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

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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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