Festival stamps 5740 (1979)Festival stamps 5740 (1979)Festival stamps 5740 (1979)

  • Issue: August 1979
  • Designer: A. Glaser

In the centuries immediately preceding and following the destruction of the second Temple (in 70 CE.) the Jewish people were blessed with an outstanding spiritual leadership which developed from a broadly based circle of men of spirit, encompassing all levels of society. One who contributed in no small measure to this development was Shimon ben Shattah, who as early as the first century BCE issued a set of regulations governing compulsory education and, possibly for the first time in human history, a system of compulsory education was introduced which was based not on coercion, but on the cooperation of the participants. It was this leadership which navigated the Jewish people safely through all the storms and disturbances that beset them during the opening centuries of the Common Era -the first revolt of the Jews which culminated in the destruction of the second Temple in 70 CE and the second revolt led by Bar Kochba in the year 135 CE It may well be that the Jews are unique among the nations of the world in successfully surviving such upheavals with their national identity intact.

These moral and spiritual leaders who were given the title of "HAZAL" ("Our Sages of Blessed Memory") found a way for the people to overcome their difficult situation and start life afresh. From the Mishna, the Talmud, the Tosefta (a supplement to the Mishna) and other sources we can glean much about the lives and aspirations of the people of that era who supported themselves by farming supplemented by a variety of arts and crafts. In these circumstances, it is all the more amazing that the people should have been able to develop so full a spiritual life, since at the end of a hard day's toil there was all too little time for leisure, and this makes the achievements of the "HAZAL" a shining example to the nations of the world. Their very special attitude towards manual labour, which they extolled as an important factor in man's moral education, represents a highly original contribution to the spiritual world. They saw manual labour as an honourable education to be rounded out by study, which to them represented the supreme value in life. They emphasized that labour and study were equally important and forbade the people to concentrate on one at the expense of the other. As they saw it, perfection was to be attained only by preserving a correct balance between the two.

The writings of "HAZAL" abound in praise of labour and the need for man to learn a trade in order to be able to support himself and his family and they themselves were the first to practise what they preached. Many of the eminent sages did not devote all their hours to study but also worked at a trade or craft and we find among their number, farmers, blacksmiths, cobblers, scribes, potters, clerks, translators and experts in numerous other crafts.

We find work praised in many of their stories, sayings and parables. Rabbi Yehuda Ha-Nassi said "He who fails to teach his son a trade is as one who has taught him to err" while Shemaya said "Love work and hate lordship" (i.e. shun office, even that of a paid teacher).

Rabbi Meir Ba'al Ha-Nes - one of the outstanding sages of his time and head of the Tiberias Yeshiva, was responsible for many Mishnaic rulings. Not only was he likened to a beacon of light to his generation, but numbers of miracles were attributed to him. He earned his living as a scribe -wrote Scrolls of the Law as well as letters and sermons for the public. He even invented a special ink which was used by men of letters throughout the civilised world. It is said that he distributed one-third of his earnings to his pupils so as to leave them more time for their studies.

Rabbi Joshua ben Hananiah - one of the outstanding Tannaim (a teacher mentioned in the Mishna, living during the first two centuries C.E.) of all times - worked as a blacksmith specializing in the production of pins and needles and scissors and the walls of his house were black from the soot from his forge.

Rabbi Johanan the Sandalmaker - regarded as one of the outstanding sages of all time - earned his living as a cobbler. He originated from Alexandria in Egypt and the historian Graetz claimed that his title of "Sandalmaker" did not refer to his trade but was a corruption of "Alexandria", but this theory has found little support.

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Festival stamps 5740 (1979)