The Judges are the Jewish leaders who arise during this time, unify the people, get them to repent, deal with the spiritual problems of the nation, and also deal with the physical threat. They are sometimes military leaders who know how to mobilize the nation for war against an enemy, but their real power lies in their Torah knowledge and ability to adjudicate Jewish law.
The transmission from Moses until today is an unbroken chain of transmission of 120 generations. The following list of Rabbinic leaders, from Moses until the completion of the Talmud in 500 CE appears in the introduction to Maimonides’ “Mishneh Torah.” Following this list is an explanation from Maimonides on the precise method of transmission, beginning with Moses.
Mount Sinai (1312 BCE)
The Elders (l260-860 BCE)
3. Pinchas and the 70 Elders
4. Eli the Kohen
5. Samuel the Prophet
6. King David
The Prophets (860-360 BCE)
8. Elijah the Prophet
10. Yehoyada the Priest
11. Zechariah ben Yehoyada
21. Baruch ben Neriah
The Great Assembly (360-260 BCE)
22. The Great Assembly consisted of 120 Elders, including Ezra, Zechariah, Daniel and Mordechai
23. Shimon the Tzaddik
TANA’IM – Mishnaic Era (260 BCE – 200 CE)
24. Antigonos of Socho
25. Yose ben Yoezer, Yose ben Yochanan
26. Yehoshua ben Perachiah, Nittai of Arbel
27. Yehuda ben Tabbai, Shimon ben Shatach
28. Shemayah and Avtalyon
29. Hillel and Shamai
30. R’ Shimon ben Hillel, R’ Yochanan ben Zakkai
31. Rabban Gamliel the Elder, R’ Eliezer ben Hyrcanus, R’ Yehoshua ben Chananiah, R’ Shimon ben Netanel, R’ Elazar ben Arakh
32. Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel I, Rebbe Akiva, Rebbe Tarfon, R’ Shimon ben Elazar, R’ Yochanan ben Nuri
33. Rabban Gamliel II, Rebbe Meir, Rebbe Yishmael, Rebbe Yehudah, Rebbe Yose, R’ Shimon bar Yochai
34. Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel II
35. Rabbi Yehudah the Prince (codifier of the Mishnah in 190 C.E.)
AMORA’IM – Talmudic Era (200-500 CE)
36. Rav, Shmuel, Rabbi Yochanan (compiler of the Jerusalem Talmud)
37. Rav Huna, Rav Yehudah, Rav Nachman, Rav Kahana, Rabba bar bar Channa, Rav Ami, Rav Asi
38. Rabbah, Rav Yosef, Rav Chisda, Rabba bar Rav Huna.
39. Abaya, Rava
40. Rav Ashi, Ravina (compilers of the Babylonian Talmud in 500 C.E.)
Maimonides, citing sources from the Talmud and Midrash, recounts in graphic detail the transmission process from Moses to the people of Israel. Moses personally wrote 13 copies of the Torah and distributed them – one to every tribe – before his death.
Maimonides’ “Introduction to the Mishnah:”
Know that every mitzvah which G-d gave to Moses was given with its clarification. First He told him the mitzvah and then He expounded on its explanation and content, including all that which is included in the Torah.
The manner of transmittal to Israel occurred as stated in the Talmud (Eruvin 54b): [How was the system of teaching? Moses first learned the law from the mouth of the Almighty.]
Moses then went into the Tent, and Aaron went in with him. Moses then stated to him a single time the mitzvah he had received, and taught him its explanation, (following which) Aaron retreated to the right of Moses.
Then, Elazar and Itamar, Aaron’s sons, entered – and Moses told them what he had told Aaron, and then they stepped back. One sat to the left of Moses, and the other on the right of Aharon.
Then the seventy Elders arrived, and Moses taught Aaron and his sons. Following this came the masses of people and every one seeking God, and he (Moses) placed before them the mitzvah, until all had heard it from his mouth.
The result is that Aaron heard that precept from the mouth of Moses four times, his sons three times, the Elders twice, and the remainder of the people once.
Moses then left, and Aaron repeated the explanation of that mitzvah which he had learned, having heard it from the mouth of Moses four times (as we have mentioned), to all those present.
Aaron then left, after his sons had heard the precept four times (three times from Moses, and once from Aharon). After Aaron had departed, Elazar and Itamar repeated and taught that mitzvah to all the people present, and then ceased their teaching.
Thus we find that the seventy Elders heard the precept four times: twice from Moses, once from Aharon, and once from Elazar and Itamar. The Elders themselves then repeated and expounded the mitzvah to the people one time. As a result, we find that the entire congregation heard the precept in question four times: once from Moses, once from Aharon, a third time from his sons, and the fourth time from the Elders.
After this, all the people went to teach one another what they had heard from Moses and to write that mitzvah on scrolls. The leaders would roam through the Israelites to (insure that the people) learned and applied themselves until they would know the traditional version of that mitzvah and were fluent in reading it. They would then teach the explanations of that G-d-given precept. That explanation would include all aspects, and they would write the precept and learn by heart the Oral Tradition.
Thus, our Sages said in the Midrash: “And G-d spoke to Moses at Mount Sinai” (Leviticus 25:1). Why does the Torah state specifically at Mount Sinai? Was not the entire Torah given at Sinai? This is to tell us that just as the law of the Sabbatical year was stated with its generalities, specifics and fine details at Sinai, so too all the mitzvahs were stated with their generalities, specifics and fine details at Sinai.
Maimonides – “Mishneh Torah,” Laws of Sanhedrin 4:1-2No one is qualified to act as judge in the Sanhedrin, or even in a court of three judges, unless he has been ordained by one who has himself been ordained. Moses ordained Joshua by laying his hands upon him, as it says (Numbers 27:23), “And he laid his hands upon him, and commissioned him.” Likewise, Moses ordained the seventy Elders, and the Divine Presence rested upon them. The Elders ordained others, who in turn ordained their successors. Hence there was an uninterrupted succession of ordained judges, reaching back to the tribunal of Joshua, indeed, to the tribunal of Moses…
What has been the procedure throughout recent generations with regard to ordination? It has been done not by the laying of hands upon the elder, but by designating him by the title “Rabbi,” and saying to him: “You are ordained and authorized to adjudicate (matters of Torah law).”
In the Book of Exodus, the elders of the Israelites eventually became the judges. In the Book of Judges the term judges (shôphitîm) is applied to the leaders of Israel. The position of Shamgar in the list below varies between versions of the ancient text; most modern translations list them in the following order:
- Othniel, the son of Kenaz from the tribe of Judah
- Ehud, the son of Gerah from the tribe of Benjamin
- Shamgar, the son of Anath from the tribe of Levi
- Deborah (and Barak)
- Gideon, the son of Joash from the tribe of Manasseh
- Tola, the son of Puah from the tribe of Issachar
- Jair, from the tribe of Gilead
- Jephthah, from the tribe of Gilead
- Ibzan, from the tribe of Judah
- Elon, from the tribe of Zebulun
- Abdon, the son of Hillel, from the tribe of Ephraim
- Samson, the son of Manoah, from the tribe of Dan
Of these, Ehud, Deborah, Gideon/Jerubbaal, Jephtah, and Samson are given extensive narratives. Textual criticism views the other judges as being added to the list simply to make the total number equal 12, a number of religious significance to the Israelites
The judges of the Books of Samuel
The First Book of Samuel describes two further individuals as being judges:
The Judges are the Jewish leaders who arise during this time, unify the people, get them to repent, deal with the spiritual problems of the nation, and also deal with the physical threat.
They are sometimes military leaders who know how to mobilize the nation for war against an enemy, but their real power lies in their Torah knowledge and ability to adjudicate Jewish law.
The narrative for this entire period appears in the Book of Judges, authored by the last great personality in the period of the Judges-Samuel the Prophet. The period of the Judges spans a period of 365 years from the first judge, Otniel ben Kenaz, and with the last judge, the Prophet Samuel.
During this period there were seventeen different judges. Some led the Jewish people for decades while others only for a few years. The Book of Judges goes into great detail for some of the Judges (Ehud, Deborah and Samuel) while others get only the briefest mention (Ibzan, Elon, Avdon). While all were great leaders, some where greater than others. Tradition tells us that the level of the judge depended on the collective level of the Jewish people. Every generation got the leadership it deserved. During this entire We will highlight a few of the 16 Judges described in the Bible:
- One of the first of the Judges is a woman — Deborah. (Judges, Chapters 4-5.) She is famous for sitting under a palm tree where anyone could seek her advice, and from where she issued battle orders.
Barak, Israel’s top warrior during that time, refuses to go into battle without her. Together they lead the troops against the much larger Canaanite force backed up by 900 iron chariots, of which Israel had none.
The Book of Judges describes a key battle with the Canaanites led by Sisera.
On the eve of the battle, Barak is doubtful that Israel’s warriors could ever beat such a strong opponent but Deborah stands firm. An unexpected storm is unleashed in the heavens, and the resulting downpour turns the ground to mud; the iron chariots get stuck and the Canaanites panic.
Deborah’s prophecy that “This is the day on which the Lord will deliver [the Canaanite general] Sisera into your hands…” is thus fulfilled.
Samson is the Judge famous for his superhero strength, and for leading the struggle against Israel’s arch-enemy, the Philistines. (Judges, Chapters 13-16.)
The Philistines were a seafaring people. They probably migrated from the area of the Aegean near Greece about 3,200 years ago. They settled along the eastern Mediterranean Coast from the southern coast of Israel to Lebanon. In the southern coastal area of Israel they established a confederation of five city-states (Gaza, Ahskelon, Ashdod, Gath and Ekron). During the period of the Judges they are constantly at war with the tribes of Israel pushing them away from much of the coast and into the hilly, inland regions of the country.
Excavations show that the Philistines — despite what the word “Philistine” has come down to mean in the English language — were very sophisticated culturally. They had perfected iron tools and iron weapons, gaining an important technological advantage over their neighbors.
Samson, who judged Israel for 20 years, was one of the people who takes on the Philistines. Samson is a Nazir. (Nazir is a form of penitence in which a person temporarily refrains from cutting his hair and abstains from wine) Samson’s Nazir status is unusual in that he is a Nazir from birth and remains one his entire life. In addition, his long hair gives him super-human strength.
To undermine the Philistines he pretends to join them by deliberately taking a Philistine woman as his wife. She is killed by her own people; he then consorts with another Philistine woman — Delilah. This turns out to be a mistake as Sampson becomes very attached to her.
Delilah catches on that Samson is a major threat to her people. After many failed attempts and much pleading she finally succeeds in getting Samson to reveal the secret of his superhuman strength and cuts off his hair while he is asleep. As a result the Philistines are able to capture him. They then blind him and throw him in prison.
But they forget that hair grows. As his hair grew back, his superhuman strength returns.
The Philistines decides to execute Samson in a public display at the Temple of Dagan, one of their gods.
As the masses gather to watch the execution, blind Samson asks a slave boy to position him next to one of the columns supporting the temple.
At the climax of the narrative Samson prays:
“My Lord, God! Remember me and strengthen me just this one time, O God, and I will extract vengeance from the Philistines for one of my two eyes.” Samson grasped the two central pillars upon which the building rested, and he leaned on them; one with his right hand and one with his left hand. Samson said, “Let my soul die with the Philistines!” (Judges 16:28-30)
With his renewed superhuman strength he overturns the column and collapses the building killing all inside.
He dies giving his life for the Jewish people and the Bible says he killed more Philistine enemies in that moment than he vanquished the whole rest of his life.
The last great personality of the period of the Judges is the Prophet Samuel, who is one of the most important prophets in Jewish history, and who is also famous for anointing the first two kings of Israel — Saul and David. (1 Samuel, chapters 1-16.) He authored the Book of Judges and, together with the prophets Gad and Nathan, the book of Samuel.
By the time Samuel appears on the scene, the Jewish people have gone through close to 400 years of no strong central leadership. They had to live up to a very high level of individual responsibility or else God would let them know they were off course via the Canaanites or the Philistines or the Midianites. This was a very difficult way to live. In the final analysis, the nation couldn’t maintain this level of scrutiny without stronger guidance.
When Samuel was younger, he would travel the land adjudicating Jewish law and giving people advice, but now that he has grown old, he can’t do it anymore. Meanwhile, his two sons, who have taken over for him, prove unpopular with the people.
So a delegation is dispatched to ask Samuel to anoint a king instead: And they the people said [to Samuel] “Behold, you have grown old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now set up for us a king to judge us like all the nations. And the thing was displeasing in the eyes of Samuel …” (1 Samuel, 8:5-7)
Samuel doesn’t want to do it, but God tells him to go ahead and find a king for the people.
And this is how the Time of Judges comes to a close. Samuel functions as a leader for 13 years and the last of two years he actually co-leads the Jewish people with the first Jewish king whose name is Saul.