Revach L'Neshama RSS feed for - Section: MOADIM Category:STORY OF THE CHURBAN Copyright 2007, Revach L'Neshama en-US Revach L'Neshama Logo 144 31 Wed, 01 Dec 2021 03:00:00 +0000 240 Part 18: Bar Kochba - The Final Blow

Roman rule continued over Judea, and the Jews suffered from the abuses of the successive Roman Emperors. The abuse became intolerant under Hadrian, despite the fact that he began his reign by treating the Jews like proper Roman citizens, and even granted the Jews permission to rebuild the Bais Hamikdash. This tranquility did not last for long. Hadrian eventually rescinded his offer to rebuild the Bais Hamikdash, and began forbidding the Jews to follows the laws of the Torah. He outlawed the practice of Bris Mila, Shemiras Shabbos, and Taharas Hamishpacha. Anyone caught violating the law was executed. In time, Hadrian ordered that a pagan temple be built on Har Habayis. This decree was beyond the Jews' tolerance; the seeds of a revolt against Rome had been planted.

It was during these turbulent times that Bar Kosiba arrived on the scene, and began an organized revolt against the Romans. Rabbi Akiva witnessed the unbelievable and almost supernatural military prowess of Bar Kosiba, and was convinced he was Moshiach. He dubbed him Bar Kochba, which was a reference to the possuk, "A star has risen in Yaakov." (Bamidbar 24:17). Most of the Sages of the time agreed with him, and thousands of Jews joined his army. The few Sages that were wary of his authenticity deemed him Bar Kosiba, the son of deceit. Within a year, Bar Kochba had reconquered nine hundred and eighty-five cities. Eventually, Hadrian was forced to send a Roman general, Julius Severus, to reconquer Judea.

Severus and his troops began reconquering Judea city by city. After more than fifty battles which lasted several years, Severus succeeded in subduing Judea. All the cities of Judea had been recaptured except for Beitar, where Bar Kochba was now barricaded with his men. Beitar was southwest of Yerushalayim, near the Mediterranean Sea. It was a well-populated city filled with the sounds of Torah study. Hundreds of batei midrash were filled with thousands of students. The city was difficult to conquer due to its natural layout; it was bordered on three sides by deep valleys. It also had its own wellspring of water, and was surrounded by a sturdy wall.

The Romans besieged Beitar for three years before they finally conquered it. The conquest of Beitar was an inconceivable tragedy; it was equivalent to the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash. (Mishnah Taanis 4:6) The sheer number of victims was mind-boggling; the number was more than the number of victims during the Roman conquest of Yerushalayim. Tens of thousands of children were burned alive, swathed in their scrolls. The blood of the victims flowed in violent streams, horses almost drowned in the red torrents, and huge rocks were lifted up as the pools of blood streamed into the sea.

Seven years later, the nearby vineyards were still fertilized with the blood of the dead. Hadrian had ordered that the bodies could not be buried. Hadrian took the bodies of the victims and used them to make a wall around his vineyard which was eighteen miles square. The height of the wall was the height that a man could reach with his hands raised above his head. Hashem performed a miracle and the bodies did not decompose for years, when they were finally allowed to be buried.
Judea was now fully under Roman control. On Tisha B'av, Yerushalayim was plowed over until it was completely destroyed. The Romans rebuilt Yerushalayim as a Roman city and changed its name to Aelia Capitolina. A pagan temple was constructed on Har Habayis honoring the Roman god Jupiter Capitolina.

"May we be zocheh to the final geulah speedily in our days."

"May You return to Yerushalayim, Your city, and may You dwell in it like You said, and may You rebuild it speedily in our days as an everlasting edifice, and may You speedily establish the throne of Your servant Dovid there."

Tue, 20 Jul 2010 03:00:00 +0000
Part 17: Masada - The First Post Churban Revolt

During the Roman conquest of Yerushalayim, a group of Zealots successfully escaped from the massacre in Yerushalayim. They ran to the Judean desert and took refuge in Masada, which overlooks Yam Hamelech. When Titus left Judea, he left one legion behind headed by Flavius Silva, and directed him to eliminate any remaining fighters.

Masada was a fortress which was built by Herod one hundred years earlier and was situated on an enormous rock, which was fourteen-hundred-feet high. Cavernous valleys and slopes encircled the rock, and a twenty -five foot high wall protected it. The wall was four-thousand-two hundred feet long, and embedded into it were thirty-seven seventy foot towers. Masada contained palaces, bathhouse, and hundreds of storage rooms. It also contained all the amenities of Jewish life, including Sifrei Torah, Tanach, mikvaos, and a shul. The Zealots and their families, which included nine hundred and sixty seven people, stayed in this well- provided fortress. This was the remnant of the Zealots, who numbered twenty-three thousand men before the Romans conquered Yerushalayim. A Zealot named Elazar ben Yair was the leader of the group.

The Romans lay siege to Masada for years without success. The group had an ample supply of water and food, some of which had been plundered from starving Jewish families before the Roman conquest. Ein Gedi, a nearby Jewish town was devastated by the Zealots, who plundered its spoils to add to their supplies.

Silva, however, had abundant manpower on his side, including ten thousand troops from the Tenth Legion, and thousands of Jewish slaves from Yerushalayim. Eventually, the Romans, out of a lack of a better alternative, decided to build a siege wall around the mountain. They built a three-hundred foot high ramp on the western side of the mountain. They then paved a road on top of the ramp, and placed their war machines on top. They were now in a position to breach the wall.

Inside the fortress, the Jews made a desperate decision; they would not fall alive into the hands of the Romans. Elazar ben Yair encouraged the group to commit mass suicide. In his parting words, Elazer ben Yair admitted the Zealots' guilt in harming their fellow Jews, and conceded that Hashem was punishing them for their sins. Each head of a household was instructed to kill his family. The men then drew lots to kill each other. When the Romans finally breached the fortress, they were met with a chilling site. Hundreds of Jews, men, women, and children lay dead. Two elderly women and five children had escaped death by secreting themselves in a cave, and they were the only survivors. The fall of Masada, which was the end of the First Revolt against Rome, took place on the first day of Pesach, in the third year of the fall of Yerushalayim.

Mon, 19 Jul 2010 03:00:00 +0000
Part 16: Am Yisroel Chai!

"Give me Yavneh and its Sages!" Nearly 2,000 years have passed since Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai stood before the Roman emperor and asked of him, not the preservation of the state, because it was no longer a state of the Torah, and not the preservation of the Bais Hamikdash, because Herod's name was associated with it - but the preservation of the Oral Law of the Torah, which depended on Yavneh and its Sages. He knew that if there was the Oral law of the Torah, there would be a people of the Torah; and if there was a people of the Torah, there would be a land of the Torah; and in the future - a state of the Torah. With "Yavneh" and its Sages, he saved everything.

Now this emperor, his people, his empire - Rome, the world power: where are they now? But the people of the Torah, the people of Yavneh and its Sages are alive and vigorous, every day awaiting the coming of the righteous Mashiach and the establishment of the state of the Torah in the land of the Torah. The towering personality of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai is likewise kept vigorously alive in the hearts of the people of the Torah, and every new generation learns to love and revere him, just as they do "Moshe and Aharon among His Kohanim, and Shmuel among those who call upon His name..." (Psalms 99:6)" (Iyunim by R' Eliyahu Dessler)

Ironically, it was Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai, the greatest sage of the time, who was able to envision a future without the Bais Hamikdash and under foreign rule. The Zealots and others who refused to heed the wisdom of the Sages were the ones that refused to live under Roman rule, with tragic consequences. Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai understood that the Roman conquest was inevitable, but he did not give in to despair. He realized that the Jews could survive under foreign domination, they could survive without the Bais Hamikdash, and they could even survive in foreign lands. However, Klal Yisrael cannot survive without the Torah, and therefore Torah had to be preserved at all cost. He and his students moved from Yerushalayim before its destruction, and settled in Yavneh.

Yavneh became the new spiritual hub of the Jews, and insured their survival. Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai became the spiritual leader of the Jews in Eretz Yisrael, and all around the world. In Yavneh, he established a yeshiva, schools and shuls. New shuls were vital as davening replaced the korbanos in the Bais Hamikdash. Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai also reestablished the Sanhedrin, which was essential for the proper observation of the Torah. The Sanhedrin determined the date of each new month, and the time of each leap year.

The foresight of Rav Yochanan ben Zakkai when he pleaded with Vespasian to grant him Yavneh, saved the nation from losing the light of Torah along with the loss of the Bais Hamikdash. Sadly, Rav Yochanan ben Zakkai remained in doubt the rest of his life over his decision to avoid requesting that Yerushalayim and the Bais Hamikdash be spared, a request that he was certain would be denied. On his deathbed, he cried as he said, "I don't know in which direction I will be taken." The remaining Sages had no doubt; they aptly called him, "the Light of Israel." (Berachos 28b).

Sun, 18 Jul 2010 03:00:00 +0000
Part 15: The Tragedy Continues - Asara Harugei Malchus

On the 25th of Sivan, Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel, the Prince, and Rabbi Yishmael ben Elisha, the former Kohen Gadol, two of the ten great sages killed by the Romans, were captured. They were killed on the day the Bais Hamikdash was destroyed.

When Rabbi Shimon and Rabbi Yishmael were imprisoned, Rabbi Yishmael began to cry bitterly. Rabbi Shimon said to him, "Soon you will reside among the tzaddikim in the next word. Why are you crying?"

"I'm not crying because of my imminent death, said Rabbi Yishmael, "but because I'm being led to execution like a criminal. What did we do to deserve this? Maybe we weren't careful in taking care of the poor? Did we think only of ourselves instead of the widows and orphans?"

When they were taken to the executioner, both of them begged to be killed first. "Let me be killed first so I should not have to see the death of my colleague." The executioner drew lots, and it fell on Rabbi Shimon. The executioner took his sword and cut off the head of Rabbi Shimon. Rabbi Yishmael bent down and lifted the head of Rabbi Shimon, placing his eyes against Rabbi Shimon's eyes, and his mouth against R' Shimon's mouth. "Holy lips! Lips that never spoke anything but the mysteries of the Torah now lick the dust!" He wept, and the sound of his weeping reached the heavens.

The princess heard the crying and ran to see what was happening. She saw Rabbi Yishamel and was astounded; she had never seen such a handsome man. She ran to her father and begged him to save Rabbi Yishmael so she could save him for herself. Titus refused to allow him to remain alive, but he granted his daughter the skin of Rabbi Yishmael's face. He ordered that Rabbi Yishmael be skinned alive. When the executioner reached the place on his head where his tefillin had rested, Rabbi Yishmael screamed. "For my life, I do not cry, but for my tefillin, I cry." After they had skinned him, they cut off his head. His skin was preserved in basalm, and Titus' daughter placed it in a glass jar by her bed.

When Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Yehudah ben Bava heard about the death of Rabbi Shimon and Rabbi Yishmael, they tore their clothes, and donned sackcloth. They said, "If there was any good in the world, it was due to the merit of Rabbi Shimon and Rabbi Yishmael. Much misfortune must be coming to the world. Hashem took these two chachamim so they won't have to suffer the future travails."

Fri, 16 Jul 2010 03:00:00 +0000
Part 14: Titus Vs. The Gnat - Just Desserts

When Titus had traveled back to Rome on a ship with the keilim of the Bais Hamikdash and Jewish captives, a fierce storm began, and the ship was in danger of capsizing. Titus said, "It seems that the Jewish God only has power in the sea. He drowned Pharoah in the sea and Sisra as well. Now He wishes to drown me in the sea, too. If He wants to show His strength, let Him come up on dry land and fight with me there."

A heavenly voice said, "Brute, son of a brute. I have a tiny creature, a gnat. Go up on dry land and fight against the gnat."

When Titus alit from the ship, a gnat flew into his nose, and gnawed at his brain. He suffered from it for seven years. One day, as he was walking on the street, the banging from a blacksmith's shop calmed down the gnat. Titus was relieved that he had found the answer for his pain. Every day, a blacksmith was brought to hammer in his presence, and calm down the gnat. The gentile blacksmiths were reimbursed for their time, unlike the Jewish blacksmiths. Titus, said, "For the Jew it is enough that he sees the revenge against his enemy." Sadly for Titus, the gnat soon adjusted to the noise of the hammering, and continued to attack his brain despite the noise. Chazal say that when Titus died, a gnat the size of a large dove was found inside his brain.

Titus, who died suddenly at the age of forty, had given orders before he died that his body should be burned, and his ashes scattered over the seven seas. He reasoned that this would prevent the Jewish God from finding him and punishing him for afflicting His nation. Titus caused a desecration of Hashem's name when he destroyed the Bais Hamikdash, and exiled the Jews. People said, "The God of this nation had wrought many miracles. He took them out of Egypt and drowned Pharaoh and his armies in the sea. He did the same to Sisra." When the nations heard about the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash, and the exile of the Jews, they came to the conclusion that Hashem must have been powerless to save the Jews this time.

Titus, and the Roman nation have long since faded into oblivion. The powerful Romanempire was ultimately obliterated by a primitive nation. The Jewish people, who were oppressed, murdered, and scattered to the four corners of the world, live on until this day.

Thu, 15 Jul 2010 03:00:00 +0000
Part 13: Celebration, Roman Style

The Romans were eager to celebrate their victory over Israel in the only way they knew how- with ruthless cruelty and violence.  Titus first traveled to the Middle Eastern cities, where thousands of Jewish captives were tortured and murdered, all in the name of celebration.  In the year 71 C.E., Titus sailed to Rome.  The emperor Vespaisan, Titus' father, came out to greet him, accompanied by the Roman masses.

The young and handsome captives were forced to march down the streets of Rome, while carrying the golden keilim of the Bais Hamikdash.  Titus ordered a huge arch to be constructed which depicted his victory over Israel.  The Arch of Titus, which can still be seen today, has images of the Jewish captives in chains, carrying the Menorah.  The celebration culminated at the temple where the Romans paid homage to their idol.

The Romans also minted a special coin in honor of their victory.  One side of the coin showed an image of Emperor Vespasian's head, and the other side showed a woman in chains crying under a palm tree, guarded by a Roman soldier.  "Judea Capta" (Judea is captured) was inscribed on the coin.

The Keilim of the Bais Hamikdash were placed in the Temple of Jupiter in Rome until 455 C.E.  In that year, the Vandals conquered the city, looted all of its riches, and hauled them to their capital, Carthage, North Africa.  The location of the keilim today is unknown. 

The Roman emperor, Vespasian, died nine years after Yerushalayim was conquered, in 79 C.E.  His son, Titus, succeeded him.  Titus ruled Rome for only two-and-half years.  In that short amount of time, Rome was plagued with three tragedies, the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, a widespread fire in Rome, and an outbreak of the bubonic plague. Titus utilized the Roman treasuries to rehabilitate the nation after these tragedies.

Some said that Titus was repentant over the destruction of Yerushalayim and the Bais Hamikdash.  While Titus was the Emperor, Rabban Gamliel, who had become the leader of the Jews after the death of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai, traveled together with Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua to Rome.  They pleaded with him to alleviate the abuse of the Roman governors in Judea.

In Rome, the Sages saw the exiled Jewish children playing in the streets. The children were playing with piles of dirt, pretending they were piles of grain.  "This much must be set aside for the terumah tithe, and this much must be set aside for the maser tithe," (Yerushalmi Sanhedrin 7:13).    

Wed, 14 Jul 2010 03:00:00 +0000
Part 12: Life Under Titus

Titus ordered that that all the surviving warriors and anyone connected to the Zealots should be killed. Anyone vulnerable, such as the elderly and ailing, were also killed. The remaining young survivors were divided into groups. Anyone over seventeen were sent as slaves to the copper mines of Egypt. Those under seventeen were sold as slaves. Many were sent to Greek cities to become living entertainment for the masses at the circus, where they were forced to fend off gladiators and wild animals. The Romans then chose 700 of the tallest, fittest, and attractive Jewish youths. This group would be marched to Rome to take place in Titus' victory parade.

While these selections were taking place, 11,000 more Jews died from starvation. Altogether, 1,100,000 Jews died from the sword or from hunger, and 97,000 were taken captive. Thousands of captives were taken to Rome and other cities to be sold as slaves.

The life of a Jews was worse than worthless. Titus announced, "Whoever does not kill a Jew shall be killed." As time went on, Titus declared, "Whoever kills a Jews must pay a fine of forty zuz." Eventually, Titus announced, "Whoever kills a Jew will be killed.

All the Jews in the Roman Empire were taxed. This was the Fiscus Jusaici (the Jew tax); it was fifteen shekels every year. Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai sadly said, "Those who did not wish to pay the tax to the treasury of the Bais Hamikdash will now pay the tax to their enemy. Those who refused to give the half-shekel are now forced to pay fifteen shekel. Those who did not repair the streets and the roads for the olai regal are forced to make repairs for the attendants of the emperor." (Mechilta Shemos 19:1).

The captive were aware that many of them would be forced into a life of immorality. Many chose to die rather than sully their neshamos. The Gemara relates a story about this.

Four hundred boys and girls were taken captive for a life of shame. When they realized what was in store for them, they asked, "If we drown in the sea, do we have a share in Techiyas Hameisim? The oldest among them answered: "It is written, ‘Hashem said, I will bring back from the depths of the sea' (Tehillim 68:23). ‘I will bring back from Bashan' -this means from the teeth of the lion; ‘from the depths of the sea' - this speaks of those who drown in the sea." As soon as the girls heard this, they leaped into the sea. The boys reasoned that if the girls gave up their lives to avoid immorality, they should give up their lives to avoid unnatural immorality, and they too leaped into the sea. Concerning such as these, Scripture (Tehillim 44:3) says; "For your sake we are killed all day, we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter" (Gittin 57b).

Tue, 13 Jul 2010 03:00:00 +0000
Part 11: The Lost Battle Continues

The Bais Hamikdash was burning, but the Upper City was still occupied by Shimon Bar Giora and his men. Yochanan of Gush Chalav, and his men, who had been defeated in the Lower City, escaped from the Romans through a tunnel on Har Habayis, and joined the fighters in the upper city. However, with the loss of the Bais Hamikdash, the warriors had little motivation to continue warding off the Romans. They agreed to surrender if they would be allowed to leave the city unharmed, but Titus would not agree to their conditions. He was aghast that the Zealots would even try to negotiate with the victorious Romans. The warriors wanted to avoid cost falling into the hands of the Romans at all cost, and they continued defending themselves.

The Romans prepared to assault the upper city. First, however, they finished razing the Lower City. They set fire to the city archives building, the town council, the mansions, the old Herodian Palace which stood next to the Tower of Dovid, and every house, many of which were filled with bodies of Jews who had perished from starvation. They did not take any captives because all survivors had escaped to the Upper City. The survivors who were too weak to run to the Upper City were slaughtered and fed to the Romans' dogs.

The Upper City had not yet been breached, and the Romans had to once again build ramps and towers in order to position their war machines. On the seventh day of Elul, the Romans began to batter the walls with their battering rams. In a few days, they successfully breached the walls, and occupied the city. The Romans hung their flags on the three towers of the Fortress of Dovid, and celebrated their victory. They murdered all the Jews they encountered, or took them as captives. When the Romans searched the houses for booty, they instead found countless dead bodies. The 480 beautiful shuls in Yerushalayim were razed.

Many of the Zealots escaped to subterranean caves and tunnels, but this only prolonged the inevitable. The Roman soldiers eventually tore up the streets and found the tunnels. Within the tunnels were two thousand dead bodes. Some had succumbed to hunger, others had committed suicide, and some were eventually captured by the Romans. Yochanan of Gush Chalav and Shimon bar Giora were both captured alive. They were shackled in chains, brought to Rome, and were forced to marched in Titus' victory parade. Shortly later, Shimon was executed, and Yochanan spent the rest of his life in a Roman prison.

Mon, 12 Jul 2010 03:00:00 +0000
Part 10: The Soul Of the Nation Is Destroyed As The Bais HaMikdash Goes Up In Flames

In the morning of the ninth of Av, the Sanctuary still stood, although the adjacent walls had been burned.  The starved and fatigued Jewish warriors, who were far outnumbered by the Romans, continued to drive off the Romans.  However, the time of reckoning had come.  Hashem removed His protection from the holiest spot on earth, leaving it vulnerable to the Romans.

 The Romans had set fire to the gates of the Bais Hamikdash, which had been tightly sealed by the Zealots.  The silver covering the gates melted, and the wood burned.  When the gates had been obliterated, the path to the Kodesh Kodeshim was revealed.  The next day, the Romans ignited the golden gate of the Kodesh Kodeshim itself.  The gate melted and caved in, and the Kodesh Kodeshim was revealed.  This happened on Tisha B'Av, the same day the Bavlim violated the Kodesh Kodeshim of the first Bais Hamikdash, four hundred and ninety years earlier. 

The Jews frantically tried to prevent the fire from spreading, unsuccessfully.  A great cry arose as the Jews saw their beloved Bais Hamikdash go up in flames.  Some Jews could not bear the thought of life without it, and threw themselves into the flames.

The Romans ran to the site, and ruthlessly ransacked whatever they could.  Every Jew in the vicinity was murdered in cold blood including women and children.    There were so many Jews killed that the floor of the Bais Hamikdash was completely hidden by the bodies.  The sounds of screaming and moaning filled the air, mingling with the sound of crashing as the walls of the Bais Hamikdash caved in to the ground.  Blood streamed across the floor of the Bais Hamikdash down the eastern steps.  The famished Jews of the Upper City were witness to the horrible sounds and sights taking place in the Lower City.

The Romans placed their idol in the Bais Hamikdash, and brought sacrifices to it.  They sang, and celebrated their victory.  They plundered the golden keilim of the Bais Hamikdash. 

That evening, Titus celebrated his victory by bringing a harlot into the Kodesh Kodeshim.  He spread a Torah on the floor and violated it.  He then took a sword and cut the curtain, which miraculously, began oozing blood.  Titus then shouted, "I have killed the Lord of Israel."  In truth, the blood was a sign of Hashem's pain over the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash.

Sun, 11 Jul 2010 03:00:00 +0000
Part 9: Misread Omens

On the morning of the ninth of Av, a false prophet told the people that they should gather in the Bais Hamikdash because Hashem was going to save them. Many people believed him and gathered in the inner courtyard of the Bais Hamikdash. These people were mercilessly slaughtered by the Romans, a result of believing a false prophet and ignoring the portentous miracles that had appeared in Yerushalayim in recent years.

One year before Vespasian marched to Yerushalayim, a star appeared over the Bais Hamikdash in the shape of a man holding a sword. This star remained above Yerushalayim for a full year. The Sages told the people that this was an evil omen, but the false prophets claimed that it meant that Hashem would vanquish our enemies.

During Pesach that year, a cow that was about to be slaughtered for a korban gave birth to a sheep. The false prophets claimed that this too was a good sign, that supernatural events will save the nation. The Sages pointed out that a lamb is not better than a cow, and this was not a good omen.

During the same Pesach, the huge bronze doors of the eastern gate, which normally could only be opened by twenty men, opened on their own. Again, the Sages explained that this was not a good sign, and their detractors claimed otherwise.

After Pesach that year, images of moving war chariots appeared over the city. During Succos that year, a ghastly voice was heard saying, "We must escape from the Bais Hamikdash."

Four years before these signs occurred, a Jew named Yehoshua ben Chanan had come up to the Bais Hamikdash during Sukkos. Suddenly, he had screamed, "A voice from the east, a voice from the west, a voice from the four directions, a voice against Yerushalayim and her Bais Hamikdash. A voice against the kallah, a voice against the chasan, a voice against the assembled. Woe, woe to Yerushalayim."

This man wandered the streets of Yerushalyaim speaking in a strange voice. He incessantly repeated, "Woe, woe to Yerushalayim." People would become angered by him, and even beat him, but he continued to repeat the same words. People were sure that he was possessed and he was even dragged before the Roman governor. He was tortured to drive out the evil spirit in him, and he didn't even react. When he was asked his name, he said, "Woe, woe to Yerushalayim." Eventually, they released him on grounds of insanity, and he continued wandering the streets. Every Yom Tov, when the Jews would be oleh laregel, they would hear him repeat these words. He continued for seven years and five months. A catapulted Roman stone eventually killed him. As he died, he said, "Woe, woe to Yerushalayim. And now, woe to me."

During that time, an ancient rock was found with an inscription. It said, "When the building of the Bais Hamikdash is complete and it is perfectly square, then it will be destroyed." When the Antonia Fortress was razed by the Romans, the Bais Hamikdash had been damaged. When the Jews had finished repairing it, the Bais Hamikdash formed an exact square, but the Jews did not remember the writing on the rock. Writing had also appeared on the wall of the Kodesh Kodeshim. It read "When the building is square, then a king will rule over Israel. He will rule and dominate the entire world."

Fri, 09 Jul 2010 03:00:00 +0000
Part 8: Romans Enter Yerushalayim, Head For Bais HaMikdash

By the end of Tammuz, the Romans had breached the walls of the Antonia Fortress and occupied it. There was now a clear path to Har Habayis. The warriors who were still able to fight retreated behind the high walls of the Bais Hamikdash. The Romans' next step was conquering Har HaBayis. Yochanan and his follows fought off the Romans valiantly until the Romans were forced to withdraw into Antonia. The Romans then breached one of the walls surrounding the inner courtyard of the Bais Hamikdash, the Azara. The Romans attacked the Jews with swords, and the Jews fought back, in the worst battle ever waged inside Yerushalayim. The Romans and Jews were crowded together in a close area with no place to escape; their dead bodies fell on top of each other. From the morning until the night, the Azara was filled with blood, which flowed like a stream. Most of the dead were Romans; the Jews had won the upper hand during this battle. The surviving Jews stripped the Roman corpses of their weapons.

Titus was slowly realizing that conquering the Bais Hamikdash was going to be a long protracted struggle. The Romans had lost tens of thousands of soldiers, and were still not close to conquering the city. They almost gave up all hope, saying, "We won't win against this city even if we fight to our death. Let's end this war now and leave the city before it becomes the place of our death." Titus, however, was not ready to give up and ordered his soldiers to destroy the Antonia Fortress, which provided them with a wide area to attack the Bais Hamikdash.

Throughout the Roman siege and assaults, the avodah in the Bais Hamikdash had continued without cease. The Kohanim continued bringing korbanos even as warfare took place in the courts of the Sanctuary. On the seventeeth of Tammuz, no lamb could be found for the Korban Tamid, and the korbanos ceased. In addition, the kohanim had joined the warfare, and no kohanim remained without a mum. The Jews mourned the cessation of korbanos and saw it as an ominous sign.

Titus became aware of the Jews' inability to continue bringing korbanos and of the effect the famine was having inside the city. He decided to try to make peace. He sent his spokesman, Josephus, to persuade the Jews to surrender. The Jewish warriors turned deaf ears to his words and ejected him from their presence. They continued to believe until the very end that Hashem would ultimately save them.

Thu, 08 Jul 2010 03:00:00 +0000
Part 7: "Raise Your Hands To Heaven For The Lives Of The Children Starving On Every Street Corner" Eicha 2:19

The roofs were filled with women and small children expiring from hunger, and the corpses of old men were piled in the streets. Youths swollen with hunger wandered like shadows in the market place until they collapsed. No one mourned the dead, because hunger had deadened all feeling. Those who fell to the ground turned their eyes for the last time to the Bais Hamikdash and beheld the defenders still fighting and holding out (Yosephus: The Jewish Wars, 5:10).

Hunger was ravaging the city. Thousands of people died. Those that still clung to life fought each other over everything edible and even non-edible, such as straw, rodents and insects. When a dead horse or another dead animal was discovered, people would die fighting over it because there was no other source of sustenance.

Dire hunger eliminated all sense of shame. Husbands would snatch food from their wives, and mothers from their children. In an unbelievable act of horror, a mother even slaughtered, cooked and ate her beloved only son, fulfilling the possuk in the Torah: "And you will eat the flesh of your sons, and the flesh of your daughters you will eat" (Vayikra 26:29).

As the siege continued, young and old people wandered around the streets in a stupor. Starved men and women searched through sewers and dunghills for food. Carcasses were strewn on the streets - of humans and animals. Eventually the streets were so full of dead bodies that it was impossible to walk down the street without stepping on them. Houses were full of dead bodies. Jews actually dug their own graves and laid down in them until they succumbed. No one was left to tend to the dead or to cry over them. All emotions, including sorrow, had disappeared in the face of the terrible hunger.

The Zealots ruthlessly murdered anyone caught trying to smuggle out of the city walls to forage for food on the assumption that they would surrender to the Romans. The Zealots would also murder anyone who was found with a private supply of food. They would even torture people to reveal where their food was hidden, and then snatch the food for themselves. They were not even motivated by hunger since they originally had their own supply of food- they simply wanted to increase their own supplies. Eventually, however, their supplies became depleted and they too succumbed to hunger. Ultimately, Yerushalayim fell because of the famine that the Zealots inflicted on their own people and ultimately, on themselves. The famine was what caused the defeat of the city and of the Jews.

The desperate Jews that did manage to traverse the city walls to forage for grass and herbs were rounded up by the Romans. The Romans flogged them, tortured them, and crucified them before the walls of the city. Five hundred Jews were crucified every day.

The Zealots forced the families of the crucified Jews to ascend the city walls to witness the fate of those who surrendered. Some Jews were so desperate that they jumped over the walls anyway, preferring to risk crucifixion than a slow agonizing death from hunger.

Wed, 07 Jul 2010 03:00:00 +0000
Part 6: Weakened By Starvation

In order to conquer the Old City, Titus and his troops would first have to conquer the Antonia Fortress, a fortress which protected the Old City on its north. He ordered his troops to build a huge rampart close to the wall. He would then position his war machines on it and attack. However, his plan was preempted by Yochanan and his men. They dug a tunnel underneath the camp and filled it with wood and tar. They then ignited it, and the tunnel collapsed, causing the rampart to collapse as well. The Roman catapults and battering rams were destroyed by the resulting fire.

Titus realized that it would not be easy to defeat the Jews through warfare. He decided that instead he would conquer them through starvation. He ordered his soldiers to build a stone fence around the city and seal all its exits. The exits were guarded day and night. The famine grew worse throughout the city but the Jewish warriors fought on.

Meanwhile, the Romans cut down all the trees around Yerushalayim to build new rampart for the assault against Antonia Fortress. The mountains surrounding Yerushalayim became barren and desolate. The Romans cut down all the foliage around Yerushalayim for thirteen miles. The orchards, gardens and fruit trees that had graced Yerushalayim with their beauty were gone.

The Romans dragged the battering rams up the ramps they had built against the walls. The Jewish warriors had become weakened by hunger and were unable to effectively resist the assault. Originally, the Zealots were not affected by hunger because they had built up their supplies by snatching food from others. Eventually however, they ran out of supplies and became desperately hungry. They ate their horses, and when their supply ran out, they ate the horses' dung. They ate their leather saddles and their weapons and then desperately searched for grass and foliage without success.

The Jews on top of the walls were able to see the Romans eating in their camp. The smell of the roasting food was torturous for them. Some of the warriors were so hungry that they surrendered to the Romans. A few Romans could not bear the sight of their swollen bodies and gave them food, but their wasted bodies could not digest real food and their stomachs burst.

Jewish leaders of the time calculated that 601,575 dead Jews had been brought through the gates of Yerushalayim. This did not include the countless dead bodies left unburied in houses and streets, victims of starvation or violence. This also did not include the dead bodies in the Bais Hamikdash and the suburbs of Yerushalayim. The dead bodies lying on the streets included important leaders of the Jews who the terrorists prevented from being buried.

Tue, 06 Jul 2010 03:00:00 +0000
Part 5: The Roman Attack Creates Unity Among the Jews After The Pesach Bloodbath

Titus, the newly appointed commander of the siege against Yerushalayim marched to Yerushalayim with an army of 80,000 soldiers.  The Roman army was within the sight of the city, but inside the city the various factions continued to contend with each other.  The Tzadokim, headed by Shimon bar Giora, controlled the Lower City, and the Zealots controlled Har Habayis.  Within the group of Zealots, there was yet another faction led by Elazar ben Shimon.  This was a faction of moderates who opposed the extreme Zealots led by Yochanan of Gush Chalav.  The moderates were situated within the Bais Hamikdash itself, and the extremists were in between Elazer and the moderates, and the Tzadokim in the city.

Many Jews, at the risk of their lives, had decided to be come up to Yerushalayim for Pesach despite the swiftly approaching Roman army.  The moderates actually opened the gates of the Bais Hamikdash and allowed the Jews to bring the Pesach korbanos.  The extremist also entered the Bais Hamikdash disguised as peaceful Jews.  Once inside, they revealed the swords they had hidden on their bodies, and opened warfare on the moderates. They began murdering the moderates as well as innocent Jews.  The moderates became frightened of the panic and murder among the hordes of Jews in the Bais Hamikdash, and they did not fight back.  The extremist now controlled the entire area of the Bais Hamikdash. 

The Romans began engaging in active warfare the day after Pesach.  The conflicting Jewish factions finally joined together to fight the common enemy.  The eastern part of the wall was defended by Yochanan and his men, and the remaining parts were defended by Shimon bar Giora and his men.

The Romans assaulted the northern wall with their battering rams.  Their catapults hurled stones into the city.  The Jewish warriors counteracted by hurling stones and burning torches onto the Romans.  After fifteen days of warfare, on the seventh day of Iyar, the Romans breached the third outer wall.  After continued fighting, they breached the second wall, and the new city was now controlled by the Romans.  The Romans burned all the houses and stones, and prepared to attack the Old City.

Mon, 05 Jul 2010 03:00:00 +0000
Part 4: Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai's Daring Gamble

Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai, the head of the Sanhedrin, was the leader of the Jews in that era. He countered every attempt of the Tzadokim to change the halacha. One day, as he was walking on the streets of Yerushalayim, he saw a group of Jews sitting around a boiling pot of straw. They each took turns sipping the water with the greatest of pleasure. R' Yochanan ben Zakkai felt brokenhearted from the pain of seeing the nation of Yisrael reduced to actually taking pleasure from the food of animals.

He decided to attempt to ease the suffering of his people. He sent a message to his nephew, Abba Sikarah, one of the generals of the Zealots, to meet him clandestinely. R' Yochanan ben Zakkai asked him, "How long are you going to let the people die from starvation? If we surrender to Rome, we may be able to save Yisrael, Yerushalayim, and the Bais Hamikdash. Abba Sikarah replied, "Your words may be true, but there is nothing I can do to change things without being killed by my peers."

R' Yochanan ben Zakkai begged his nephew to think of a way he could leave the city and meet the Roman general Vespasian. Abba Sikarah instructed his uncle to pretend he was ill and on the verge of death. He should then instruct his students to announce that he had died. The Zealots allowed the city gates to be opened for the dead, and his students would carry him out.

Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai did as his nephew advised him, and his two students, R' Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua, carried a casket with their teacher in it to a burial vault outside the city. The students returned to the city, and when night fell, R' Yochanan ben Zakkai searched for the Roman camp.

When he encountered Vespasian, he said, "Peace upon you, Emperor, peace unto you." Vespasian replied, "You deserve to be killed for two reasons. First of all, you addressed me as the Emperor, which I am not, and secondly, if you think I'm the Emperor, why didn't you come earlier?" Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai answered, "You are the Emperor because if you weren't, Yerushalayim would not fall into your hands. It is written, "Levanon will fall through a mighty one" (Yeshaya 10:34). Mighty one is a reference to a king and Levanon is a reference to the Bais Hamikdash. Regarding your second question, I did not come earlier because the Zealots did not allow me to leave."

While they were still speaking, a messenger arrived from Rome to announce that the Emperor had died and Vespasian had been appointed in his place. Vespasian was astounded by R' Yochanan's ben Zakkai's foresight and decided to grant him three requests.

Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai's first request was "Give me Yavneh and its Sages." This request was vital to insure that the study of Torah would not cease. The future of Bnei Yisrael could not be guaranteed without the continuing study of the Torah.

His second request was that the family of Rabban Gamliel be saved from harm. This would insure that the royal line of the descendants of Dovid Hamelech would continue.

His third request was that a doctor be sent to cure R' Tzadok, the Gadol Hador. R' Tzadok had davened and fasted for forty years over the impending Churban, and was close to death.

Vespasian granted these three requests. He then left for Rome to assume his new position as Emperor. His son Titus took over the command of the army troops in Judea.

Sun, 04 Jul 2010 03:00:00 +0000
Part 3: Civil War Erupts In Eretz Yisroel

During this period of oppression by the Romans, three Jewish factions emerged in Yerushalayim. Each one was characterized by a different approach toward the Romans. These included the Zealots, who advocated open revolt against the Romans, the moderates, who strived to avoid violence, and the Friends of Rome, who were loyal to Rome. The Friends of Rome were comprised mostly of Tzedukim and corrupt Kohanim Gedolim. Most of the Tzedukim were so assimilated that they were barely recognizable as Jews. Most Jews were moderates - they wanted to fulfill the Torah laws and avoid confrontation with the Romans. As the years passed by, the Zealots increased in number as the Roman oppression increased. The Zealots included violent members who were called Biryonim, and criminals who were called Sicarii. The violent members of the Zealots inflicted constant terror upon their fellow Jews. The Jews were more frightened of the Zealots than they were of the Romans. The Sicarii traveled around in bands committing robberies and murder against their fellow Jews. This set the stage for a civil war. Ultimately, the actions of the Zealots caused the Romans to defeat them and destroy the Bais Hamikdash.

Civil war eventually broke out between the Zealots and the Friends of Rome due to the violence the Sicarii committed against them. The Zealots invited the Edomites, whose ancestors had been forcibly converted to Judaism by Yochanan Hyrkanus, to join them. The Zealots and Edomites killed the leaders of the moderates and murdered even innocent citizens. After the Edomites had had their fill of plunder and murder, they left the city and Yerushalayim was under the control of the Zealots and their leaders, Yochanan of Gush Chalav and Elazer ben Shimon. However, the Tzeduki Kohanim Gedolim and leaders, and their allies, the Friends of Rome, did not accept the domination of the Zealots. They appointed a leader, Shimon bar Giora, and began a civil war that was unsurpassed in its violence and ruthlessness.

Many years prior to this, the peaceful citizens of Yerushalayim had been storing provisions for months in case of a Roman siege. Three wealthy men, who were students of R' Yochanan ben Zakkai, donated huge storehouses of flour, oil, and wood. There were enough supplies to survive a siege of 21 years. Shimon bar Giora burned these storehouses in order to force the Jews to fight Rome. A terrible famine ensued in Jerusalem.

Fri, 02 Jul 2010 03:00:00 +0000
Part 2: At War With Rome! Kamtza Bar Kamtza's Role The Roman governors constantly oppressed the Jews and allowed lawlessness to reign in the land. The Jews were tormented by non-Jewish residents in their own land, but were not legally allowed to bring claims against foreigners. In 66 C.E., the Roman governor of Judea, Florus, seized money from the Bais HaMikdash treasury, and provoked the Jews into rioting against him. On one day, 3,600 Jews were killed when Roman troops were sent in to quell the riots. In response to this bloodshed, the Jews began revolting against the Romans. The Emperor Nero became convinced that the Jews were not just rebelling against the abuse of the Roman governor, but against the Roman Empire itself. He sent his best general Vespasian with 60,000 soldiers to end the Jewish revolt. Vespasian's troops conquered the north of Israel, and marched on to Jerusalem.

There was a story behind Emperor Nero's conviction that the Jews were rebelling against Rome. In fact, there were many stories behind the tragedy of the fall of the once proud and glorious Jewish nation. The nation had fallen to a low spiritual state characterized by social decadence and baseless hatred. The Sages cite the story of Kamtza and bar Kamtza as the event that caused the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash.

On account of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza, Jerusalem was destroyed. A man whose friend was Kamtza and whose enemy was Bar Kamtza made a feast. He said to his servant: "Go bring me Kamtza." He went and brought him Bar Kamtza. The host came and saw that Bar Kamtza was seated. He said to him: "That man is the enemy of this man - What is he doing here? Get up and leave!" He replied: "Since I have already come here, let me stay, and I will pay for whatever I eat and drink." Said the host: "No!" Said the other: "I will pay for half of your banquet." Said he: "No!" Said the other: "I will pay for your whole banquet!" He said: "No!" - and took him by the arm, stood him up, and led him out. He [Bar Kamtza] said to himself: "Since the Rabbis were present and did not protest against it, obviously they agreed to it. I will slander them to the emperor!" He went and said to the emperor: "The Jews are rebelling against you!" He replied: "Who says this? Said he: "Send them a sacrifice and see if they offer it." He sent with him a choice calf. On the way he made a cut in its upper lip [rendering it unfit as a sacrifice]; some say [that the animal had] a membrane over its eye - a place that we regard as a disqualification, but they [the Romans] do not regard as a disqualification (Gittin 55b -56a).

Thu, 01 Jul 2010 03:00:00 +0000
The Second Bais HaMikdash - A Long Downward Spiral

The era of the second Bais Hamikdash lasted for 420 years ending with the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash by the Romans in 70 C.E. This era was not a peaceful era -it was plagued by foreign domination of Judea and political dissent. (Judea refers to the part of Eretz Yisroel inhabited by those who returned from Bavel. This was the territory of the tribes of Yehudah and Binyamin, with Jerusalem as its capital.) Internally, there was constant religious strife between the Saducees (Tzedukim), those who denied the divine origin of the Oral Law and freed themselves from the yoke of mitzvohs, and the Pharisees (Perushim), or the Sages, who remained true to the laws of the Torah.

There was one period of calm before the final storm - the ten- year reign of Queen Shlomis Alexandra (76-66 b.c.e.). Queen Shlomis restored political and religious peace to Judea, and her brother Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach restored the authority of Torah to the land. When Queen Alexandra died, an era of unparalleled disaster began, which culminated in the loss of Judea's independence, the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash, and the seemingly endless exile of the Jews from their homeland which has lasted until the present day.

When Queen Shlomis died, civil war erupted between her two sons, Aristobulus and Hyrkanus, over who would succeed her. Eventually, the two brothers decided to mediate their case before the Roman general Pompey. Pompey chose the weak and submissive Hyrkanus as king, hoping to use him as a puppet to eventually impose Roman rule over Judea. When the Jews who were loyal to Aristobulus refused to accept Pompey's decision, Roman troops marched in Jerusalem to quell the rebellion. Eventually, Judea was placed under the authority of the Roman proconsul of Syria and was heavily taxed by Rome. This was the beginning of the end- over 100 years before the actual Churban the two brothers ended Judean independence by involving Rome in their personal dispute. A Roman governor was placed over Judea, Judea was divided into five states, and the Sanhedrin was banned.

Wed, 30 Jun 2010 03:00:00 +0000