Zugot "Pairs" (Biblical Hebrew: תְּקוּפַת הַזּוּגוֹת, təqufath hazzughoth) refers to the hundred-year period during the time of the Second Temple (515 BCE – 70 CE), in which the spiritual leadership of the Jews was in the hands of five successive generations of zugoth ("pairs") of religious teachers.
Origin of the name
In Hebrew, the word "zugot" indicates a plural of two identical objects and refers to 5 pairs of scholars who ruled a Beit Din HaGadol (Supreme Court). Afterwards, the positions Nasi (President) and Av Beit Din (Chief Justice) remained, but they were not Zugot.
The title of Av Beit Din existed before the period of the zugoth. His purpose was to oversee the Sanhedrin, the court of religious law also known as the "beth din". The rank of nasi "prince" was a new institution that was begun during this period.
List of zugot
There were five pairs of these teachers:
- Jose ben Joezer and Jose ben Jochanan
who flourished at the time of the Maccabean wars of independence
- Joshua ben Perachiah and Nittai of Arbela,
at the time of John Hyrcanus
- Judah ben Tabbai and Simeon ben Shetach,
at the time of Alexander Jannaeus and Salome Alexandra
- Shmaya and Abtalion,
at the time of Hyrcanus II
- Hillel the Elder and Shammai,
at the time of King Herod the Great
Other uses of term Zugoth
The term zugoth refers to pairs generally. The Babylonian Talmud (Pesachim 109b–112a) contains an extensive discussion of dangers of zugoth and of performing various activities in pairs. The discussants expressed belief in a demonology and in practices of sorcery from which protection was needed by avoiding certain activities. The demonology included a discussion of Ashmidai (Asmodai or Asmodeus), referred to as king of the shedim "demons".
Belief in demons among Jews, and reservations against pairs generally, diminished among Jews during the Middle Ages. Medieval commentators, who are followed today, asserted that the practice of avoiding doing things in pairs out of concern for being harmed by demons was not applicable to then-contemporary conditions. They gave various reasons. Menachem Meiri, for example, stated that belief in the harm of pairs was widespread among the masses of the time and the Sages sought to allay their fears and draw them away from their excesses. Tosafot held that we need not concern ourselves with zugoth because evil spirits are no longer prevalent. The Ben Yehoyada of Yosef Hayyim held that any harm from pairs has 'nowadays' become completely negated.