The Prophets and the Priests
Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks, 22-2-2013
Judaism is unusual in that it recognises not one form of religious leadership but two: thenavi and Cohen, the prophet and the priest.
The figure of the prophet has always captured the imagination. He (or she) is a person of drama, “speaking truth to power”, unafraid to challenge kings and courts or society as a whole in the name of high, even utopian ideals.
The priests, by contrast, served in the sanctuary.. Yet they, no less than the prophets, sustained Israel as a holy nation.
Indeed, though Israel were summoned to become “a kingdom of priests” they were never called on to be a people of prophets…
Differences between a prophet and a priest:
– The role of priest was dynastic. It passed from father to son. The role of prophet was not dynastic.
– The task of the priest was related to his office. It was not inherently personal or charismatic. The prophets, by contrast, each imparted their own personality.
– The priests wore a special uniform; the prophets did not.
– There are rules of honour due to a priest. A prophet is honoured by being listened to, not by formal protocols of respect.
– The priests were removed from the people. They served in the Temple. The prophet, by contrast, was usually part of the people. There was nothing special in his work or social class.
– The priest represents the principle of structure in Jewish life, while the prophet represents spontaneity.
The End of Prophecy
Transition from the age of prophecy
to the age of Oral Law
Rabbi Hayyim Angel, 25-2-2011
According to a prevalent Jewish tradition, Malachi was the last prophet. Radak and Abarbanel observe that unlike Haggai and Zechariah, Malachi does not mention the Temple construction; it was in use already. Malachi condemns intermarriage, a shared concern of Ezra and Nehemiah.
Nearly all scholars agree that Malachi prophesied during the Persian period, and after the reconstruction and dedication of the second temple in 516 BC.
Kara, Ibn Ezra, Abarbanel and Malbim explain that Malachi was aware that prophecy would stop with him. The word of God would henceforth be available only through the written word of the Bible. .. With the end of prophecy, the Torah would sustain the people of Israel until the messianic era, at which point prophecy will resume.
The end of prophecy facilitated a flourishing of the development of the Oral Law, a step impossible as long as people could turn to the prophets for absolute religious guidance and knowledge of God’s Will. Sages needed to interpret texts and traditions to arrive at rulings, enabling them to develop axioms that could keep the eternal Torah relevant as society changed.
This religious struggle is captured poignantly by the talmudic passage:
R. Abdimi b. Hama b. Hasa said: This teaches that the Holy One, blessed be He, overturned the mountain upon them like an [inverted] cask, and said to them, ‘If you accept the Torah, it is well; if not, there shall be your burial.’
R. Aha b. Jacob observed: This furnishes a strong protest against the Torah. Said Rava, Yet even so, they re-accepted it in the days of Ahasuerus…
Ezra & The Rabbinic Age
Law, not Prophecy – Judeans become ‘Jews’
Ezra is credited with making the Written Torah publically available (several scholars suggest that he in fact is the Redactor who edited the Pentateuch together from its pre-existing sources) and instituting the still-followed practice of reading one portion of the scroll every Sabbath…
This also marked the origin of “rabbis” as we know them and the beginning of the creation and codification of what came to be known as “halakhah” or Jewish law.
Before, one was a “Jew” (or rather Judean) if one was a subject of the “Jewish” (or rather Judean) King. After this, one was a “Jew” if one pledged allegiance to the laws of the Pentateuch (and accepted the Pentateuch as one’s own national origin myth). (beliefnet 18-3-2009)
Ezra, Scribe and Strongman
By Nissan Mindel
Ezra was born in Babylon. By profession he was a scribe; he used to write scrolls of the Torah, which he knew so well. Ezra was also a priest. He was a great scholar and teacher. The Persian king appointed Ezra as a high-ranking officer in the Land of Israel, with powers to appoint judges and officers of the law, and to levy monetary fines, impose banishment and even to impose the death penalty, if necessary.
Ezra left Babylon in the month of Nissan. He was accompanied by thousands of enthusiastic patriots… Upon arrival in the Land of Israel, Ezra was shocked and grieved to find that the spiritual standards of his brethren had sunk to a dangerous low. They had fallen under the influence of the powerful Samaritans and other native tribes, had intermarried with them freely… The children did not even know their own Hebrew tongue.
The hearts of the assembled were full of anxiety and grief…. Suddenly a man rose and called out: “We have committed a crime against G-d and against our people by marrying non-Jewish women. But we are ready to give them up and part with them and with their children. Arise, Ezra, call upon the people to send away their strange wives! Be strong, firm and fearless!” …
For about twelve years the situation grew from bad to worse… The situation became very critical. But at the height of the crisis, timely help arrived… This help came through Nehemiah, Ezra’s contemporary and great co-worker.
Nehemiah was just as good a soldier and general as he was a planner and builder, and he knew how to put courage into the hearts of the people. “Be not ye afraid of them,” his voice rang out: “remember the Lord, which is great and terrible, and fight for your brethren, your sons, and your daughters, your wives, and your houses.”
Then he divided the people into two companies: one half to be regular soldiers, ready to fight whenever the enemy attacked, and the other half to go steadily on with the building, but with weapons ready too.
The men who worked only with one hand held a sword in the other, and those who needed both hands for their work had their swords fastened to their sides.
No wonder with such a leader the day of victory would not be far off. In a wonderfully short time the walls were finished, the gates were put up, and Jerusalem was a strong and fortified city once more.