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Who were the "Anshei Knesset Hagedolah"; "Men of the Great Assembly"?

by Rabbi Yossi Marcus

  

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They were a group of 120 sages, amongst them several prophets, headed by Ezra the Scribe. Among the more prominent among them were: Mordechai of the Purim story, and Daniel, as in Daniel in the lion’s den. (Others included Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, Zerubavel, Nehemiah son of Chachalayah, Chananiah, Mishael and Azaryah.) Shimon Hatzadik was the last of the Great Assembly.

Ezra established this Great Assembly in Israel shortly after the beginning of the Second Jewish Commonwealth (which began with the completion of the Second Temple in 349 BCE).

They instituted such many basic Jewish practices as the recitation of Kiddush on the Sabbath, Havdalah after the Sabbath, prayer three times a day, the Amidah prayer, and recitation of blessings before eating.

It is said that this “assembly” lasted about 200 years but their structuring of Jewish life is still intact to this very day.


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Purim
A one-day holiday celebrated in late winter commemorating the miraculous deliverance of the Jewish people from a decree of annihilation issued by Persian King Ahasuerus in the year 356 BCE.
Kiddush
Prayer recited at the beginning of the Sabbath or Holiday meal--both the evening and afternoon meals. This prayer, acknowledging the sanctity of the day, is recited over a cup of wine or grape juice.
Mordechai
Cousin of Queen Esther, and Jewish leader in the 4th century BCE. Played a large role in saving the Jews after Haman, the Persian prime minister, plotted to exterminate them all. The holiday of Purim was established to commemorate this miracle.
Amidah
Highlight of every prayer, recited silently while standing. Weekday Amidah consists of nineteen blessings, Sabbath and holiday Amidah contains seven blessings.
Daniel
1. A Jerusalemite exiled in Babylon after the destruction of the 1st Temple. He interprets dreams, gives accounts of apocalyptic visions, and is divinely delivered from a den of lions. 2. One of the 24 Books of the Bible, which describes the events of Daniel's life.
Ezra
1. A Hebrew priest and scribe, who, together with Nehemiah, revived Judaism in the 4th century BCE. He was instrumental in the building of the 2nd Temple. 2. One of the 24 books of the Bible, which describes the events of Ezra's lifetime.
Nehemiah
1. A Jewish leader who lived in the 4th century BCE. He, together with Ezra, supervised the rebuilding of the Jerusalem city walls and the 2nd Temple, and instituted religious reforms in the city. 2. Commonly accepted to be one of the books of the Bible. In Jewish tradition, however, the "Book of Nehemiah" is actually considered part of the Book of Ezra.
Havdalah
Prayer signifying the end of the Sabbath or Jewish holiday. This "separation" prayer is recited after nightfall over a cup of wine.
Temple
1. Usually a reference to the Holy Temple which was/will be situated in Jerusalem. 1st Temple was built in 825 BCE and was destroyed in 423 BCE. The 2nd Temple was built in 350 BCE and was destroyed in 70 CE. The 3rd Temple will be built by the Messiah. 2. A synagogue.