment. He wisely but resolutely led the sages and knew how to minimize the opposition towards him among them, at the same time he led his reforms, all with the aim of achieving normalization in the life of the people.

The reforms of Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi were executed through his regulations. A regulation is a rule that replaces an existing regulation, which Rabbi’s goal was to adapt it to the reality created, considering the changing circumstances.

For example, the Torah states that interest must not be taken. On the other hand, the economic transactions within the municipal society in the days of Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi, justified the repayment of a debt to the lender with the addition of interest. Rabbi Yehuda amended a regulation that allows de facto lending with interest. It is important to emphasize that his regulations did not only apply to religious life, but also to the political, social and economic environments.

Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi moved to Tzipori and lived there for 17 years until he died and was transferred for burial in Beit She’arim, where he prepared a grave for himself during his lifetime.

Since the time Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi was buried in Beit Shearim, the place became a preferred burial site for local Jews and the Jews of the Diaspora who wanted to be buried in Israel and close to Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi, who became a national symbol.

Three inscriptions were found here: Inscription on the left in Hebrew “Rabbi Shimon” -The name of Rabbi Yehuda’s son. On the right wall was an inscription “Little Anina” corresponding to Rabbi Hanina Bar Hama who was his disciple. A third inscription found was “that of Rabbi Gamliel”, Rabi Yehuda HaNasi second son. These three names are mentioned in Rabbi Yehuda’s will, which I will shortly refer to.

The tombs here are all niche type. At that time, the dead were placed on a surface, or in a sarcophagus for a year until only the bones remained. Then the bones were collected into ossuary or pottery urn depending on the longest bone size, & that was place in the alcove.

There are two adjacent rectangular graves here. They were covered with stone slabs. Such a double grave is an exception in Beit She’arim. In his will, Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi asked to be buried in the ground. It’s certainly interesting that there are no other graves here besides these two that are buried in the ground.

In Beit Shearim we see several types of burials: use of niches as we saw here and in the Menorah tombs complex, this burial requires investment in quarrying and a facility that contained the bones. We saw burials in Sarcophagi when visiting the cave of coffins some of which include impressive decorations, and we also saw many, especially in the Menorah tomb complex, arcosolium type tombs, consists of a niche whose ceiling is arched which requires quite a significant effort & know-how for its preparation, and here are two simple graves. There is a contrast here between the great wealth that Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi had in his life and the way he chose to be buried, many articles have been written on this contrast.

If you remember at the beginning of the video I mentioned that Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi held all three governing positions. In his will he assigned them as follows: Rabbi Shimon, his son, to be appointed as sage, that is, to head the yeshiva, the highest institute teaching Torah. His son, Rabbi Gamliel Barbi will be the president, the highest position handling both internal governing issues and external relationships, mainly with Rome. The last appointment was assigned to Hanina Bar Hama his student, to be “chief of the court” or “chief justice”.

There is much more to see in Beit Shearim: the Cave of the coffins, the amazing Menorah Caves complex, the city on the hill – you can watch these places in the various videos as part of Beit Shearim playlist.  

And finally, as usual, a question for you – Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi established trust with Rome. Who was the emperor that had close ties with Rabbi Yehuda. The answer will appear at the end of the video.

How to get there?

Information Sources

  1. Book: Beit Shearim: The settlement & burial by its side, Authors: Yigal Tepper & Yotam Tepper, Publisher: The Society for the Exploration of Israel and its Antiquities
  2. Book: Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi - Great Spirit & Creation in the Jewish People, Author: Aharon Oppenheimer, Publisher: Zalman Shazar Center
  3. Book: Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi - A portrait of a leader in the traditions of Israel & Babylon, Author: Ofra Meir, Publisher: Hakibbutz Hameuchad
  4. Article: The death of a Rabbi, between Aralim and cliffs, Author: Roni Redman

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