Yohanan Ben Zakkai

Is your surname Ben Zakkai?

Research the Ben Zakkai family

Share your family tree and photos with the people you know and love

  • Build your family tree online
  • Share photos and videos
  • Smart Matching™ technology
  • Free!

Yohanan Ben Zakkai

Hebrew: יוחנן בן זכאי
Birthplace: Israel
Death: circa 90 (51-68)
Place of Burial: Tiberias, Israel
Immediate Family:

Son of Zakkai

Occupation: Tanna, Sanhedrin Nassi
Managed by: Yigal Burstein
Last Updated:
view all

Immediate Family

About Yohanan Ben Zakkai

רבן יוחנן בן זכאי


Yohanan ben Zakai - יוחנן בן זכאי‎, (c. 30 - 90 CE), also known as Johanan B. Zakkai, or in short ריב״ז (Ribaz), was one of the tannaim, an important Jewish sage in the era of the Second Temple, and a primary contributor to the core text of Rabbinical Judaism, the Mishnah. He is widely regarded as one of the most important Jewish figures of his time. His tomb is located in Tiberias, within the Maimonides burial compound.


The Talmud reports that, in the mid first century, he was particularly active in opposing the Sadducees' interpretations of Jewish law, and produced counter-arguments to the Sadducees' objection to the Pharisees. So dedicated was he to opposing the Sadducee view of Jewish law, that he prevented the Jewish high priest, who was a Sadducee, from following the Sadducee interpretation of the Red Heifer ritual.

His home, at this time, was in 'Arav, a location in the Galilee. However, although living among them, he found the secular attitude of Galileans to be objectionable, allegedly exclaiming that they hated the Torah and would therefore "fall into the hands of robbers."

During the siege of Jerusalem in the Great Jewish Revolt, he argued in favour of peace; according to the Talmud, when he found the anger of the besieged populace to be intolerable, he arranged a secret escape from the city inside a coffin, so that he could negotiate with Vespasian (who, at this time, was still just a military commander). Yochanan correctly predicted that Vespasian would become Emperor, and that the temple would soon be destroyed; in return, Vespasian granted Yochanan three wishes: the salvation of Yavne and its sages, the descendants of Rabban Gamliel, who was of the Davidic dynasty, and a physician to treat Rabbi Tzadok, who had fasted for 40 years to stave off the destruction of Jerusalem.

Upon the destruction of Jerusalem, Jochanan converted his school at Yavne into the Jewish religious centre, insisting that certain privileges, given by Jewish law uniquely to Jerusalem, should be transferred to Yavne. His school functioned as a re-establishment of the Sanhedrin, so that Judaism could decide how to deal with the loss of the sacrificial altars of the temple in Jerusalem, and other pertinent questions. Referring to a passage in the Book of Hosea, "I desired mercy, and not sacrifice", he helped persuade the council to replace animal sacrifice with prayer, a practice that continues in today's worship services; eventually Rabbinic Judaism emerged from the council's conclusions.

In his last years he taught at Berur Hayil, a location near Yavne. His students were present at his deathbed, and were requested by him, in his penultimate words, according to the Talmudic record, to reduce the risk of ritual impurity due to the presence of death: "Put the vessels out of the house, that they may not become unclean."

More enigmatic were the Talmud's record of his last words, which seem to relate to Jewish messianism: "prepare a throne for Hezekiah, the King of Judah, who is coming."

His students returned to Yavne upon his death, and he was buried in the city of Tiberias; eleven centuries later, Maimonides was buried nearby. In his role as leader of the Jewish Council, he was succeeded by Gamliel II.

In her "Memoirs," Glückel of Hameln writes about Rabbi Jochanan Ben Zaikkai (his name is spelled in various ways, and this is one of them). After having a beloved daughter die at the age of three and after giving birth to another daughter and being gravely ill for weeks thereafter, Glückel reflected on what she knew about Rabbi Jochanan Ben Zaikkai's life. He had nine sons, all of whom died, she writes, and in his old age had another son who died in a tragic accident at the age of three. The boy fell into a vat of boiling water. "And he gave one cry and everyone ran to him," says Glückel, "and the father tried to save his child. But he drew forth only a finger. And he struck his head against the wall and he cried, 'Weep for my unhappy stars, for only a bone remains me of my tenth sacrifice to the Lord.' And without more ado, he hung the bone about his neck; when Talmud scholars from afar came to visit him, he quietly pointed to the bone as though he would show them his child. Now Rabbi Jochanan was a mighty scholar; he mastered Talmud, Mishna and Torah, he understood Kabbala and the mystery of creation, he could summon angels and conjure away demons, he read the stars of the heavens and knew what the leaves of the trees were saying — and if such could befall the great and good Rabbi Jochanan, what shall happen to others? Yet he remained a patient, pious man to the end of his days."

Glückel was writing at the end of the 17th century. Rabbi Jochanan had died around 1,600 years before — but her reference to him during a time of hardship and grief for her shows Rabbi Jochanan's influence and importance in Jewish thought and life.

About יוחנן בן זכאי (עברית)

סביבות 30 - 90 לספירה - היה מגדולי התנאים, ומנהיג חשוב בתקופת חורבן בית שני והמרד הגדול. נחשב לדמות המרכזית שפעלה לשיקום היהדות הרוחנית לאחר החורבן. התואר רבן ניתן לו משום שכיהן תקופה מסוימת כנשיא הסנהדרין, על אף שלא השתייך למשפחת נשיאי בית הלל הזקן. הוא היה תלמידו של הלל הזקן, וכרבו הלל גם הוא חי מאה ועשרים שנה‏


רבי יוחנן התייחס ככהן‏ וחי בגליל, בירושלים וביבנה, ובשנותיו האחרונות בברור חיל. ההיסטוריון החשוב של התקופה, יוסף בן מתתיהו, אינו מזכירו כלל.

בזמן המרד הגדול וחורבן ירושלים, נשאר רבי יוחנן לפליטה מבין חברי בית הדין בירושלים, והיה חלק מקבוצה קטנה של "רודפי שלום" שישבו ביבנה והתנגדו ל"קנאים". משם התבוננו בימי מצור ירושלים בגסיסה של ארצם ומולדם. הוא ייסד בה את בית המדרש ("כרם יבנה") שם הונח היסוד לסידור ולעריכת התורה שבעל פה, שכונסה מאוחר יותר לששה סדרי משנה.

בנו מת בחייו והוא הצטער עליו צער גדול. לבסוף התנחם כאשר המשיל לו תלמידו רבי אלעזר בן ערך משל על פיקדון יקר שניתן מהמלך לאדם. כל זמן שהפיקדון בידו הוא מודאג ומוטרד שמא יתקלקל בידיו. בנמשל בנו הוא הפקדון וכאשר נפטר בנו זך ובלא חטא, ניתן לומר כי הוחזר הפיקדון בשלימות.‏

view all

Yohanan Ben Zakkai's Timeline

Age 59
Age 59
Tiberias, Israel