April 2018

By Ami Nadiv


Rabbi Mishael Zion– the Director of the Mandel Leadership Institute’s Program for Leadership in Israeli Jewish Culture – spoke to us this past Shabbat towards the conclusion of our unit on Jewish denominations. His shiur explored different paradigms of leadership within [Rabbinic] Judaism, and he juxtaposed the different narratives (as seen in the Tosefta, Bavli, and Yerushalmi) that recount Hillel Hazaken’s appointment as the nasi (patriarch/president) of Israel. Rabbi Zion grounded his analysis of these passages in Weber’s three paradigms of authority: Rational-legal authority, Traditional authority, and Charismatic authority. Overall, Zion was thoughtful, attentive, and dynamic, and his analysis was creative and rich with insightful references to contemporary scholasticism.

As a student of the Talmud, Weber’s paradigms of authority are familiar. The Rational-legal authority is exemplified by a sage’s ability to reason and argue. The Traditional authority is seen in the chain of traditions transmitted from master to student. And the Charismatic authority, while less explicit, is embodied in the creative audacity that gave rise to the rabbinic movement in the first place.

As is often the case in rabbinic literature, the location of a narrative influences the details and the values of that narrative. The Tosefta, the primary source for this text, relates that only after Hillel demonstrated all three qualities was he appointed the Nasi. However, in many ways, I think the Tosefta’s standards are unattainable – it is too much to expect that our leaders will be able to exemplify all three values in any given case. Perhaps with this realization in mind, the Babalonian and Yeruahalaim Talmudim each find a single value to prioritize. The Yerushalmi prioritizes the weight of tradition – Hillel becomes the nasi because he can transmit to the people of Eretz Yisrael the teachings of Shemaya and Avtalion. The Bavli, on the other hand, prioritizes the ability to reason and argue, and the values of tradition and innovation are afforded less significance.

Studying these texts today, however, I worry because after 1500 years the legal formalism espoused by the Bavli continues to predominate halakhic decision-making. 

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