Ezra in rabbinic literature

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Allusions in rabbinic literature to the Biblical character of Ezra, the leader and lawgiver who brought some of the Judean exiles back from Babylonian captivity, contain various expansions, elaborations and inferences beyond what is presented in the text of the Bible itself.

His work[edit]

According to the rabbis, Ezra marks the springtime in the national history of Judaism. The Midrash on Canticles has the words "The flowers appear on the earth" Canticles 2:12 be a reference to Ezra and Nehemiah (Midr. Cant. ad loc.).[1]

Ezra was worthy of being the vehicle of the Law, had it not been already given through Moses (Talmud Sanhedrin 21b).[1] It was forgotten, but Ezra restored it (Talmud Sukkah 20a).[1] But for its sins, Israel in the time of Ezra would have witnessed miracles as in the time of Joshua (Ber. 4a).[1]

Ezra was the disciple of Baruch ben Neriah (Cant. R.); his studies prevented him from joining the first party returning to Jerusalem in the reign of Cyrus, the study of the Law being of greater importance than the reconstruction of the Second Temple.[1] According to another opinion, Ezra remained behind so as not to compete, even involuntarily, with Jeshua ben Jozadak for the office of chief priest.[1] Nonetheless, there is a slight controversy within rabbinic sources as to whether or not Ezra had served as Kohen Gadol. [2]

Ezra reestablished the text of the Torah, introducing therein the Assyrian or square characters, apparently as a polemical measure against the Samaritans (Talmud Sanhedrin 21b).[1] He showed his doubts concerning the correctness of some words of the text by placing points over them. Should Elijah, said he, approve the text, the points will be disregarded; should he disapprove, the doubtful words will be removed from the text (Ab. R. N. xxxiv.).[1] These dots are called eser nekudot.

Ezra wrote the Book of Chronicles and the book bearing his name, the Book of Ezra (B. B. 16a).[1]

Praise of Ezra[edit]

Ezra is regarded and quoted as the type of person most competent and learned in the Law (Torah) (Ber. R. xxxvi.).[1]

The rabbis associate his name with several important institutions.[1] It was he who ordained that three men should read ten verses from the Torah on the second and fifth days of the week and during the afternoon ("Minchah") service on Sabbath (B. Ḳ. 82a); that the "curses" in Leviticus should be read before Shavuot, and those in Deuteronomy before Rosh Hashanah (Meg. 31b; see Bloch, "Die Institutionen des Judenthums," i. 1, pp. 112 et seq., Vienna, 1879).[1]

He ordained also that courts be in session on Mondays and Thursdays; that garments be washed on these days; that garlic be eaten on the eve of Sabbath; that the wife should rise early and bake bread in the morning; that women should wear a girdle (B. K. 82a; Yer. Meg. iv. 75a); that women should bathe and wash their hair three days prior to their immersion (B. Ḳ. 82a); that peddlers go forth into cities where market days were established (B. Ḳ. 82a; see Bloch, l.c. p. 127); that under certain contingencies men should take a ritual bath; that the reading at the conclusion of the benedictions should be min ha-'olam we-'ad ha'olam ("from eternity to eternity") against the Sadducees; see Bloch, l.c. p. 137).[1]

His name is also associated with the work of the Great Synagogue (Meg. 17b).[1] He is said to have pronounced the Divine Name according to its proper sounds (Yoma 69b), and the beginnings of the Hebrew calendar are traced back to him (Betzah 6a; Rashi, ad loc.).[1]


Ezra is identified with Malachi by Joshua b. Ḳarḥa (Meg. 15a) [3]

Death and place of burial[edit]

According to tradition, Ezra died at the age of 120 in Babylonia.[1] Benjamin of Tudela was shown his grave on the Shatt al-Arab, near the point where the Tigris flows into the Euphrates ("Itinerary," i. 73).[1] According to another legend, he was at the time of his death in Babylon, as a courtier in the retinue of Artaxerxes (see Fulcran Vigouroux, Dictionnaire de la Bible, ii. 1931).[1] In the selichah for the Tenth of Tevet the date of Ezra's death is given as the 9th of Tevet (see Shulkhan Arukh, Orach Chayim, 580).[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s JewishEncyclopedia.com - EZRA THE SCRIBE
  2. ^ HaQoton, Reb Chaim "Was Ezra a High Priest" also printed in the Jewish Bible Quarterly (July 2013), see [1]
  3. ^ JewishEncyclopedia.com - MALACHI, BOOK OF

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainSinger, Isidore; et al., eds. (1901–1906). "article name needed". Jewish Encyclopedia. New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company.