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SYNOD OF USHA:

Assembled at Usha.

In the middle of the second century C.E. an important synod of rabbinical authorities was convened in the Galilean city of Usha, near Shefar'am, Tiberias, and Sepphoris. There also R. Judah B. Baba ordained five (or seven) disciples, and there the Sanhedrin sometimes sat (Sanh. 31b). The reason for the Sanhedrin's frequent change of seat is to be sought in the turbulence of the period, but mainly, perhaps, in the Hadrianic persecutions; this, therefore, approximately establishes the terminus a quo of the Synod of Usha, while the terminus ad quem is indicated by the fact that Shefar'am, the later residence of Judah I., is mentioned as the next seat of the synod after Usha. The Galilean synod was convened, then, between these two dates—more exactly during the reign of Antoninus Pius, and after that emperor had, about 140, annulled the anti-Jewish laws instituted by Hadrian. For while Judah b. Baba had to suffer a martyr's death for his ordinations and these, therefore, must have taken place under Hadrian, this synod, though it was attended by large numbers of people and marked by special festivities, met unhindered; it must, therefore, have been convened after the annulment of the laws mentioned. The rabbinical sources give various and inconsistent accounts of the synod.

(Cant. R. ii. 5).

"Our teachers congregated in Usha at the termination of the persecution []. They were R. Judah [b. Ilai], R. Nehemiah, R. Meïr, R. Jose, R. Simeon b. Yoḥai, R. Eliezer [son of R. Jose the Galilean], and R. Eleazar b. Jacob. They sent to the elders of Galilee, saying, 'Those who have already learned, come and teach; those who have not yet learned, come and be taught.' They met and arranged everything that was necessary; and when the time came to depart they said, 'It would be wrong to leave [without blessing] a place where we have been so well received.' The honor of the blessing they bestowed upon R. Judah because he was a son of that city, and R. Judah arose and preached. In like manner did the other rabbis also preach, as befitted the occasion"

Pupils of R. Akiba.

The seven inaugurators of the synod here mentioned, at whose call other scholars of Galilee repaired to Usha, are no doubt identical with the seven pupils of R. Akiba mentioned elsewhere (Gen. R. lxi. 3). In the Jerusalem Talmud (Ḥag. 78d) reference is made to a synod held in the Valley of Rimmon, and the names of the seven elders calling it are given as Meïr, Judah, Jose, Simeon, Nehemiah, Eleazar b. Jacob, and Johanan ha-Sandalar. The intercalation of the extra month was agreed upon without dissension; but with regard to the degree of holiness and the ḥallah, Meïr and Johanan ha-Sandalar became involved in a violent dispute. In spite of this they kissed each other at parting, and their friendship became so strong that the one of themthat possessed a garment of the kind the Rabbis donned when rendering legal decisions tore it into halves and gave one half to his friend, who had none (ib.). To commemorate the synod, each rabbi drove a nail into a block of marble which lay near by, and this block was thenceforth named the "nailstone" (ib.).

This is the most valuable datum concerning the ceremonies attending an old Jewish synod. The incident of the garment is told somewhat differently elsewhere, and in regard to R. Judah ben Ilai and six pupils (Sanh. 20a); but the number seven seems to identify the two occurrences. In two other passages of the Babylonian Talmud, however, four and three teachers, respectively, are mentioned as having delivered the sermons preached at Usha; but in these passages Jabneh is mentioned as the place of meeting (Ber. 63b; Shab. 33b). This is no doubt due to a transmitter's mistake in naming Jabneh as the place more often cited; but to agree with Zacharias Frankel that there may have been two different synods, one in Jabneh and one in Usha, would seem out of the question.

Enactments of the Synod.

No less erroneous is Grätz's theory, which gives the enactments ("taḳḳanot") of Usha as belonging to the beginning of Hadrian's reign, while it places the synod under Antoninus Pius. It can not be with certainty determined whether these enactments were issued by the Sanhedrin while sitting at Usha, or by the synod. A resolution which concerns the calendar and which the Jerusalem Talmud attributes to the Synod of Usha, is elsewhere ascribed to the bet din of Usha (R. H. 32a; comp. Yer. R. H. 59c; Tosef., R. H. iv. 5). R. Simeon ben Gamaliel was patriarch at Usha at the time of the synod, though no patriarch is mentioned in connection with the synod. This points to the conclusion either that the patriarch was too young to officiate or that he refused to officially represent Judaism at the synod, fearing that his connection with it might be misconstrued.

Of the regulations adopted at Usha, the following are known, R. Jose b. Ḥanina being supposed to have transmitted them (Ket. 49b, 50a). These regulations, no doubt, were made necessary by the conditions then existing, when many Jews lived in such poverty that it was necessary to formally and legally order parents to take care of their children.

(see Tosef., Sheb. iv. 21; R. H. 15a).

"(1) Parents must care for their sons and daughters so long as their children are minors. (2) Should a parent deed his property during his lifetime to his sons, the latter must support their parents from the estate. (3) One who spends freely may not use more than one-fifth of his fortune. [In Yer.Pe'ah 15b this is taken to mean that one may not use more than one-fifth of his fortune for ḥallah and tithes.] (4) The father must be patient in teaching his sons until they are twelve years of age; then he may send them out into the world [that is, may cease to support them if they will not study]. (5) Should a wife sell her marriage-portion while her husband is alive, if he survives her he may legally take the property from the purchasers. [Both the Jerusalem and the Babylonian Talmud state that this is an older enactment.] (6) The ḥallah must be burned [in six given cases of suspected uncleanness] (Shab. 15b). [This also is an older regulation, the reissue of which had become necessary.] (7) An enactment in regard to the 'etrog'"

These regulations form a part of the Halakah, and are treated more fully and confirmed in the Talmud, as well as in the compendiums.

Bibliography:
  • Frankel, Darke ha-Mishnah, p. 179, Leipsic, 1859;
  • Grätz, Gesch. iv, 132, 172;
  • Bacher, Ag. Tan. ii. 54;
  • M. Bloch. Sha'are Torat ha-Teḳanot, vol. ii., part 1, pp. 253-300. Cracow, 1894;
  • Luncz, Ha-Me'ammer, i. 130, Jerusalem, 1905 (s.v. Usha).
W. B. S. Kr.
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