Gamaliel I The Elder (c.10 Bce-c.65 Ce)

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GAMALIEL I THE ELDER (c.10 BCE-c.65 CE)

Pharisee president (nasi) of the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem and early rabbinical

authority; grandson of Hillel the Elder (q.v.). The first

sage to be given the title of Rabban ("our Master"), he was

active throughout the last decades of the Second Temple and

died a few years before its destruction. As one who enjoyed

supreme religious authority, Gamaliel I maintained regular

contact with Jewish communities at home and abroad,

dictating numerous letters (three of which are quoted in the

Talmud) on matters such as the proclamation of a New Moon or

the approach of a leap year. Following his grandfather's

example, he also enacted various ordinances to protect

divorcees and enable widows whose husbands' deaths could not

be proved by the statutory two witnesses to remarry after a

single witness had provided evidence. This liberal and

humane interpretation of halakhah (Jewish law) was further

visible in Gamaliel's anxiety to prevent miscarriage of

justice, and in his positive attitude toward gentiles.

He had close ties with the Judean royal family and King

Agrippa I relied on him for expert legal advice. According

to New Testament sources, Gamaliel was an honored and

popular "doctor of the law" who intervened on behalf of

Peter and his companions when they were arraigned before the

Sanhedrin; Paul, the erstwhile Pharisee, also took pride in

the fact that he had studied under Gamaliel (Acts 5:34-40,

22:3). "When Rabban Gamliel died," said the rabbis, "the

glory of the Torah ceased, along with purity and

saintliness." He was the founder of a dynasty which included

his immediate successors, R. Simeon ben Gamaliel (q.v.) and

Gamaliel II of Yavneh (q.v.), and his great-great-grandson

Judah ha-Nasi (q.v.). L.W. Schwarz, ed., A Golden Treasury

of Jewish Literature, 1937. E.E. Urbach, The Sages, 1969.



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