The Passing of an Era

Rabbi died about 200 CE, and the Talmud describes his final moments, death, and massive funeral in great detail, something it does not do for any other sage. The outpouring of grief at Rabbi's passing indicated that the Jewish people realized the spiritual grandeur of the Tannaim was coming to a close. Afterward, the leading Torah scholars were known as Amoraim, or interpreters, in contrast to Tannaim, the teachers of the Oral Law. For their part, the Amoraim explained the rulings of the Tannaim, applying them to new situations, but never disagreeing with their teachers. It is axiomatic to students of the Talmud that if an Amora contradicts a Tanna, the Amora's opinion is refuted — unless the Amora can back up his statement with an another Tanna's opinion. Although such a methodology was never adopted as a formal edict, Torah scholars of that time presumed it to be obvious. Following them, throughout history the Jewish people have instinctively realized who its paramount sages are and when an era has ended. As in the times of Rabbi, Torah leaders do not campaign for their position; public acclaim accords it to them.

Trends in Jewish Life

Shortly after the Mishnah was completed, significant changes began to take place in Jewish life. As a result of rising instability in the Roman Empire, life in Eretz Israel became increasingly precarious for Jews. As local Roman commanders ruled without the moderating influence of the central government, an increasing number of sages moved to Babylonia, which became the central focus of Jewish life. During the period of the Tannaim, when the incessant persecutions caused them to forget some laws,Babylonia hosted great Torah scholars who constantly infused the sages of Eretz Israel with true Torah leadership. Nevertheless, the chachamim (scholars) of Eretz Israel were still the main deciders of Jewish law, utilizing the authority invested by the Sanhedrin in Israel. At that time, there was virtually no mention of Torah life in Babylonia.

With the advent of the Amoraim, however, the Sanhedrin and Nasi began to play increasingly diminished roles in Torah life, eventually passing out of existence. Rabbi's grandson, Rabbi Judah Nesiah, the 9th Nasi of the House of Hillel, was the last person to be accepted by all Jews as Nasi. Afterward, the kehillah, or local Jewish community, assumed greater institutional importance, with each kehillah's leaders deciding halacha for their own community at times when no national consensus was reached. In addition, people had complete allegiance to the chachamim; there were no deviant groups.