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Rabbinical Eras

Zugot (Hebrew: תְּקוּפָת) הַזוּגוֹת)‎) ((təqūphāth) hazZūghôth) refers to the period during the time of the Second Temple (515 BCE - 70 CE), in which the spiritual leadership of the Jewish people was in the hands of five successive generations of zugot ("pairs") of religious teachers.

Origin of the name

In Hebrew, the word "zugot" indicates a plural of two identical objects. (In English: "pairs".) The name was given to the two leading teachers of the Law during each successive generation during the period. According to tradition, two of them always stood at the head of the Sanhedrin; one as president ("nasi") and the other as vice-president or father of the court ("Av beit din"; see Sanhedrin).

The term "Zugot" refers to 5 pairs of legal scholars who ruled the Supreme Court Beit Din HaGadol from 142 BCE when the 2nd Judean State was established as an independent state to the end of Hillel the Elder's rule ca. 40 BCE. Afterwards the positions Chief Justice Nasi and Vice President Av Beit Din remained, but they were not Zugot.

With the rise of the independent Judean state under Simon the Maccabee of the Hasmoneans, the nature of Judaism changed from Theocracy to Nomocracy. The change reflected a radical transformation from the rule of the Jewish community by God through the High Priest, to rule of the community through the judicial and legislative discourse of the Supreme Court. The High Priest, the Kohen Gadol, went from being the supreme legal and spiritual authority to a figurehead who ruled in the Temple but was still subservient to the Supreme Court. After the destruction of the Judean state and the 2nd Temple in 70 CE, the Supreme Court Beit Din HaGadol ceased to exist. With Roman permission the Sanhedrin was re-established, first at Jamnia, and it became the government in exile for the Jewish community.[1] In 425 CE the Roman government shut down the Sanhedrin as a result of its Christian intent to dominate religious expression and marginalize Judaism.

Historical background

The title of av beit din existed before the period of the zugot. His purpose was to oversee the Sanhedrin, the court of religious law (also known as the "beth din"). The rank of nasi (president) was a new institution that was begun during this period.

During the first generation of the Zugot, the Jewish supporters of Hellenistic control in Israel managed to gain control over the position of the "Cohen Ha'Gadol" (the High Priest of the Temple), and raised Greek sympathizers to that position. The purpose of the High Priest was to be a spiritual leader of the Jewish people, which led the religious leaders among the people to elect a nasi, to provide an alternative to the growing corruption of the priests of the Temple. This conflict led to the split between the Sadducees and the Pharisees, and to the political upheaval that followed.

List of zugot

There were five pairs of these teachers:

  1. Jose ben Joezer, and Jose ben Johanan
    who flourished at the time of the Maccabean wars of independence
  2. Joshua ben Perachyah, and Nittai of Arbela
    at the time of John Hyrcanus
  3. Judah ben Tabbai, and Simeon ben Shetach
    at the time of Alexander Jannæus and Queen Salome Alexandra
  4. Sh'maya, and Abtalion
    at the time of Hyrcanus II
  5. Hillel, and Shammai
    at the time of King Herod the Great

Other uses of term Zugot

The term zugot refers to pairs generally. The Babylonian Talmud (Pesachim 109b-112a) contains an extensive discussion of dangers of zugot and of performing various activities in pairs. The discussants expressed belief in a demonology and in practices of sorcery from which protection was needed by avoiding certain activities. The demonology included a discussion of Ashmidai (Asmodai or Asmodeus), referred to as king of the shadim or demons.

Belief in demons among Jews, and reservations against pairs generally, diminished among Jews during the Middle Ages. Medieval commentators, who are followed today, asserted that the practice of avoiding doing things in pairs out of concern for being harmed by demons was not applicable to then-contemporary conditions. They gave various reasons. Meiri, for example, stated that belief in the harm of pairs was widespread among the masses of the time and the Sages sought to allay their fears and draw them away from their excesses. Tosafot held that we need not concern ourselves with zugot because evil spirits are no longer prevalent. Ben Yehoyada held that any harm from pairs has 'nowadays' become completely negated. Maimonides suggested that the Rabbis of the Talmud were susceptible to contemporary superstitions.


  • This article incorporates text from the 1901–1906 Jewish Encyclopedia, a publication now in the public domain.
  • Talmud Bavli, The Schottenstein Edition, Tractate Pesachim, Vol. III. Mesorah Publications Ltd., 1998.
  1. Jewish Encyclopedia: JOHANAN B. ZAKKAI: "Like Josephus, Johanan prophesied imperial honors for the general Vespasian, quoting the words of the prophet Isaiah: "Lebanon [that is, the sanctuary] shall fall by a mighty one" (Isa.x. 34). He sought and obtained permission to settle in Jabneh (Jamnia) and to exercise his profession of teacher there. In Jabneh, surrounded by his pupils, Johanan received the terrible news that the Temple was burned to ashes. They tore their garments, wept, and made lamentation as for the dead (Ab. R. N. iv.). But the aged master in the catastrophe which had befallen the Jewish people kept his vigor unimpaired. He converted the school at Jabneh into a center for Judaism in Palestine. The college, of which he was president, exercised the functions of the great law court (Sanhedrin) of Jerusalem, and by this institution of an authorized board the continuity of spiritual leadership was maintained uninterrupted. Johanan saw to it that Jabneh took the place of Jerusalem as the Jewish religious center. He ordained that certain privileges peculiar to Jerusalem and the sanctuary should be transferred to Jabneh (R. H. iv. 1, 3). Other regulations of his dealt with the determination of the exact time when the new month begins—a matter then very important—and with the acceptance of the testimony on which such determination is based (ib. iv. 41; Baraita, R. H. 21b). His order that, as had been customary in the Temple, the trumpets should sound in Jabneh on New-Year's Day even when it fell on the Sabbath, was opposed, but unsuccessfully, by some of the members of the council (Baraita, R. H. 29b)."