Leadership, Authority, and Religious Roles

Do Jews revere any persons as especially gifted with wisdom?

Wisdom has always had a special place in Jewish tradition. King Solomon, for all his faults, has occupied the place of honor in this respect. In the biblical story of how two women came to him, both claiming a child as theirs, Solomon responds by decreeing that the child be cut in half. At that the child’s true mother offered to save the baby’s life by letting the other woman have the infant. Solomon then gave the child to its mother. Tradition says Solomon wrote a number of the “wisdom” books in the Hebrew Bible, as well as few extracanonical or apocryphal works. Since Solomon’s time, the custodians of the tradition’s treasures of wisdom have been known generically as sages. They have included largely religious scholars and rabbis, such as Hillel and the legendary Rabbi Akiva (c. 50-135 C.E.) and Yohannan ben Zakkai (c. 1-80 C.E.). According to legend, Moses went to Heaven for a preview of the Torah and asked God whether his works would prosper. God showed Moses a vision of a future disciple named Akiva. His lecture was so profound that even Moses could not understand it! The centrality of the sages in Jewish spirituality is indicative of the importance of practical wisdom in the tradition. Wisdom is the highest form of holiness.


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