י״ב באלול ה׳תש״ע (August 22, 2010)

Avoda Zara 8a-b: Rabbinic Ordination at a Crossroads

Rav is quoted by Rav Yehuda as telling about Rabbi Judah ben Bava who must be remembered for keeping the laws of kenasot -penalties – from being forgotten. The Gemara explains that under Hadrian the Roman government forbade for rabbinic ordination to be conferred. They announced that anyone giving or receiving ordination would be killed and nearby cities and provinces would be destroyed and uprooted. Rabbi Yehuda ben Bava gathered five students to a place midway between large mountains and cities – between the tehum Shabbat areas (the distance that one can walk from a habitated area on Shabbat) surrounding Usha and Shefar’am – and conferred rabbinic ordination on Rabbi Meir, Rabbi Yehuda, Rabbi Shimon, Rabbi Yose and Rabbi Elazar ben Shamua. The Roman garrisons spotted them and Rabbi Yehuda ben Bava instructed his students to flee, while he protected the path by sacrificing himself to the onslaught of the Roman soldiers. While he was killed for his efforts, his students survived to act as teachers and judges.

The cities of Usha and Shefar’am were among the centers of Jewish life in the Galilee at the end of the Second Temple period. Usha was situated in the lower Galilee and for a time played host to the , which wandered in the Galilee at the time of the destruction of the Second Temple. Today there is an Arab village in the area that carries the name “Husha”.

Shefar’am was the Sanhedrin’s next stop after Usha. It was in the same area, about three kilometers to the northeast of Usha. Today a Christian-Druze community lives there. The area between these two communities is hilly. An age-old tradition points to the burial cave of Rabbi Yehuda ben Bava on the road between the two cities immediately next to an ancient notice in Greek indicating the end of the tehum Shabbat from Usha.

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