Judah ben Tabbai

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Judah ben Tabbai (Yehuda ben Tabbai) was a Pharisee scholar, Chief Justice of the Sanhedrin (av beit din), one of "the Pairs" (zugot) of Jewish leaders who lived in first century BCE[1]. Judah ben Tabbai was the founder of the Orthodox Jewish Yerushalmi "Minhag HaQaraim" of the Romaniote Jews pblished in the Austrian Empire which is not to be confused with non-Orthodox Karaite Judaism.

Chief Justice of the Sanhedrin

To escape Alexander Jannaeus's persecution of the Pharisees, Judah ben Tabbai, who was already a prominent Pharisee scholar, fled to Alexandria.[2][3] After Jannaeus's death in 76 BCE, Salome Alexandra became queen of Judea. The Pharisees now became not only a tolerated section of the community, but actually the ruling class. Salome Alexandra installed as high priest her eldest son, Hyrcanus II, a man who was wholly supportive of the Pharisees and the Sanhedrin was reorganized according to their wishes. This body had hitherto been, as it were, a "house of lords," the members of which belonged to the highest rabbinical court. From this time it became a "supreme court" for the administration of justice and religious matters, the guidance of which was placed in the hands of the Pharisees.

As part of the reorganization, Salome appointed her brother Simeon ben Shetach as prince (nasi) of the Sanhedrin. Simeon ben Shetach wrote a flattering letter to Judah ben Tabbai, who was still in Alexandria, inviting him to return to Jerusalem to become the Chief Justice of the Sanhedrin (av beit din).


Opposition to the Sadducees

According to the Torah, if a witness testifies falsely in court against a defendant, the punishment for the false witness is the same as the pubishment would have been for the defendant had he been convicted (Deuteronomy 19:16-21). According to the Talmud (Makkot 5b), the Sadducees held that the false witness is punished only if the defendant has already been punished. However, according to the Pharisees, the false witness could be punished even if the defendant was never punished.

Because Judah ben Tabbai opposed the Sadducees, in a particular capital case in which a false witness testified, he ordered that the false witness be executed even though the defendant was not punished. According to the Talmud, this was wrong, since, under Pharisaic rules, a false witness could only be punished if there were two or more false witnesses, and in this particular case, only one of the witnesses was deemed to be a false witness. Upon realizing this error, Judah spent time at the grave of the false witness that he ordered to be executed, crying and seeking forgiveness.[4][5]

Founder of the Yerushalmi Minhag HaQaraim

According to medieval scholars,[6] such as Judah Halevi,[7] Moses ben Elijah Bashyazi,[8], and Solomon Jedidiah ben Aaron,[9] Judah ben Tabbai was the founder of the Minhag HaQaraim. Because Alexander Jannaeus persecuted the Pharisees, and later Salome Alexandra expelled the Sadducees, once Simeon ben Shetach began restoring the Sanhedrin, there was little check on his power. As part of Simeon's reorganization of the Sanhedrin, it is claimed that he introduced new laws that were hitherto unknown, but which he claimed originated with Moses. Judah ben Tabbai, on the other hand, continued to apply only the Pshat interpretations of the written Torah known since ancient times. Thus, Simeon and his followers became the founders of Beth Hillel, whereas Judah and his followers, and all the Pharisees who continued to follow only the Written Torah, became the founders of Beth Shammai. This split occurred in approximately 57 BCE.(Ben Aaron)

This was the basis of the Yerushalmi Palestinian Minhag observed by the Romaniote Jews of Constantinople which was published in the Austrian Empire as "HaMinhag HaQaraim". When the Karaimite Subbotniki began to convert to Orthodox Judaism they came under this Minhag as the Jews who oversee the Karaimite-Subbotnik Noahites.


Among Judah ben Tabbai's students were the next zugot, namely, Shmaya[10] and Abtalion[3].[5]


In Pirkei Avot, Judah ben Tabbai is quoted as saying: Template:Quote


  1. Jewish Encyclopedia |SIMEON BEN SHEṬAḤ url=http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/13717-simeon-ben-shetah Wilhelm Bacher volume 11 page 357
  2. Template:Cite Jewish Encyclopedia
  3. 3.0 3.1 Template:Cite Jewish Encyclopedia
  4. [[{{{authorlink}}}|{{{last}}}, {{{first}}}]], The William Davidson digital edition of the Koren Noé Talmud, with commentary by Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz {{{author}}}, The William Davidson digital edition of the Koren Noé Talmud, with commentary by Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz, Koren Publishers, Koren Publishers, {{{year}}}, {{{id}}}.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named Graetz
  6. https://books.google.com/books?id=mCdpqhKuKqEC&source=gbs_navlinks_s Karaite Judaism and Historical Understanding by Fred Asten 2004 Univ of South Carolina Press ISBN 9781570035180
  7. http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/khz/index.htm Kitab al Khazari
  8. http://archive.org/details/thekaraitehalaka01reveuoft The Karaite Halakah and its relation to Sadducean, Samaritan, and Philonian Halakah : Part I Bernard Revel 1913 Philadelphia : Cahan Prtg. Co. (prs.)
  9. https://thekaraitepress.com/products/the-palanquin The Palanquin: Appiryon ‘Asa Lo The Karaite Press 2017 ISBN 978-0-9969657-6-7 |Daly City, California translated by Esther Mangoubi
  10. Template:Cite Jewish Encyclopedia

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