Mishna Tiberias

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Abuhav Synagogue
משנה בטבריה
Other Names
Development of the Oral Torah
Historical events created a ripe climate for the development of the Oral Torah in Tiberias

Following the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple, great rabbis of the first centuries of the new millenium sought to write down the laws and commentaries of the Torah to unify the Jewish people under dispersion. Much of the writing of this compilation -- the “Mishna” -- took place in Tiberias.

[edit] Purification of Tiberias

Up until the second century A.D. many Jews refused to live in Tiberias because they believed that the city was built on an ancient graveyard. This would have made the city completely off-limits to “Cohanim” -- the priestly caste -- who, according to Jewish law, could not go anywhere near a gravesite. In addition, other Jews were unhappy with the idea of living in a city that was built on top of a cemetery.

Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai (the RASHBI) was forced to hide from the Romans and lived in a cave near Peki’in with his son for thirteen years while he studied the Kabbalah as revealed to him through Divine Inspiration. After the death decree against him was revoked, the RASHBI and his son, Rabbi Elazar, traveled to Tiberias to use the hot springs and sought to rid the town of its status of impurity.

The RASHBI planted lupine plants throughout the city and identified the gravesites by the places where lupine plants grew (some versions of the legend state that he identified the gravesites according to the places where lupine plants didn’t grow). He was thus able to remove the corpses and intern them elsewhere and, after performing a purification ceremony, declared Tiberias fit for Jewish inhabitation.

Modern archaeologists have recently discovered tombstones which were reused as paying stones. Many people believe that this confirms the legend of the RASHBI’s ceremony, for if the bodies in the tombs had been reburied elsewhere, the tombs would no longer be needed and the stones could be used for paving roads (or anything else).

[edit] Mishnah

Beginning in the 1st century A.D.. the persecutions, upheavals and dispersions of the Jews of the Land of Israel convinced the era’s leading rabbis that they must begin to compile and write down the wisdom which had been passed down through previous generations as the Oral Torah. The rabbis worried that details of Jewish traditions and laws would be forgotten and sought to codify these teachings. Their collected writings were compiled as the “Mishna”, much of which was written and edited in Tiberias.

The Mishna, written in Hebrew, includes six divisions which span personal, commercial and spiritual modes of behavior. It serves as a review of the Jewish oral traditions of the Pharisaic times (approximately 536 B.C.E to 70 C.E.). The Mishna compiles existing traditions and records the debates and discussions among the rabbis who examined various situations and summarized the laws, commandments and spirit of Torah laws as they formed opinions which would guide future generations of Jews. The Mishna served as the basis for the further development of laws and traditions.

[edit] Tiberias Rabbis of the Mishna

Many of the great rabbis of the day, such as Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi, came to live in Tiberias to participate in writing the Mishna. Yehuda HaNasi worked with rabbis in “Tzippori” -- Sepphoris -- on the compilation of the Mishna but then moved to Tiberias where he worked on editing the work. The Mishna’s redaction was completed in 220 by Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi and includes the legal rulings and commentaries of many of the day’s greatest Rabbis including Rabbi Akiva, Rabbi Meir Ba’al HaNes, Rav, Shmuel, Abaye, Rava and Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai. Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Meir are buried in Tiberias.

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