The death of Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel, which occurred in 70 CE, on 20 Sivan, is part of the well-known and tragic episode of the deaths of the Ten Martyrs, that is included in the liturgy of both Yom Kippur and Tisha b’Av.

In response to the Jewish uprising, the Roman authorities outlawed both the study and teaching of the Torah. On top of the “most wanted” list was Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel, who was the Nasi (president) of the Sanhedrin (Jewish supreme court and legislative body concerning matters involving Torah law) and one of the primary supporters of the uprising. Captured along with the High Priest Rabbi Ishmael, Rabbi Shimon was beheaded.

Rabbi Shimon was the descendant of renowned scholars. His father was the oft-quoted Rabban Gamliel, the grandson of the renowned Hillel. Similar to Hillel, Rabbi Shimon is portrayed as what might now be called “a man of the people.” He used his knowledge of the law to help others. For example, it is recorded in the Mishna (Keritot 1:7) that when the price of doves became inflated and the people were hesitant to buy doves for the sacrifices required after childbirth, Rabbi Shimon declared that a woman only needed to bring one instead of five. Overnight, the price of the birds crashed.

It is interesting to note that the Talmud also describes that when [Rabbi Shimon] rejoiced at the place of the Water-Drawing, he used to take eight lighted torches [and throw them in the air] and catch one and throw one and they did not touch one another” (Talmud Sukkah 53a).

Another interesting and insightful Talmudic quote attributed to Rabbi Shimon further demonstrates his character as an individual who was both a thoughtful scholar and a man who believed in action. In Pirkei Avot/Ethics of the Fathers, Rabbi Shimon is quoted:

“All my days have I grown up among the wise and I have not found anything better for a person than silence. Studying Torah is not the most important thing, rather fulfilling it” (1:17).

This Wednesday, the 20th of Sivan is the yahrtzeit of Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel.

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