The Talmud and Daily Life in the Age of the Rabbis (circa 200-7th Century CE)


This is the Study House of Rabbi Eliezer ha-Qappar.

–A Hebrew Inscription from Dabbura in the Golan Heights.

Sometime in the fourth or perhaps fifth century, a Hebrew inscription was carved into a large basalt door lintel in a very small village that we now call Dabbura, in the Golan Heights. The inscription was set between images of two birds of prey, each grasping in its mouth a snake. The tails of these snakes came together in a typically Roman “Herculean knot” at the center of the lintel framing the words- “This is the Study House of Rabbi Eliezer ha-Qappar.” Clearly, the people of Dabbura were proud of the fact that Rabbi Eliezer ha-Qappar had taught his students in their midst. Modern scholars were excited when the lintel was discovered in 1968. Talmudists knew of a third century rabbi (Tanna) known as Rabbi Elezar ha-Qappar—a student of Rabbi Judah the Prince, editor of the Mishnah. Is this the place where he lived and taught? Or, perhaps, the people of Dabbura had associated their community with this long-dead holy man by claiming to possess his academy?

Rabbis were few in number even in Talmudic times. At their height, we know of only one hundred and thirty five Amoraim in the Land of Israel, and only ninety eight in Babylonia. The Rabbis in both communities were an intellectual elite. The rabbinic elite was often revered, and by their own admission, just as often scorned and regularly ignored. The Rabbis were nonetheless an essential element of the “common” Judaism that Jews across the Roman and Babylonian diasporas shared. As an intellectual and cultural elite, the Rabbis gave voice to religious and social concerns that were experienced ubiquitously across the Jewish community, and asserted their own unique perspective on these often burning issues. Rabbinic perspectives are preserved in rabbinic literature, including the Mishnah, the Jerusalem Talmud, legal and homiletical Midrashim, Aramaic paraphrases of Scripture (Targumim), prayer, magical texts and the Babylonian Talmud. Archaeological sources often reveal how closely attuned the Rabbis were to the general Jewish culture of late antique Palestine and of Sassanian Babylonia. By memorializing “the study of house of Rabbi Eliezer ha-Qappar,” the Jews of Dabbura brought something of world of the Sages into their quiet, distant, and mundane village of farmers and shepherds.

Golan Heights

Golan Heights. By Boris Carmi /Meitar Collection / National Library of Israel / The Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, CC BY 4.0,

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