Raban Gamaliel HaZaken ben Shimon, President of the Sanhedrin

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Raban Gamaliel HaZaken ben Shimon, President of the Sanhedrin

Hebrew: רבן גמליאל הזקן בן שמעון הנשיא, נשיא הסנהדרין
Also Known As: "Gamliel the Elder"
Death: 68 (13-22)
Immediate Family:

Son of Raban Shimon ben Hillel, President of the Sanhedrin
Father of Raban Shimon II haZaken ben Gamliel, President of the Sanhedrin, הי״ד; bat Gamliel I Hazaken Gt.Gd.dau. Hillel Hazaken; 3 generations gap . and אשת שמעון בן נתנאל הכהן

Occupation: President of Great Sanhedrin in Jerusalem, Rabbi
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Raban Gamaliel HaZaken ben Shimon, President of the Sanhedrin

Gamaliel the Elder, or Rabbi Gamaliel I (גמליאל הזקן; Greek: Γαμαλιήλ ο Πρεσβύτερος), was a leading authority in the Sanhedrin in the mid first century.

Gamaliel holds a reputation in the Mishnah for being one of the greatest teachers in all the annals of Judaism:

Since Rabban Gamaliel the Elder died, there has been no more reverence for the law, and purity and piety died out at the same time.

He was the grandson of the great Jewish teacher Hillel the Elder, and died twenty years before the destruction of the second temple in Jerusalem.

Gamliel's great grandson was Yokhanan Hasandlar a pivotal link to Rashi 33 generations later.

Gamliel fathered a son, whom he called Simeon, after his father's name, and a daughter, whose daughter (i.e., Gamaliel's granddaughter) married a priest named Simon ben Nathanael. The name Gamaliel is the Greek form of the Hebrew name meaning reward of God.

In the early Messianic Writings, Gamaliel is celebrated as a doctor of Jewish Law, who was the teacher of Paul the Apostle; the author of the Book of Acts portrays Gamaliel as a man of great respect and wisdom.

As Rabban

In the Talmud, seven leaders of Hillel's school of thought, of which Gamaliel was the first, are given the title Rabban (master), a rabbinic title given to the Head of the Sanhedrin; although it is not doubted that Gamaliel genuinely held a senior position, whether he actually held this highest position has been disputed] Gamaliel holds a reputation in the Mishnah for being one of the greatest teachers in all the annals of Judaism:

   Since Rabban Gamaliel the Elder died, there has been no more reverence for the law, and purity and piety died out at the same time.

Gamaliel's authority on questions of religious law is suggested by two Mishnaic anecdotes, in which the king and queen ask for his advice about rituals]; the identity of the king and queen in question is not given, but is generally thought to either be King Herod Agrippa I and his wife Cypris, or King Herod Agrippa II and his sister Berenice.

However, as classical rabbinical literature always contrasts the school of Hillel to that of Shammai, and only presents the collective opinions of each of these opposing schools of thought - without mentioning the individual nuances and opinions of the rabbis within them - these texts do not portray Gamaliel as being knowledgeable about the Jewish scriptures, nor do they portray him as a teacher. For this reason, Gamaliel is not listed as part of the chain of individuals who perpetuated the Mishnaic tradition; instead, the chain is listed as passing directly from Hillel to Johanan ben Zakkai.

Nevertheless, the Mishnah still mentions Gamaliel's authorship of a few legal ordinances on the subjects of community welfare and conjugal rights. He argued that the law should protect women during divorce, and that, for the purpose of re-marriage, a single witness was sufficient evidence for the death of a husband. The Mishnah also contains a saying it attributes to 'Gamaliel', though it is vague in this case about which particular 'Gamaliel' it means; the saying itself concerns religious scruples:

"Obtain a teacher for yourself, keep yourself [on religious questions] far from doubt, and only infrequently give a tithe using general valuation".

Various pieces of classical rabbinic literature additionally mention that Gamaliel sent out three epistles, designed as notifications of new religious rulings, and which portray Gamaliel as the head of the Jewish body for religious-law[. Two of these three were sent, respectively, to the inhabitants of Galilee and the Darom (southern Judea), and were on the subject of the Levite Tithe. The third epistle was sent to the Jews of the Diaspora, and argued for the introduction of an intercalary month.

Since the Hillel school of thought is presented collectively, there are very few other teachings which are clearly identifiable as Gamaliel's; there is only a somewhat cryptic dictum, comparing his students to classes of fish:

  • A ritually impure fish: one who has memorised everything by study, but has no understanding, and is the son of poor parents
  • A ritually pure fish: one who has learnt and understood everything, and is the son of rich parents
  • A fish from the Jordan River: one who has learnt everything, but doesn't know how to respond
  • A fish from the Mediterranean: one who has learnt everything, and knows how to respond

Influence on the Christian Apostles

The author of Acts of the Apostles introduces Gamaliel as a Pharisee and celebrated scholar of the Mosaic Law]. In this passage, Saint Peter and the other apostles are described as being prosecuted by the Sanhedrin for continuing to preach the Gospel, despite the Jewish authorities having previously prohibited it; the passage describes Gamaliel as presenting an argument against killing the apostles, reminding the Sanhedrin about previous revolts, which had been based on beliefs that individuals such as Theudas and Judas of Galilee were the prophesied messiah, and which had collapsed quickly after the deaths of those individuals. According to Acts, his authority with his contemporaries was so great that they accepted his advice, regardless of how unwelcome it was; Gamaliel's concluding argument to them had been that:

"if [the Gospel] be of men, it will come to naught, but if it be of God, ye will not be able to overthrow it; lest perhaps ye be found even to fight against God".

The Book of Acts later goes on to describe Paul of Tarsus recounting that he was educated at the feet of Gamaliel about Jewish religious law, although no details are given about which teachings Paul adopted from Gamaliel - and hence how much Gamaliel influenced aspects of Christianity. However, there is no other record of Gamaliel ever having taught in public, although the Talmud does describe Gamaliel as teaching a student who displayed impudence in learning, which a few scholars identify as a possible reference to Paul.

Helmut Koester, Professor of Divinity and of Ecclesiastical History at Harvard University, is doubtful that Paul studied under this famous rabbi, arguing that there is a marked contrast in the tolerance that Gamaliel is said to have expressed about Christianity, in contrast to the "murderous rage" against Christians that Paul is described as having prior to his conversion.

Ecclesiastical tradition maintains that Gamaliel had embraced the Christian faith. His tolerant attitude toward the Early Christians is explained by this. According to Photius, he was baptized by Saint Peter and Saint John, together with his son and with Nicodemus; the Clementine Literature, suggested that he maintained secrecy about the conversion, and continued to be a member of the Sanhedrin, for the purpose of covertly assisting his fellow-Christians. The Roman Catholic church views him as a Saint, and listed him in the Roman Martyrology; it is said that in the 5th century, by a miracle, his body had been discovered, and taken to Pisa Cathedral.

The Jewish account maintains that he remained a Pharisee until his death. There is little historical evidence concerning Gamaliel's religious persuasion later in his life, so after 1956 he stopped being listed in the Roman martyrology. However, not appearing in the martyrology does not mean that he is no longer considered a saint by the Church; once someone is canonized (considered a saint in heaven) they cannot become "un-canonized."

Contemporary Jewish records continue to list him first among the Sanhedrin but it is of note that he is not listed in the chain of transmission of the oral tradition which may indicate that he was suspected of adhering to another oral tradition, that of the Christians.

The Nesi'im

The following were Nesi'im, that is to say presidents of the Sanhedrin.

  • Hillel
  • Rabban Shimon ben Hillel, about whom very little is known
  • Rabban Gamaliel Hazaken (Gamaliel the Elder)
  • Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel
  • Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai
  • Rabban Gamaliel of Yavne
  • Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah, who was Nasi for a short time after Rabban Gamliel was removed from his position
  • Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel of Yavne
  • Rabbi Judah haNasi (Judah the Nasi), known simply as "Rabbi", who compiled the Mishnah
  • ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


His Correspondence.

Son of Simon and grandson of Hillel: according to a tannaitic tradition (Shab.15a), he was their successor as nasi and first president of the Great Sanhedrin of Jerusalem. Although the reliability of this tradition, especially as regards the title of "nasi," has been justly disputed, it is nevertheless a fact beyond all doubt that in the second third of the first century Gamaliel (of whose father, Simon, nothing beyond his name is known) occupied a leading position in the highest court, the great council of Jerusalem, and that, as a member of that court, he received the cognomen "Ha-Zaḳen." Like his grandfather, Hillel, he was the originator of many legal ordinances with a view to the "tiḳḳun ha-'olam" (= "improvement of the world": Giṭ. iv. 1-3; comp. also Yeb. xvi. 7; R. H. ii. 5). Gamaliel appears as the head of the legal-religious body in the three epistles which he at one time dictated to the secretary Johanan (account of Judah b. 'Illai: Tosef., Sanh. ii. 6; Sanh. 11b; Yer. Sanh. 18d; Yer. Ma'as. Sh. 56c). Two of these letters went to the inhabitants of Galilee and of the Darom (southern Palestine), and had reference to the tithes; the third letter was written for the Jews of the Diaspora, and gave notice of an intercalary month which Gamaliel and his colleagues had decided upon. That part of the Temple territory—a "stairway of the Temple mount"—where Gamaliel dictated these letters is also the place where he once ordered the removal of a Targum to Job—the oldest written Targum of which anything is known (report of an eye-witness to Gamaliel II., grandson of Gamaliel I.: Tosef., Shab. xiii. 2; Shab. 115a; Yer. Shab. 15a).

His Relative Position.

Gamaliel appears also as a prominent member of the Sanhedrin in the account given in Acts (v. 34 et seq.), where he is called a "Pharisee" and a "doctor of the law "much honored by the people. He is there made to speak in favor of the disciples of Jesus, who were threatened with death (v. 38-39):

"For if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to naught: but if it be of God, ye can not overthrow it."
He is also shown to be a legal-religious authority by the two anecdotes (Pes. 88b) in which "the king and the queen" (Agrippa I. and his wife Kypris; according to Büchler, "Das Synhedrion in Jerusalem," p. 129, Agrippa II. and his sister Berenice) go to him with questions about the ritual.

Tradition does not represent Gamaliel as learned in the Scriptures, nor as a teacher, because the school of Hillel, whose head he undoubtedly was, always appears collectively in its controversies with the school of Shammai, and the individual scholars and their opinions are not mentioned. Hence Gamaliel is omitted in the chain of tradition as given in the Mishnah (Abot i., ii.), while Johanan b. Zakkai is mentioned as the next one who continued the tradition after Hillel and Shammai. Gamaliel's name is seldom mentioned in halakic tradition. The tradition that illustrates the importance of Johanan b. Zakkai with the words, "When lie died the glory of wisdom [scholarship] ceased," characterizes also the importance of Gamaliel I. by saying: "When he died the honor [outward respect] of the Torah ceased, and purity and piety became extinct" (Soṭah xv: 18).

His Classification of His Pupils.

Gamaliel, as it appears, did most toward establish-. ing the honor in which the house of Hillel was held, and which secured to it a preeminent position within Palestinian Judaism soon after the destruction of the- Temple. The title "Rabban," which, in the learned hierarchy until post-Hadrianic times, was borne only by presidents of the highest religious council, was first prefixed to the name of Gamaliel. That Gamaliel ever taught in public is known, curiously enough, only from the Acts of the Apostles, where (xxii. 3) the apostle Paul prides himself on having sat at the feet of Gamaliel. That the latter paid especial attention to study is shown by the remarkable classification of pupils ascribed to him, for which a classification of the fish of Palestine formed a basis (Ab. R. N. xl.). In this arrangement Gamaliel enumerates the following kinds. of pupils: (1) a son of poor parents who has learned everything by study, but who has no understanding; (2) a, son of rich parents who has learned everything and who possesses understanding; (3) a pupil who has, learned everything, but does not know how to reply; (4) a pupil who has learned everything and knows. also how to reply. These correspond to the following varieties of fishes: (1) an unclean, i.e. ritually uneatable fish; (2) a clean fish; (3) a fish from the Jordan; (4) a fish from the great ocean (Mediterranean).

Besides this dictum of Gamaliel's, which is no longer wholly intelligible, only that saying has been preserved which is related in the Mishnah Abot (i. 16) under the name of Gamaliel; for, in spite of Hoffmann's objections ("Die Erste Misclina," p. 26), it is probably right to hold with Geiger ("Nachgelassene Schriften," iv. 308) that Gamaliel I. is intended. The saying is in three parts, and the first clause repeats what Joshua b. Peraḥyah had said long before, (Abot i. 5): "Secure a teacher for thyself," The other two parts agree very well with the impression which the above-mentioned testimonial gives of Gamaliel as a thoroughly conscientious "Pharisee": "Hold thyself [in religious questions] far from doubt, and do not often give a tithe according to, general valuation." Tradition probably contains many sayings of Gamaliel I. which are erroneously ascribed to his grandson of the same name. Beside his son, who inherited his father's distinction and position, and who was one of the leaders in the uprising against Rome, a daughter of Gamaliel is also, mentioned, whose daughter he married to the priest Simon b. Nathanael (Tosef., 'Ab. Zarah, iii. 10).

Christian Legends.

As a consequence of being mentioned in the New Testament, Gamaliel has become a subject of Christian legends (Schürer, "Geschichte," ii. 365, note- 47). A German monk of the twelfth century calls the Talmud a "commentary of Gamaliel's on the Old Testament," Gamaliel is, here plainly the representative of the old Jewish scribes (Bacher, "Die Jüdische Bibelexegese," in Winter and Wünsche, "Jüdische Literatur," ii. 294). Even Galen was identified with the Gamaliel living at the time of the Second Temple (Steinschneider, "Hebr. Uebers." p. 401). This may be due to the fact that the last; patriarch by the name of Gamaliel was also known as a physician (see Gamaliel VI.).


  • Frankel, Darke ha-Mishnah, p. 52;
  • Weiss, Dor;
  • Grätz, Gesch. 3d ed., iii. 373 et seq.;
  • Derenbourg, Hist. pp. 239 et seq.;
  • Schürer, Gesch. 2d ed., ii. 364;
  • Büchler, Das Synhedrion in Jerusalem, pp. 115-131.




About רבן גמליאל הזקן בן שמעון הנשיא, נשיא הסנהדרין (עברית)

רשימת נשיאי הסנהדרין בתקופת בית שני ואחריה

  • יוסי בן יועזר איש צרדה: 170 לפנה"ס - 140 לפנה"ס לערך
  • יהושע בן פרחיה: 140 לפנה"ס - 100 לפנה"ס לערך
  • יהודה בן טבאי, ויש אומרים שמעון בן שטח: 100 לפנה"ס - 60 לפנה"ס
  • שמעיה: 60 לפנה"ס - 30 לפנה"ס
  • הלל הזקן: 30 לפנה"ס - 10 לערך
  • שמעון (הראשון) בן הלל: 10 - 30 לערך
  • רבן גמליאל (הראשון) הזקן: 30 - 50 לערך
  • רבן שמעון (השני) בן גמליאל (הראשון) הזקן: 50 - 70 לערך - נהרג במרד הגדול
  • רבן יוחנן בן זכאי - שימש כנשיא זמני לאחר המרד הגדול וחורבן בית המקדש
  • רבן גמליאל (השני) דיבנה: 80 - 120 לערך. במקביל לו חלק מהזמן - רבי אלעזר בן עזריה
  • אינטררגנום בשל היעדר הסכמה בין החכמים על יורשו של רבן גמליאל ובשל מרד בר כוכבא
  • רבן שמעון (השלישי) בן גמליאל השני: 140 - 180 לערך
  • רבי יהודה הנשיא: 180 - 220 לערך - חותם המשנה
  • רבן גמליאל השלישי: 220 - 240 לערך
  • רבי יהודה נשיאה הראשון: 240 - 270 לערך
  • רבן גמליאל הרביעי: 270 - 300 לערך
  • רבי יהודה נשיאה השני: 300 - 330 לערך
  • הלל נשיאה: 330 - 365 לערך - תיקן את הלוח העברי
  • רבן גמליאל החמישי: 365 - 380 לערך
  • רבי יהודה נשיאה השלישי: 380 - 400 לערך
  • רבן גמליאל השישי: 400 לערך - 425. הודח בהוראת הקיסרים תאודוסיוס השני והונוריוס, 17 אוקט' 415