Rabban Gamaliel

Many rabbis of the same name served as Nasi or Prince.

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Although Rabban Gamaliel I is sometimes referred to as "the Elder," he is often referred to simply as Rabban Gamaliel, making it difficult to know whether a source refers to him or to his grandson, Gamaliel II. With regard to extra-Talmudic sources, there is only a single reference to Gamaliel I in the New Testament (Acts 22:3) where he is said to have been Paul's teacher. All this only goes to show how difficult it is for the historian of Talmudic times who attempts to use sources compiled later for a reconstruction of events in an earlier period.

Echoes are also to be found of the close relationship between the princes and the Romans. It is said, for instance, that many young men of the house of Rabban Gamaliel studied "Greek wisdom" (Sotah 49b), a statement that was much discussed in the medieval debates on the study of philosophy. Gamaliel is also said to have bathed in a bath-house in which there was a statue of Aphrodite (Mishnah Avodah Zarah 3:4), which practice he defended on the grounds that the statue was purely decorative and in no way dedicated to the goddess.

There is also an account of Rabban Gamaliel, Rabbi Joshua, and other Rabbis visiting Rome. Especially interesting in this connection are the Talmudic tales, largely legendary, of the close friendship between Rabbi Judah the Prince and "Antoninus," though it is none too clear which Roman emperor is referred to by this name in these tales.

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Rabbi Louis Jacobs

Rabbi Dr. Louis Jacobs (1920-2006) was a Masorti rabbi, the first leader of Masorti Judaism (also known as Conservative Judaism) in the United Kingdom, and a leading writer and thinker on Judaism.