Memories of Akiba and Bar Yochai this past week during Lag B’omer set me to thinking about the greatest in Jewish history. Here’s my top 10 in terms of enduring legacy (up to the 19th century). I’m not sure if any since then would crack the list; it may be too soon to tell
1. Hillel: Beloved sage, compassionate spirit and legal innovator.
2. Ben Zakkai: Revered sage and establishment of Yavneh key to post-destruction survival.
3. Akiba: Brilliant mind, compelling life story, and martyr.
4. Sa’adia Gaon: First great philosophic mind of medieval period
5. Maimonides: “From Moses to Moses, none like Moses.”
6. Nachmanides: Great debater, commentator, and defender of the faith.
7. Rashi: Prince among the commentators.
8. Joseph Karo: His code, Shulchan Aruch, second only to Maimonides Mishneh Torah.
9. Isaac Luria: First among equals in Safed Kabbalistic circles.
10. Ba’al Shem Tov: Founder of the Chasidic movement and anti-establishment leader.