Rabbi Yose

Early teacher of Jewish law and theology.

Reprinted from The Jewish Religion: A Companion, published by Oxford University Press.

A number of Rabbis mentioned in the Talmud are called Yose, each with his father’s name, but where the name Rabbi Yose occurs on its own the reference is to Rabbi Yose ben Halafta, a second-century Tanna.

Together with Rabbi Meir, Rabbi Judah, and Rabbi Simeon ben Yohai, Rabbi Yose is numbered among the sages taught by Rabbi Akiba in his old age. Rabbi Yose is quoted more than 300 times in the Mishnah and very frequently in the Tosefta.

Debates between Rabbi Yose and his colleagues are recorded, the Talmud (Eruvin 46b) stating that in such instances the opinion of Rabbi Yose is decisive. Rabbi Judah the Prince, editor of the Mishnah, was a pupil of Rabbi Yose.

Theological Observations

In addition to his prowess in Halakhah, Rabbi Yose was known for his theological observations. Attributed to him is the famous statement (Genesis Rabbah 68:19) that God is called Ha-Makom (‘the Place’) because ‘He is the place of the world but the world is not his place.’

Another theological observation attributed to Rabbi Yose is that ‘the Shekhinah never descended to earth and Moses and Elijah never ascended on high (Sukkah 5a).’

A Talmudic legend (Berakhot 3a) tells of Rabbi Yose entering one of the ruins of Jerusalem to pray and Elijah greeting him as ‘Rabbi.’ When Elijah asks Rabbi Yose what sound he had heard in the ruin, Yose replies: ‘I heard a Bat Kol moaning like a dove, crying: “Alas for My children for whose iniquities I destroyed My house, burnt My Temple, and exiled them among the nations.”‘

The early chronological work Seder Olam is attributed in the Talmud (Yevamot 82b) to Rabbi Yose, although there are later additions to the work from a much later period. The Seder Olam is the first chronological work in which historical events are dated from ‘the creation of the world.’ This method of dating, however, was not adopted by Jews generally until the Middle Ages.

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