The Zugoth

What was the Zuggoth in Judaism?

A new method that rivaled the Midrash method beginning in the middle of the 3rd century B.C. Five great "pairs" of teachers promoted this method during the period between the 3rd and 1st centuries B.C. The most famous were Shammai and Hillel at the end of the 1st century B.C. The Zugoth method involved the teaching of the oral law without reference to the order of the Hebrew Scriptures. Divorced from the established sequence of the Hebrew Scriptures, the oral law could be taught by means of repetition. Thus the name "Mishnah" (from the Hebrew snh, "to repeat") was attached to this oral teaching of the Law.

After the relative calmness of the period of Persian rule, the Greek occupied Eretz Yisrael. For over a century the land was the battlefield for warring armies of the Ptolemies and Seleucids. As a result, the Jewish homeland was politically, economically, and spiritually torn apart. During these times, Jewish leadership was in the hands of the Zugot.

The term 'Zugot' refers to the two heads of the Sanhedrin (Great Assembly). The Sanhedrin was the successor to the Great Assembly, and it functioned as the legislative body of the Jewish people. At the head of the Sanhedrin was the Nasi (President) and second to him was the Av Bet Din (Father of the Assembly). For a period of about two hundred years, these Zugot were the spiritual guides of Jewish life and the transmitters of the Oral Law. These Zugot were:

  • Yose ben Yoezer of Sereda, Yose ben Yohanan
  • Yehoshua ben Perahyah, Mattai (or Nittai) or Arbel
  • Yehudah ben Tabbai, Simeon ben Shetah
  • Shemayah, Abtalion
  • Hillel the Elder, Shammai