Question: Who and what are the Jewish sages?
Answer: When we speak of our “Sages” we are referring to the great rabbis of previous generations. These rabbis were not like the rabbis of today. Today we have to struggle to understand the most simple of concepts. To the sages, the Torah was constantly on the forefront of their minds. They saw a piece of text, not as an isolated piece, but as a part of a bigger picture.
Throughout Jewish history there have been a number of rabbis who fall under the category of “sage.” They lived in times when mystical learning was part and parcel with understanding the basics of Jewish philosophy. In other words, the sages were not your normal, everyday rabbis of old. They were the rabbis who truly understood our oral and written traditions. They had a pure tradition and could see things about Judaism that others could not.
When asking about who they were specifically, we call them “Chazal.” This is an acronym for “Chachamim Zichronam Levracham.” This means, “Rabbis of blessed memory.” If you want a sample then Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi, the codifier of the Mishna is a great example, as well as Rabbi Akiva, whom you may have heard of.
Rabbi Gershon Litt