Shabbat 33a-b - Rabbi Yehudah - "head of the speakers in every place"

November 05, 2012


In a baraita on today's daf (=page) Rabbi Yehudah is described as "head of the speakers in every place." This title leads to a discussion in the Gemara.
The Gemara asks: And why did they call him head of the speakers in every place? The Gemara relates that this resulted due to an incident that took place when Rabbi Yehudah and Rabbi Yosei and Rabbi Shimon were sitting, and Yehudah, son of converts, sat beside them. Rabbi Yehudah opened and said: How pleasant are the actions of this nation, the Romans, as they established marketplaces, established bridges, and established bathhouses. Rabbi Yosei was silent. Rabbi Shimon ben Yoĥai responded and said: Everything that they established, they established only for their own purposes. They established marketplaces, to place prostitutes in them; bathhouses, to pamper themselves; and bridges, to collect taxes from all who pass over them. Yehudah, son of converts, went and related their statements to his household, and those statements continued to spread until they were heard by the monarchy. They ruled and said: Yehudah, who elevated the Roman regime, shall be elevated and appointed as head of the Sages, the head of the speakers in every place. Yosei, who remained silent, shall be exiled from his home in Judea as punishment, and sent to the city of Tzippori in the Galilee. And Shimon, who denounced the government, shall be killed.

As opposed to the Greeks, the Romans did not directly impose cultural or spiritual changes on the peoples they conquered. Instead, the Romans excelled in effective organization and comprehensive building projects. In all of the lands they conquered, they expertly paved roads, many of which are intact to this day in Eretz Yisrael and in other countries. They erected bridges over rivers and streams and constructed well-planned cities and public establishments, such as bathhouses and theaters. All of these developments resulted in the improvement of the quality of life in the countries they conquered within a short period of time. Rabbi Yehudah’s praise for them is understandable. Rabbi Shimon saw all of the Roman accomplishments merely as measures to facilitate domination and exploitation of the people they ruled.

This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger. To learn more about the Steinsaltz Daf Yomi initiative, click here.
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