Abba Sikra, the head of the biryoni (rebels, bandits, looters) in Jerusalem,
was the son of the sister of Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai.
Justus of Tiberias
Apocalyptic Genre |
Anti-Semitism Study Archive | Masada |
The Month of Av |
for Destruction of Herod's Temple |
Stone Piles that
Memorialize Jerusalem's Destruction |
Map of The Siege of Jerusalem
| The Jewish
Struggle Against Roma |
Differentiating Judaism from Christianity
| The Books of Enoch |
Destruction of Jerusalem // The Talmud
"DESTRUCTION OF THE HOUSE"
On Tisha Be'AV
Die Zerstörung des Tempels von Jerusalem - Francesco Hayez (1867)
Rabban Yohanan b. Zakkai
Rabbi Jochanan ben Zakkai
Smuggled out of Jerusalem
in a coffin | Predicted Vespasian's elevation to the throne based upon his
AD70 application of Isaiah 10:34
"And Lebanon shall fall by a mighty one"
The Ninth of Ab |
PAUL AND GOD'S TEMPLE (PDF)
"Our Rabbis taught: During the last forty years before the destruction of
the Temple.. the doors of the Hekal would open by themselves, until R.
Johanan b. Zakkai rebuked them, saying: Hekal, Hekal, why wilt thou be the
alarmer thyself (Predict thy own destruction) ? I know about thee that thou
wilt be destroyed, for Zechariah ben Ido has already prophesied concerning
thee: Open thy doors, O Lebanon, that the fire may devour thy cedars" (Soncino
Talmud, Seder Mo'ed, vol. III Toma, p. 186)
WHAT OTHERS HAVE SAID
Are All People Really Treated Equally? "Your question No. 2 concerns
the story of Jabneh ('Let's Visit Jabneh,' T.&T. of current month),
particularly the plea of Rabbi Jochanan ben Zakkai, "Give me
Jabneh and its scholars." You asked, why did not Rabbi Jochanan plead
Jerusalem instead? Your own suggestion was that since Rabbi
Jochanan knew that G‑d had decreed the destruction of Jerusalem, he did
not want to act against G‑d's wish."
Ivan Lewis (2000)
"It seems certain that many of the scholars left Jerusalem before the
destruction of the Temple because they refused to participate in the revolt.
They settled in Jabneh that was apparently not affected by the tumult of
war. When Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai visited the Emperor Vespasian in his
camp, he found favor in his eyes and Vespasian asked him to make a request.
Rabban Yochanan did not ask that Jerusalem or the Temple be spared, but he
requested that Jabneh and its scholars be saved. This clearly indicates that
Jabneh was already the home of a large number of scholars.
Jabneh then became the center of Judaism-a new Jerusalem
without a Temple or sacrifices. A new Sanhedrin was organized and assumed
the rights of the previous Sanhedrin of Jerusalem to regulate Jewish life
according to the interpretations of the Law. The scholars of Jabneh were of
no less stature than those of Jerusalem. They would not have been chosen had
they not been men of great religious and secular learning. They were also
masters of the languages of the neighboring peoples, so as to be able to try
cases between Jews and non-Jews without having to resort to outside experts
and interpreters. " (The
Time of the Destruction of the Temple)
By REUVEN HAMMER
The destruction of the Temple that we commemorate on Tisha Be'av
symbolizes above all the defeat of the Jews at the hand of Rome, the
failure of the so-called "great revolt" that resulted in the exile of
many Jews, the destruction of Jerusalem and the loss of Jewish
independence in the year 70 CE. It is impossible to exaggerate the depth
of the crises that this brought to Jewish life. The very future
existence of Judaism was at stake.
To my mind there was one man who was central to keeping Judaism alive,
one true hero of the time. It was not the defenders of Masada, as tragic
and brave as their stand may have been, for in the end their legacy
added nothing to the continued existence of the Jewish people. They
followed a Roman ideal in which suicide was seen as an honorable way to
die rather than to surrender or fight to the death. We may understand
their pain and mourn for them, but they were not the salvation of
The man to whom I refer was Rabban Yohanan Ben Zakkai. Ben Zakkai early
on saw the folly of attempting to revolt against Rome and urged the
rebels to cease the fighting which he believed would only lead to the
destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem. To some, his way may have
seemed traitorous, for he preferred living under Roman rule to bringing
about the destruction of Jerusalem. This does not mean he thought the
Romans were right. On the contrary, he considered them to be "a low
people" (Ketubot 66b), but he did not allow himself to be carried away
by the enthusiasm of the rebels, rather he recognized the reality of the
situation. Had they listened to him, a great tragedy would have been
averted and the entire course of Jewish history would have been altered.
Seeing that the rebels were not going to surrender and destruction was
unavoidable, he did not simply wring his hands in despair but devised a
plan for the future. "Who is a wise man? He who foresees what will
happen," said the rabbis. The stories and legends that are told about
his escape from Jerusalem in a coffin are well known (see for example
As with so many ancient tales, we may never know exactly what happened,
but the general story is clear. He escaped from Jerusalem, made contact
with the Romans and was given permission to reside in Yavne together
with "its Sages." Some speculate that other Sages had been kept in
detention in Yavne, others that it was simply a center for study.
Whatever the case, Yavne then became a center for the preservation of
Jewish tradition and the Sages were able to lead the nation when all
political frameworks had been destroyed.
Ben Zakkai was responsible for a number of practical measures that were
needed in order to keep Judaism alive following the destruction of the
Temple. For example, he ordained that the shofar be sounded when Rosh
Hashana fell on Shabbat wherever there was a rabbinical court (Rosh
Hashana 4:1), something that previously had been done only in the
Temple. He was demonstrating that the destruction of the Temple did not
signify the end of Judaism, that authority continued to exist in the
councils of the Sages. The flock of the Lord was not without a shepherd
because of his wise action. The traditions of Judaism, its laws and
ethics, were kept alive and revitalized through the work of the Sages.
Probably the most well known and possibly the most important of his
teachings in this regard concerned the question of the cessation of
sacrifices. How could that be dealt with? Judaism was centered around
the Temple. The sacrificial system was considered to be the very heart
of Jewish worship. Atonement itself was dependent upon the sacrifices.
The story is told (which I recently referred to in another context) that
Rabban Yohanan Ben Zakkai and Rabbi Joshua were walking by the ruins of
the Temple. Rabbi Joshua said, "Woe to us that the place where the
atonement for the sins of Israel was made has been destroyed!" But
Rabban Yohanan Ben Zakkai replied, "Do you not know that we have a means
of making atonement that is as good as this? And what is it? Gemilut
hassadim - acts of loving-kindness, as it is said, 'For I desire hesed -
loving-kindness - and not sacrifice!'" (Hosea 6:6). Avot d'Rabbi Natan
We know that when the Temple was destroyed, Yohanan Ben Zakkai "rent his
garments, took off his tefillin and sat weeping" (Avot d'Rabbi Natan 2,
7:21), but he did not stop there. Instead of merely lamenting the loss,
he went to the core of Judaism and taught that sacrifices were not the
ultimate aim, but only the means to achieve Judaism's goal of living
according to God's will. By this act of creative interpretation of
Hosea's verse - true midrash - he redefined Judaism so that those who
had suffered defeat could live by it and Judaism would not perish. We
all owe him a great debt.
The writer is the head of the Rabbinical Court of the Masorti Movement
and the Rabbinical Assembly of Israel.
A Rationalist Moment For Rashi
The Gemara (Sukkah 28a) offers effusive praise for
Rabban Yochanan Ben Zakkai, saying that he know all areas of knowledge,
including the "discussions of angels, the discussions of demons, the
discussions of palm trees, the parables of launderers and the parables of
What are these mysterious and mystical areas of knowledge? Could he actually
talk to plants, animals and celestial beings?
To explain "discussions of angels, the discussions of demons, the
discussions of palm trees", Rashi writes, "I don't know what this is." This
is highly significant because of what Rashi could have said.
In a parallel passage (Bava Basra 134a), Rabbenu Gershom explains
"the discussions of demons" as "He knew how to recite incantations and to
force them to swear with God's name." He says the same about the
"discussions of angels." In other words, Rabban Yochanan Ben Zakkai could
force demons and angels to perform his bidding. Rashbam, Rashi's grandson,
explains in a similar vein in his commentary to Bava Basra.
Assuming that these commentaries are correctly attributed, we have Rashi
deviating from an explanation that preceded him and was evidently
sufficiently current to be repeated by his grandson. Perhaps Rashi had a
rationalist streak that emerges here.
Of note is Rashi's commentary to 1 Kings 5:13, regarding Shlomo's wisdom:
וידבר על העצים מן הארז אשר בלבנון ועד האזוב אשר יצא
בקיר וידבר על הבהמה ועל העוף ועל הרמש ועל הדגים.
And he spoke of trees, from the cedar tree that (is)
in Lebanon and to the hyssop that springs out of the wall, and he spoke
of the beasts, and of the fowl, and of the creeping things, and of the
explains that this does not mean that Shlomo spoke to trees and animals but
that he understood their natures: "Which cure is derived from each tree, and
that particular wood would be best for that type of building and to plant [a
certain tree] in that type of earth. And also of the beasts, what is its
cure and the vital elements [necessary] for its upbringing and development
and its food."
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