Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Great Regulars: Wisdom, of course, is a natural enough

qualification for a sage. But why, the reader wonders, did he have to be rich and well-born? It was not, the Gemara emphasizes, because the rabbis paid any honor to such worldly traits. Rather, it was because the head of the academy was, in these first generations after the destruction of the Temple, a quasi-political official, responsible for mediating between the Jewish people and their Roman overlords. The title of nasi, prince, suggests the more-than-scholarly standing of the office. And to effectively "deal with the House of Caesar," the Talmud explains, the nasi had to be rich.

from Adam Kirsch: Tablet: Talmudic Rebbe-llion


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