- Excerpt From: The Emperors and the Jews. Mosaica Press (2019)
Updated: Mar 10, 2021
In order to strengthen the Jewish people subsequent to the destruction of the first Temple, Ezra the Scribe gathered the leading sages of his time and created what became known as the Great Assembly - Anshei Knesset HaGedolah. The Great Assembly expanded the 70
member Sanhedrin – High Court – to a body of 120.
Serving roughly a hundred years, the Assembly’s members included the prophets Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi, as well as Mordechai, Yehoshua the High Priest, and Nechemia who played the leading role in the rebuilding of the second Temple. The Rambam, Maimonides, in his introduction to the Mishneh Torah clearly spells out that Shimon HaTazaddik was the last of the great Assembly and was one of its 120 members.
Pirkei Avot 1:1,2 Moses received the Torah from Sinai and conveyed to Joshua, Joshua
to the Elders, the Elders to the Prophets, and the Prophets to the Men of the Great
Assembly ... Shimon HaTzaddik was one of the remnants of the Great Assembly. He used
to say, The world stands on three things: on the Torah; on the service of God, and upon
acts of loving-kindness...
Throughout the long history of the Jewish people the title Tzaddik – Righteous One - has
rarely been attached to any individual and use of such an honorific title speak volumes.
Shimon HaTzaddik served as a pivotal generational link during the early years of the
second Temple and subsequently earned the title of Tzaddik.
Ben Sirah portrays Shimon as the angel, the lofty leader of Israel who preserved the
sanctity of the Holy Temple and propelled the Jewish nation forward.
Historically Shimon HaTzaddik led the Jewish people during what has been described as
the “middle period”. The Great Assembly had sealed and canonized the books of the
Bible, established the basis of the Mishna, set down the guidelines and principles for
interpretation of the Torah and standardized the prayers. The aftermath of the Great
Assembly was a stage for maintaining the tradition in a time of confusion. It was the
beginning of the second Temple, with a main part of Jewry in the Diaspora and at the
advent of the Greek third kingdom.
Rav Miller in Torah Nation links the Great Assembly to the continuation of the Greek
(and subsequent Roman) empire: “now after the Great Assembly had completed its work
and the members of that body had passed away, the miraculously benevolent and tranquil
era of Persian rule was ended. Henceforth the Jews in the Land of Israel would be under
very different regimes: the Ptolemies of Egypt, the Syrian Greeks and the Romans.”
Shimon HaTzaddik not only served as the high priest, Kohen Gadol but was also the
The Talmud in Yoma 39A describes Shimon’s historic legacy as it relates to the
observances in the Temple. Each example demonstrates his unique spiritual influence on
extraordinary occurrences which ended when his tenure was over.