Brachot 27b-28a | Henry Abramovitch

The evening prayer is not fixed.

What is the meaning of “is not fixed”?

If the meaning is that one may pray all night, then it should have said:

“[One is permitted to pray the] evening prayer all night.”

[The meaning of “fixed” is,] rather: “The evening prayer is voluntary.”

As Rav Yehuda in the name of Samuel reported [the tradition]:

“The evening prayer – Rabban Gamliel says: [It is] obligatory;

Rabbi Yehoshua says: [It is] voluntary.

Abaye says: The rule (halacha) is according to those who say [it is] obligatory;

And Rava says: the rule (halacha) is according to those who say [it is] voluntary.”

The Rabbis taught: Consider the story of a student who came to Rabbi Yehoshua and asked him: “Evening Prayer, [Is it] voluntary or obligatory?”

He said: “Voluntary.”

[The student] went before Rabban Gamliel and asked him: “Evening Prayer, [is it] voluntary or obligatory?”

He said: “Obligatory.”

[The student] said to him: “But Rabbi Yehoshua taught me it is voluntary.”

[Rabban Gamliel] said: “Wait until the ‘shield bearers’ (i.e., sages who are compared to warriors) enter the House of Study [and then ask your question].”

When the “shield bearers” entered, [the student] arose and asked:

“Evening Prayer, [is it] voluntary or obligatory?”

Rabban Gamliel said: “Obligatory.”

Rabban Gamliel said to the sages: “Is there anyone who disagrees on this matter?”

Rabbi Yehoshua said: “No.”

[Rabban Gamliel] said: “But it was in your name that it was said to be voluntary.”

He said: “Yehoshua! Stand up on your feet and be examined on this matter!”

Rabbi Yehoshua stood up on his feet and said: “If I was alive and he was dead, the living could deny the dead; but now that I am alive and he is alive, how can the living deny the living?”

Rabban Gamliel was sitting and teaching while Rabbi Yehoshua was standing.

Rabbi Yehoshua was left standing, until all shouted for Hutzpit the crier to stop [calling out Rabban Gamliel’s words] and he stopped.

They said: “How long will [Rabban Gamliel] continue to humiliate him…He tormented him last year, during the Hebrew New Year [when he forced Rabbi Yehoshua to travel to him on the date that was the Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, according to Yehoshua’s but not Rabban Gamliel’s reckoning].

He tormented him in the case of Rabbi Zadok and the First

Born [when he also forced him to standing as a public humiliation]. Here again, he torments him.”

Let us replace [Rabban Gamliel as head of the House of Study].

“Who shall we put in his place?

If we propose Rabbi Yehoshua—[He cannot be nominated since] he is an interested party [to the dispute].

If we propose Rabbi Akiva—[Rabban Gamliel] will ‘harm’ him since [as a descendant of converts] he has no protecting ancestral heritage/lineage (zechut avot).”

Let us propose Elazar son of Azaria who is wise, rich and a tenth generation descendant of Ezra.

“He is wise”: If {Rabban Gamliel] puts difficult questions, he will be able to answer.

“He is rich”: [So if Rabban Gamliel] may serve the Roman Caesar with gifts, he can go and do so, too, [since he has sufficient funds for travel expenses, taxes and gifts].

“He is a tenth descendant of Ezra”: He therefore has an illustrious ancestral heritage and [Rabban Gamliel] cannot harm him.

They went and said to [Elazar son of Azaria]: “Is it pleasing for you to become Head of the House of Study?”

He said: “I will go and consult with members of my own house.”

He went and consulted with his wife.

She said: “What if they replace you [the way they replaced Rabban Gamliel]?”

He responded [with a proverb]: “It is worth using a precious glass today, even if it breaks tomorrow” [meaning that a person should take advantage of today’s opportunity which come his way and not worry about losing them in the future].

She said: “You have no white [hair—the sign of a wise elder].”

On that day, he was eighteen years old and a miracle occurred. Eighteen lines of white hair appeared on his head.

Hence Rabbi Elazar son of Azaria used to say: “Behold I am as seventy years, and not

seventy years.”

On that very day [when Rabban Gamliel was replaced], the gatekeeper was removed and [all] students were allowed to enter [the House of Study]. Rabban Gamliel had decreed and stated: “Any student whose ‘inside is not as his outside’ (tokho kevaro) shall not enter the House of Study.”

On that very day, more seats were added.

Abba Yosef son of Dostai and the Rabbis [disagreed about the number of extra seats]. One said: 400 seats were added; the other said: 700 seats.

Rabban Gamliel’s mind weakened (halash da’atei) and he said: “Is it possible that I prevented Torah study from [the people of] Israel?” He dreamed of white jars full of ashes [which his supporters understood as indicative that the students were unworthy] but it was not so. It was only to calm his mind that they showed him this dream.

On that very day, the Tractate Eduyyot (Testimonies) was composed and anywhere where it is stated “on that very day” refers to this day [when Rabban Gamliel was replaced] and there was not any doubtful halakhic issue in the House of Study that was not discussed and decided. Moreover, Rabban Gamliel did not absent himself from the House of Study for even a single hour [even though he was no longer president] as it is taught:

On that very day, Judah a convert from Ammon [in TransJordan] appeared before the

House of Study and asked them: “May I enter the Community [and marry an Israelite


Rabban Gamliel said: “You are forbidden to enter the Community.”

Rabbi Yehoshua said: “You are permitted to enter the Community.”

Rabban Gamliel said to him: “Is it not written, ‘An Ammonite or a Moabite is not to enter the assembly of God [Deuteronomy 23:4]’?”

Rabbi Yehoshua said to him: “Are Ammonites and Moabites living in their place!—since Sancharib, the King of Assyria has mixed up all the nations as it is written: ‘I have erased the borders of peoples; I have plundered their treasures, and exiled their vast populations [Isaiah 10:13]’.” [The rule is:] “An exemplar is indicative of the majority” [i.e. most nations are now mixed up so this “convert” whose ancestry is unknown may be accepted and not treated an Ammonite in the time of the Bible].

Rabban Gamliel said to him: “Is it not written: ‘But afterwards I will restore the

Ammonites from captivity—declares the Lord [ Jeremiah 49:6]’? And they already


Rabbi Yehoshua said to him: “Is it not written: ‘I will restore My people Israel from captivity [Amos 9:14]’? But they have not yet returned.” Immediately, he [the Ammonite] was permitted to join the community.

Rabban Gamliel said [to himself]: “Seeing as it so [that the House of Study is following Rabbi Yehoshua] I will go and reconcile with Rabbi Yehoshua.”

When he arrived at the house of Rabbi Yehoshua, he saw that the walls were blackened. He said to him: “From the walls of your house I see that you are a charcoal maker.” [Rabbi Yehoshua] said to him: “Woe to the generation that you are its leader! You do not know the sorrows of the sages or how they support themselves and make a living!”

[Rabban Gamliel] said: “ I have wronged you. Forgive me!”

But Rabbi Yehoshua refused.

The narrative now shifts back to Rabban Gamliel, who has a change of heart.

 [Rabban Gamliel pleaded:] “Do it for the sake of my father!”

They reconciled.

Member of the House of Study pondered:

“Who will go and tell the sages?”

A “washerman” said: “I will go and tell.”

Rabbi Yehoshua sent the following [cryptic] message to the House of Study: “He who

wears a uniform, will wear a uniform; he who does not wear a uniform will tell the one who does: Take it off and I will wear it?”

Rabbi Akiva said to the Rabbis: Shut the gates so that the servants of Rabban Gamliel willnot enter and disturb us. When Rabbi Yehoshua learned of the matter, he said: “It is better if I arise and go by myself.” He went and knocked at the door and said: “The sprinkler, son of a sprinkler, has the right to sprinkle. But whoever is not a sprinkler, nor son of a sprinkle, can he tell the son of sprinkler: “Your water is not sanctified; your ashes are not sanctified”?

Rabbi Akiva said to him: “Rabbi Yehoshua, are you reconciled?

Everything we did [in deposing Rabban Gamliel] was done to protect your honor. [If you are indeed reconciled] then tomorrow morning, you and I may go to [reinstate and] salute Rabban Gamliel [as head of the House of Study].”

They said: “What shall we do [with Elazar son of Azaria]? Shall we remove him?”

The rules states: “In matters of holiness, one raises up, one does not lower down.”

“If one expounds one Sabbath and the other on the next Sabbath, they will be jealous of one another.” Nor will Rabban Gamliel agree. [A compromise was agreed, whereby] Rabban Gamliel was in office for three Sabbaths in a month and Elazar son of Azaria for one Sabbath.

So it was said: “Whose Sabbath was it?” “It was the Sabbath of Elazar son of


And the student, who was he? – Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai!