Men of the Great Assembly: How a Group of Great Visionaries Built a Thriving Judaism out of the Ashes of a Broken Nation

It is probably impossible for us to truly recognize the enormity of the existential challenges confronting the Jewish people during the beginning of the Second Commonwealth, circa 350 BCE. The nation was still reeling from the trauma of the destruction of the first Temple and the subsequent exile 70 years prior and had just narrowly avoided Haman’s genocidal ambitions. The people’s physical status was unstable at best, but several factors combined to create a spiritual crisis that threatened to completely derail the Jewish religion entirely and to doom the critical mission of Tikkun Olam entrusted to the Jewish people by the Almighty eons earlier. During this period of time spanning more than 400 years many of the basic institutions of normative Judaism will either disappear entirely or remain but as mere shells of their former glory. The Temple was indeed being rebuilt in Jerusalem, but it was to be besieged by corruption, devoid of the ever present miracles that graced the First Temple and even lacking some of the sacred vessels such as the Ark of the Covenant. A Jewish reality was emerging wherein the majority of Jews will no longer be living in Israel; the masses choosing to remain in Babylon. The Second Temple period was to see only illegitimate kings; the Davidic monarchy only controlling the spiritual, not the political, leadership mantle of the people. This era also coincided with the end of prophecy. Judaism thenceforth was relegated to being a non prophet organization. This loss of a direct divine channel opened the door for massive mutiny, internal infighting and schismatic sectarianism, and placed the accurate transmission of the Oral Torah in jeopardy. An assembly of 120 Sages under the leadership of Ezra was convened to ensure the survival of Judaism, and the remarkable foresight and impact of these personalities and their decisions paved the way for the vibrant and flourishing Judaism that we still have today.