Palestinian Patriarchate

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The Palestinian Patriarchate was the governing legalistic body of Palestinian Jewry after the destruction of the Second Temple until about 425 CE.

It was headed by the chief scholars of the great Palestinian academies, and with the decline of the Sanhedrin, their spiritual and legal authority was generally accepted, the institution itself being supported by voluntary contributions by Jews throughout the ancient world. Being a member of the house of Hillel and thus a descendant of King David, the Patriarch, known in Hebrew as the Nasi (prince), enjoyed almost royal authority.[1] Their functions were political rather than religious, though their influence was not limited to the secular realm.[1] The Patriarchate attained its zenith under Judah ha-Nasi who compiled the Mishnah[1] a compendium of views from Judean thought leaders of Judaism other than the Torah.

The system of a Patriarchate of Palestinian Jewry continued under Roman rule for some 350 years (ca. 80-425 CE), until Theodosius II (408-450) abolished it.[1] Its demise begun in 313 with the Edict of Milan regarding religious tolerance and marking the end of the persecutions against Christians, thus seen as the first step towards Christianity becoming the official state religion of the Roman Empire.[1] The exact reason for the abrogation of the patriarchate is not clear,[2] though Gamaliel VI, the last holder of the office who had been for a time elevated by the emperor to the rank of prefect,[1] may have fallen out with the imperial authorities.[2] Thereafter, Jews were gradually excluded from holding public office.[3]

Court of the Patriarch[edit]

Rabbinic texts indicate that following the Bar Kokhba revolt, the southern Galilee became the seat of rabbinic learning in the Land of Israel. This region was the location of the court of the Patriarch which was situated first at Usha, then at Bet Shearim, later at Sepphoris and finally at Tiberias.[4]

Summary of Patriarchal powers[edit]

The following is a summary of the powers and responsibilities of the Palestinian Patriarchate from the onset of the third century, based on rabbinic sources as portrayed by L.I. Levine:[5]

  1. Representative to Imperial authorities;
  2. Focus of leadership in the Jewish community:
    1. Receiving daily visits from prominent families;
    2. Declaration of public fast days;
    3. Initiating or abrogating the ban (herem);
  3. Appointment of judges to Jewish courts in Palestine;
  4. Regulation of the calendar;
  5. Issuing enactments and decrees with respect to the applicability or release from legal requirements, e.g.:
    1. Use of sabbatical year produce and applicability of sabbatical year injunctions;
    2. Repurchase or redemption of formerly Jewish land from gentile owners;
    3. Status of Hellenistic cities of Palestine re: purity, tithing, sabbatical year;
    4. Exemptions from tithing;
    5. Conditions in divorce documents;
    6. Use of oil produced by gentiles;
  6. Dispatching emissaries to diaspora communities;
  7. Taxation: both the power to tax and the authority to rule/intervene on the disposition of taxes raised for local purposes by local councils.

Up to the middle of the fourth century, the Palestinian Patriarchate retained the prerogative of determining the Hebrew calendar and guarded the intricacies of the calculation process in an effort to subdue interference from the Babylonian community. Due to Christian persecution, Hillel II was obliged to fix the calendar in permanent form in 359 CE.[6][7] This institution symbolised the passing of authority from the Palestinian patriarchate to the Babylonian Academies.[8]

List of Patriarchs[edit]

Patriarch Period CE
Gamaliel II of Jamnia 80 118
Eleazar ben Azariah 118 120
Interregnum (Bar Kokhba revolt) 120 142
Shimon ben Gamliel II 142 165
Judah I 165 220
Gamaliel III 220 230
Judah II 230 270
Gamaliel IV 270 290
Judah III 290 320
Hillel II 320 365
Gamliel V 365 385
Judah IV 385 400
Gamaliel VI 400 425


 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Jews". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 

  1. ^ a b c d e f Hugh Chisholm (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica: a dictionary of arts, sciences, literature and general information. The Encyclopædia Britannica company. p. 403. Retrieved 18 July 2011. 
  2. ^ a b Nicholas Robert Michael De Lange; Jane S. Gerber (15 October 1997). The illustrated history of the Jewish people. Harcourt Brace. p. 79. ISBN 978-0-15-100302-0. Retrieved 18 July 2011. 
  3. ^ Alfred Edersheim (1856). History of the Jewish nation after the destruction of Jerusalem under Titus. T. Constable and co. p. 551. Retrieved 18 July 2011. 
  4. ^ Jack N. Lightstone; Canadian Corporation for Studies in Religion (13 May 2002). Mishnah and the social formation of the early Rabbinic Guild: a socio-rhetorical approach. Wilfrid Laurier Univ. Press. p. 192. ISBN 978-0-88920-375-4. Retrieved 18 July 2011. 
  5. ^ Jack N. Lightstone; Canadian Corporation for Studies in Religion (13 May 2002). Mishnah and the social formation of the early Rabbinic Guild: a socio-rhetorical approach. Wilfrid Laurier Univ. Press. p. 189. ISBN 978-0-88920-375-4. Retrieved 21 July 2011. 
  6. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica, inc (2003). The New Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica. p. 424. ISBN 978-0-85229-961-6. Retrieved 18 July 2011. 
  7. ^ Esther Rogoff Taus; Zev Garber (28 April 2008). Torah for Today. University Press of America. p. 97. ISBN 978-0-7618-3635-3. Retrieved 18 July 2011. 
  8. ^ Isaac Landman (1941). The Universal Jewish Encyclopedia: an authoritative and popular presentation of Jews and Judaism since the earliest times. The Universal Jewish Encyclopedia, inc. p. 399. Retrieved 18 July 2011. 


  • Chen, S.J.D., "Patriarchs and Scholarchs," PAAJR 48 (1981), 57-85.
  • Goodman, M., "The Roman State and the Jewish Patriarch in the Third Century," in L.I. Levnie (ed.), The Galilee in late Antiquity (New York, 1992), 127.39.
  • Habas (Rubin), E., "Rabban Gamaliel of Yavneh and his Sons: The Patriarchate before and after the Bar Kokhva Revolt," JJS 50 (1999), 21-37.
  • Levine, L.I., "The Patriarch (Nasi) in Third-Century Palestine," ANRW 2.19.2 (1979), 649-88.