09 Jan

By some Rabbi Joshua ben Hananiah is considered as one of the bravest and humblest heroes people ever meet in sacred literature. 

In the 1st century CE, Joshua ben Hananiah (d. 131 CE), with Eliezer ben Hyrcanus smuggled their master, the Palestinian Jewish sage, founder of an academy and an authoritative rabbinic body at Jamnia (Jabneh), near the Judaean coast, Johanan ben Zakkai, out of Jerusalem in a coffin, were to become, by the end of the century and the beginning of the following one, the leading teachers of their generation having a profound influence on the greatest scholars of the next generation.

Joshua ben Hananiah was of Levitical descent, and served in the sanctuary as a member of the class of singers. He was one of the five who formed the inner circle of Johanan's pupils. In enumerating them, tradition places him at the head together with Eliezer ben Hyrcanus. Tradition also frequently mentions these two together as upholders of opposite views. They were both present at the celebration of the circumcision of Elisha ben Abuyah (Acher), in Jerusalem, and diverted themselves by connecting passages in the Torah with others in the Prophets and the Hagiographa

After the death of Johanan ben Zakai (c. 80 CE), Joshua was the heartiest supporter of Gamaliel II's efforts to bring about the predominance of the views of Hillel's followers over those of Shammai's, and thus to end the discord which had so long existed between the schools. But he was the very one whom Gamaliel humiliated on a certain occasion when the authority of the president was in question. 

It is related that when Joshua ben Hananiah was about to die, the scholars standing round his bed mourned, saying:

 "How shall we maintain ourselves against the unbelievers?" Joshua comforted them with words from Jeremiah 49:7: "If counsel has been taken away from the children [of God, i.e. Israel], the wisdom of these [the enemy] has also perished" 

After his death Joshua's importance was extolled in the words:

 "Since Rabbi Joshua died, good counsel has ceased in Israel."

Joshua ben Hananiah was one of the important figures who helped give us the Judaism we know -- the complicated, word-filled tradition of debates, multiple viewpoints, and endless questions.
Through his humanity, humility, and occasional audacity, Joshua helped set Judaism on its course towards becoming the decentralized, multi-opinionated, exile-surviving, other-religion-respecting, pragmatic-yet-altruistic, wounded-yet-hopeful religion that it is at its best. And yet, inside and outside the Jewish community, few people know about him. 

Now Rabbi Maurice Harris wants to bring change in this. Rabbi Maurice Harris is a friendly guide through the texts and dramas of early rabbinic Judaism, providing general audiences with clear and compelling explanations of complex narratives, legal issues, and historical contexts. He hopes he can give people of all faiths or backgrounds some better insight. Some of the most stunning stories in the Talmud and in Midrash can find accessible and vivid translations in his new book: "The Forgotten Sage: Rabbi Joshua ben Hananiah and the Birth of Judaism as We Know It"

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