Joshua ben Levi
Joshua ben Levi or Yehoshua ben Levi was an amora
Amoraim , were renowned Jewish scholars who "said" or "told over" the teachings of the Oral law, from about 200 to 500 CE in Babylonia and the Land of Israel. Their legal discussions and debates were eventually codified in the Gemara...

 (Rabbi of the Talmud
The Talmud is a central text of mainstream Judaism. It takes the form of a record of rabbinic discussions pertaining to Jewish law, ethics, philosophy, customs and history....

) who lived in the land of Israel of the first half of the third century. He headed the school of Lydda
Lod is a city located on the Sharon Plain southeast of Tel Aviv in the Center District of Israel. At the end of 2010, it had a population of 70,000, roughly 75 percent Jewish and 25 percent Arab.The name is derived from the Biblical city of Lod...

 in the southern Land of Israel. He was an elder contemporary of Johanan bar Nappaha and Resh Lakish
Resh Lakish
Simeon ben Lakish , better known by his nickname Resh Lakish, was an amora who lived in the Roman province of Syria Palaestina in the third century CE...

, who presided over the school in Tiberias. (Genesis Rabba
Genesis Rabba
Genesis Rabba is a religious text from Judaism's classical period. It is a midrash comprising a collection of ancient rabbinical homiletical interpretations of the Book of Genesis ....

h 94.) With Johanan bar Nappaha, Joshua often engaged in homiletic exegetical discussions (Babylonian Talmud
The Talmud is a central text of mainstream Judaism. It takes the form of a record of rabbinic discussions pertaining to Jewish law, ethics, philosophy, customs and history....

 Bava Batra 116a; Megillah 27a; Shevuot 18b). It is uncertain whether the name "ben Levi" meant the son of Levi, whom some identify with Levi ben Sisi
Levi ben Sisi
Levi ben Sisi or Levi bar Sisi was a Jewish scholar, disciple of the patriarch Judah I, and school associate of his son Simeon Levi ben Sisi or Levi bar Sisi (Sisyi, Susyi, Hebrew: לוי בר סיסי) was a Jewish scholar, disciple of the patriarch Judah I, and school associate of his son Simeon Levi ben...

, or a descendant of the tribe of Levi
In Jewish tradition, a Levite is a member of the Hebrew tribe of Levi. When Joshua led the Israelites into the land of Canaan, the Levites were the only Israelite tribe that received cities but were not allowed to be landowners "because the Lord the God of Israel himself is their inheritance"...

. (Grätz, "Gesch." 4:263; Frankel, "Mebo," 91b; Weiss, "Dor," 3:60; Bacher, "Ag. Pal. Amor." 1:124.)

Rabbi Joshua ben Levi studied under Bar Kappara
Bar Kappara
Shimon Bar Kappara was a Jewish rabbi of the late 2nd and early 3rd century CE, during the period between the tannaim and amoraim. He was active in Caesarea in the Land of Israel, from around 180 to 220 CE. His name, meaning “Son of Kapparah”, was taken from his father, Eleazar ha-Kappar...

, whom he often quoted. But Joshua considered his greatest indebtedness to Rabbi Judah ben Pedaiah, from whom he learned a great number of legal rulings. (Exodus Rabbah 6; Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:7; Genesis Rabbah 94.) Another of his teachers was Rabbi Phinehas ben Jair, whose piety and sincerity must have exerted a powerful influence upon the character of Joshua. Joshua himself had a gentle disposition. He was known for his modesty and piety, and whenever he instituted public fasting and prayer, it was said that his appeals were answered. (Jerusalem Talmud
Jerusalem Talmud
The Jerusalem Talmud, talmud meaning "instruction", "learning", , is a collection of Rabbinic notes on the 2nd-century Mishnah which was compiled in the Land of Israel during the 4th-5th century. The voluminous text is also known as the Palestinian Talmud or Talmud de-Eretz Yisrael...

 Taanit 66c.)

His love of peace prevented him from making any attacks against the Christian theology that was then gaining ground. He was tolerant of Jewish Christians, though they often annoyed him. And he forbore cursing one of them, pronouncing rather , "God's
Names of God in Judaism
In Judaism, the name of God is more than a distinguishing title; it represents the Jewish conception of the divine nature, and of the relationship of God to the Jewish people and to the world. To demonstrate the sacredness of the names of God, and as a means of showing respect and reverence for...

 mercies extend over all His creatures." (Babylonian Talmud Berakhot 7a; Avodah Zarah 4b.) His love of justice and his concern that the innocent might suffer on account of the guilty (Babylonian Talmud Yoma 19b) led him to speak against the custom then prevailing of removing from office a reader who, by omitting certain benedictions, had aroused the suspicion of heresy. (Jerusalem Talmud Berakhot 9c.)

Representative position

Joshua devoted much of his time to furthering the public welfare. (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:7.) His wealth, and his alliance to the patriarchal family through the marriage of his son Joseph (Babylonian Talmud Kiddushin 33b), must have added to his authority. He was recognized as a representative of Palestinian Jewry, for he was found in company with his friend Rabbi Hanina interceding on behalf of his people before the proconsul in Caesarea, who accorded Joshua and his colleague much honor and respect. (Jerusalem Talmud Berakhot 9a.) On another occasion, when the city of Lydda was besieged because a political fugitive had found refuge there, Joshua saved the city and its inhabitants by surrendering the refugee. (Jerusalem Talmud Terumot 46b; Genesis Rabbah 94.) He also made a journey to Rome
Rome is the capital of Italy and the country's largest and most populated city and comune, with over 2.7 million residents in . The city is located in the central-western portion of the Italian Peninsula, on the Tiber River within the Lazio region of Italy.Rome's history spans two and a half...

, but his mission is not known. (Genesis Rabbah 33.) Although Rabbi Joshua was connected through family ties with the patriarchal house, and always manifested his high esteem for its members (Babylonian Talmud Kiddushin 33b), it is largely due to him that the friendship between the southern schools and the patriarchal house diminished. (For evidence that such friendship once existed, see Babylonian Talmud Eruvin 65b; Jerusalem Talmud Pesachim 32a.) Joshua was the first to ordain fully his own pupils in all cases where ordination was requisite (Babylonian Talmud Nedarim 42b), thus assuming a power that hitherto had lain in the hands of the head of the Sanhedrin
The Sanhedrin was an assembly of twenty-three judges appointed in every city in the Biblical Land of Israel.The Great Sanhedrin was the supreme court of ancient Israel made of 71 members...


In the field of legal interpretation, Joshua was of considerable importance, his decisions being generally declared valid even when disputed by his contemporaries Rabbi Johanan and Resh Lakish. He was lenient, especially in cases where cleanliness and the preservation of health were involved. (Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 121b; Jerusalem Talmud Yoma 44d.) Joshua devoted himself to the elucidation of the Mishnah
The Mishnah or Mishna is the first major written redaction of the Jewish oral traditions called the "Oral Torah". It is also the first major work of Rabbinic Judaism. It was redacted c...

. And his own legal interpretations resemble in their form and brevity the writings of the Tannaim
The Tannaim were the Rabbinic sages whose views are recorded in the Mishnah, from approximately 70-200 CE. The period of the Tannaim, also referred to as the Mishnaic period, lasted about 130 years...

 in the Mishnah.

In homiletic exegesis (aggadah
Aggadah refers to the homiletic and non-legalistic exegetical texts in the classical rabbinic literature of Judaism, particularly as recorded in the Talmud and Midrash...

), however, he was even more influential. He had a high opinion of that study, and he explained , "the works of God," as referring to homiletic exegesis. (Midrash Tanhuma 28:5.) Similarly in he identified "glory" (kavod) with homiletic exegesis. (Babylonian Talmud Bava Batra 9b.) There is also a reference to a book ("pinkes") by Joshua ben Levi which is presumed by some to have presented haggadic themes (Weiss, "Dor," p. 60); but this can not be well reconciled with Joshua’s disparaging of the writing down of homiletic exegesis. (Jerusalem Talmud Shabbat 15c; Midrash Tehillim 22:4; Bacher, "Ag. Pal. Amor." 1:129, against Weiss, "Dor," 3:60, who assumes that the "pinkes" was the work of another rabbi of the same name.)

Nonetheless, homiletic exegesis occupied an important place in the teaching of Rabbi Joshua. His disciples and contemporaries quoted many such propositions in his name.

As an exegete, Rabbi Joshua ben Levi was of some importance, his interpretations often enabling him to deduce legal rulings. Some of his explanations have been accepted by later commentators. (See, e.g., Abraham ibn Ezra
Abraham ibn Ezra
Rabbi Abraham ben Meir Ibn Ezra was born at Tudela, Navarre in 1089, and died c. 1167, apparently in Calahorra....

 and others on ; see Exodus Rabbah 23.)

His maxims

Joshua ben Levi’s emphasis of study was seen when he spoke of God as saying to David
David was the second king of the united Kingdom of Israel according to the Hebrew Bible and, according to the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, an ancestor of Jesus Christ through both Saint Joseph and Mary...

  that "better" in God’s sight is "one day" of study in the Law "than a thousand" sacrifices (Babylonian Talmud Makkot 10a; Midrash Tehillim 122:2.) Though learning was of paramount importance (Babylonian Talmud Megillah 27a), still he also insisted on piety. He said that those who attends the synagogue service morning and evening will have their days prolonged (Babylonian Talmud Berakhot 8a), and those who move their lips in prayer will surely be heard. (Leviticus Rabbah 16; Jerusalem Talmud Berakhot 9d). He instituted a number of rules regulating the reading of the Law in the synagogue on weekdays (Babylonian Talmud Berakhot 8a) and other matters relating to the service, many of which are to this day observed in synagogues. (Babylonian Talmud Sotah 39b.)

Some of Joshua's philosophical and theological opinions are recorded. Speaking of the attributes of God, he represented God as "great, mighty, and awe-inspiring" . (Babylonian Talmud Yoma 69b; Jerusalem Talmud Berakhot 11c; Jerusalem Talmud Megillah 74c.) He conceived the relation between Israel and God as most intimate, and he expresses it in the words, "Not even a wall of iron could separate Israel from his Father in heaven." (Babylonian Talmud Pesachim 85b; Sotah 38b.) In his doctrine of future reward and punishment, paradise will receive those who have performed the will of God, while the nether world becomes the habitation of the wicked. (Babylonian Talmud Eruvin 19a). In he found Biblical authority for the resurrection of the dead (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 91b), and in Genesis Rabbah 26 he expressed the liberal view that immortality is the portion not only of Israel, but of all other nations as well. In a legend, Joshua inquired of the Messiah when he was coming, and Elijah
Elijah (prophet)
Elijah also Elias ; , meaning "Yahweh is my God";Arabic:إلياس, Ilyās), was a prophet in the Kingdom of Samaria during the reign of Ahab , according to the Books of Kings....

 answered that it will be when Israel heeds God's voice (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 98a.) In another connection, he spoke of the futility of estimating the time of the coming of the Messiah (Midrash Tanhuma 9:1; Leviticus Rabbah 19.)

In legend

Rabbi Joshua ben Levi was a favorite hero in legend. He was often made to be the companion of Elijah in the latter's wanderings on earth. (Pesikta 36a.) See, for example, The Messiah at the Gates of Rome
The Messiah at the Gates of Rome
"The Messiah at the Gates of Rome" is a traditional story, Mashal or parable in the Jewish tradition, from the Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 98a.-Synopsis:...

. He also had legendary dealings with the Angel of Death. (Babylonian Talmud Berakhot 51a.) While yet alive, he was permitted to visit paradise and the nether world, and he sent a description of what he saw there to Rabban Gamaliel
Gamaliel the Elder , or Rabban Gamaliel I , was a leading authority in the Sanhedrin in the mid 1st century CE. He was the grandson of the great Jewish teacher Hillel the Elder, and died twenty years before the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem...

through the submissive Angel of Death. (Derek Eretz Zuta 1.) Many of the legends relating to Joshua have been collected in separate small works entitled "Ma'aseh de-Rabbi Yehoshua' ben Lewi" and "Masseket Gan 'Eden we-Gehinnom."


The site of his grave is not known, but Mitch Pilcer, of Tzipori, Gaililee, Israel, claims to have found Rabbi Joshua ben Levi's gravesite while doing construction on his property in Tzipori. The matter is under dispute, and the grave is also thought possibly to be that of another man by the same name.
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