Beit Midrash

  • Family and Society
  • The Holy Temple - Beit Hamikdash
To dedicate this lesson

The Torah study is dedicated in the memory of

Yaakov Ben Behora

Coliseum or Temple?

What drove the Romans against the Jews was the Jews' “dangerous culture” - a culture which had begun to penetrate the Roman Empire. Judaism was educating the masses to behave according to the principle that says “man is created in God's image.”


Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu

2 min read
1. The "Dangerous Culture"
2. Unfounded Hatred
3. The Results
4. The New World Order
5. The Coliseum
6. The Impact of the New Education
7. Imperialism
8. A Culture War
9. The Destruction of the Temple

The "Dangerous Culture"
Those responsible for destroying our Holy Temple invested great efforts in order to achieve this goal: a three-year siege; hundreds of thousands of soldiers. Tens of thousands of these solders were killed or injured in the unrelenting struggle to destroy God's Sanctuary. It was not simple hunger that drove the Roman leaders to breach their covenant of peace with Judah. The Jews had actually proved themselves to be most loyal allies to the growing Roman Empire. What drove the Romans against the Jews was the Jews' "dangerous culture" - a culture which had begun to penetrate the Roman Empire.

Judaism was educating the masses to behave according to the principle that says "man is created in God's image." It spread a gospel which posed a threat to the powers-that-be. The Roman regime was based upon extortion, conquest, murder and bondage. The Romans, whose goal it was to conquer the entire world (and who almost succeeded!), foresaw great danger to their plans if the masses were to begin to believe that all people are created in God's image and deserving of dignity. Ideas like "Love your fellow as you do yourself," if they managed to catch on, were bound to be poisonously destructive. "Their culture," wrote a Roman senator to his superiors, "poses a threat to us. They free their slaves every seven years. Even a Canaanite slave is released if his master mistreats him. If Jewish values manage to infect Roman culture we will be finished. Such values will destroy our entire slavery-, cheap labor-based regime." It was therefore important for the Romans to embark on such a long and demanding confrontation.

The Romans suffered very painful losses in this conflict, both during the course of the siege and as a result of the Bar-Kochba insurgency. It was an accepted practice for legion commanders to add the following closing sentence to every regular report they sent back to Rome: "I and my soldiers are well." We find, however, that in their war with the adamant Jewish fighters this sentence is omitted. These Jewish fighters were known for their ability to develop and employ new military strategies on a daily (and, even more so, nightly) basis.

Unfounded Hatred
The painful depictions of these fierce battles have reached us via the works of ancient historians who show no reluctance in expressing the leanings of their heart. Such Roman-employed chroniclers were unable to hide the painful defeats. Most notable among them was a Jewish traitor who had originally served as chief commander of the northern forces of the "IDF" of then: Yosef ben Matityahu, who traded in his unfashionable Jewish name for the more modern and prestigious "Josephus Flavius." An army commander whose responsibility it was to protect the Jewish people, Flavius defected and handed over himself and all of his knowledge to the Roman cause.

The sages of Israel saw in this phenomenon the tragedy of the destruction. They, like everybody else, understood that the Roman army would be incapable of subduing Jerusalem were it not for the aid of such traitors. Yet, in truth, even the help of such people would not have been the determining factor had it not been for the divisiveness within the ranks of the Jewish fighters. "The kings of the earth and all of the inhabitants of the world would not have believed that the adversary and the enemy would enter the gates of Jerusalem" (Lamentations 4:12). The collapse began from within. Inner discord caused the Jews to weaken each other and to bring their claims before the Romans; and it was this discord which led to the final destruction. Jewish factions called upon the Romans time and again to come to their aid in the struggle against their fellow Jews. The Romans indeed came. They came and wiped out everybody, friend and foe alike.

The fact that Jews themselves burned down each others' food store-houses to the point where the soldiers on the front line were forced to wage war while in a state of near starvation was a decisive factor in the struggle, and the painful results were not slow in coming. "It was for the sins of her prophets and the iniquities of her priests who shed the blood of the just in the midst of her" (ibid. 13). The sages viewed this as the underlying reason for the destruction. Groundless hatred, they were to teach, is what led to the demise of the Second Temple. In our own times rabbis teach that groundless love is what is needed if we desire the Temple's reconstruction.

The Results
The occupation of Jerusalem and its destruction involved the spilling of much blood. The slaughter of hundreds of thousands of women, children, and elderly men, not to mention soldiers and war hostages, was a routine matter for the Romans. When it came to Jerusalem, Titus himself gave his honorable royal word that whoever handed himself over to the Romans would be protected. Historians, however, relate that the Romans would tear open the stomach of any Jew, man or woman, who was foolish enough to take them up on this offer. The Roman soldiers justified their behavior by explaining that they were merely looking for silver and gold which the fleeing Jews no doubt swallowed in an attempt to smuggle out of the sieged city. They would violently poke and prod their subjects - men, women and, children - in an attempt to uncover gold and diamonds. The captives surely cried out from the extreme pain and sheer horror before finally returning their souls to the Almighty. They were killed in such a cruel manner by people who had given their honored word that they would be left in peace.

This gives us a bit of an idea as to the devaluation of human life which went hand in hand with the destruction of the Holy Temple. It also tells us something about the ethical depravity of the Roman soldier; he was not even aware of the fact that he had done something wrong by violating the hallowed promise of the Emperor himself. We can see to just what extent international law and justice - the then honored possession of the Roman nation - had fallen. From that time forth it was the Romans who were considered the authoritative measuring-rod of all law justice in the world. Yet they themselves are responsible for the above account! The justification which they offer for such behavior gives us an idea as to the meaning of the "destruction of the Holy Temple"; it was, in effect, the "destruction of world justice."

What is human life worth when compared to the possibility of finding some pieced of silver on a man's body? What is a promise worth. What is man worth? The Romans, who also in the Carthage war did not keep promises and agreements signed and certified by the Roman senate, attempted all the while to put up a noble front and an air of propriety. This was not a one-time occurrence. The Bar-Kochba uprising, which was a continuation of the war of the Temple's destruction, was lost on the Ninth of Av. It ended with the slaughter of hundreds of thousands, and possibly millions of Jews at the hands of the new "knights of justice." Accounts of this bloodbath are so shocking that it sometimes appears as if somebody exaggerated a bit. The plane facts, however, are beyond all comprehension. Roman cruelty did not pass over young children and babies; their heads were smashed ruthlessly upon stones. "The blood of the victims reached the Great Sea."

The disciples of the destruction saw as their personal obligation the murder of as many Jews as possible and the plowing over of the remnants of the Temple. To destroy all memory of the city. To change the name of Jerusalem to "Aelia Capitolina." To erase, murder, and subdue the nation which refused to step off of the stage of history. In the end, the noble-hearted Romans even forbade the burial or covering over of the blood of the hundreds of their hundreds of thousands of victims. Their bodies lay out in the open for all to see in order to teach everybody that a new world order was taking effect.

The New World Order
The Emperors of Rome, Titus, Vespasian, and Hadrian, understood that in order to obliterate the influence of the Jew it was not enough to wipe out members of the Jewish nation alone. The spirit of Judaism too had to be erased. They took upon themselves to carry out this monumental task which called for the deployment of hundreds of thousands of war captives and slaves of all colors, shapes, and nationalities from all corners of the globe. The operation of a lifetime. A national endeavor. A monumental task which Titus saw as second in importance only to the destruction of the Temple itself.

The Coliseum
This was a huge structure which, in its time, was considered one of the seven wonders of the world. It was designed by the world's greatest architects. A gigantic edifice; even today it is not easy to construct such buildings. Combining a variety of building styles and composed of building materials which had been brought from great distances, it was meant to serve as a cultural center for the entire world.

This elegant structure had to play the part of a substitute to the spiritual focal point which the Sanctuary represented before its demise. If, in its heyday, the Temple acted as a "House of prayer for all of the nations," there was now to be a new center: excitement; Competition; massive public gatherings; the emperor himself takes part; a new spiritualism is here.

Entertainment is not the most important factor. The main thing is the content. What was it that the millions of spectators viewed in this coliseum? What was the true magnificence of Rome's architectural creativity? What were millions of people to view therein for hundreds of years? Answer: They were to view men fighting with one another to the death. Day after day, members of the Roman kingdom would sit and watch people being devoured and burned alive. Day after day, the children of the kingdom would see human beings being drowned. Nightly, they would watch people with flaming cotton sponges tied to their bodies running and screaming hysterically across the floor of the magnificent stadium. Slowly, this "education" would sink in to the hearts of the spectators and take the form of a replacement to the dangerous Jewish education. Titus and Vespasian understood that it was not enough to destroy the Temple. The Jewish spirit had to be destroyed. If the foundation of Judaism is to "love thy fellow as you do yourself," they must set upon disseminating the opposite.

The Impact of the New Education
All of Europe felt the influence of the coliseum and the tens of stadiums which sprang up in its wake throughout Europe and in every place where the nail-studded sandals of Roman soldiers trampled. Each of the nations of Europe saw itself as the true inheritor of the "Holy Roman Empire." All of Europe came of age with an admiration for Rome and its culture. It is no surprise, then, that for years upon years we find a social order wherein a thin upper echelon of clergy and nobility take advantage of millions of peasant farmers. Hunger, ignorance, and disease. Indescribable physical and sexual exploitation were the fate of the overwhelming majority of the population. Farmers were deprived of all rights. They were exploited without an ounce of remorse on the part of the leaders. Such leaders were convinced that they were fulfilling the will of God when they were chosen to rule over hundreds of thousands of workers and their children.

"The Holy Covenant" - this was the name that the leaders of Europe chose for themselves when the poverty-stricken destitute masses attempted to free themselves of this evil during the struggles which precipitated the French Revolution. The "Holy Covenant" between Europe's leaders was a "covenant" whose purpose was to halt all insurgence by popular movements in the wake of the French Revolution. They banded together in sending military aid to any state whose citizens dared to rebel against the established system of exploitation. Suppression of all insurgence was termed "the Holy Covenant," and not sarcastically. It was given this name out of a conviction that it had been chosen by God to rule and despoil. Somebody educated them to believe this - and we know today who this was.

History teaches us that in this struggle the Romans and their inheritors scored a number of important victories. "Pogrom victories" wherein they murdered continuously and in all sorts of strange manners. They would employ a variety of methods and false pretexts in carrying out their torture and killing. In the Crusades, they pillaged and burned entire communities. In the course of the Inquisition they "victoriously" burned thousands of Jews at the stake. Through their atrocities, the Nazis managed to score the "greatest" of all "victories." And they made clear that their purpose was to eradicate all influence of Jewish culture, a culture of kindness and compassion, a culture of peace and love, a culture which ran counter to the desired world-order as they saw it.

The new world order would be such that the strong prey upon the weak and refuse to act kindly toward them. In this manner, they believed, the world will advance according to the healthy laws of nature - the laws of the jungle. Hitler described his own theory in exactly these words, and all of his spiritual apostles were brought up on these words. To do away with all influence of Jewish culture, the "love your neighbor as yourself" culture.

This culture reach a special and hypocritical climax: "Imperialism." This was a movement that received its support from the church and the Pope. A movement that disgracefully exploited every nation and tongue which stood in its way. This followed the slaughter of hundreds of thousands in the pall of the cross which went before all of its conquering armies. Only those who remained had the privilege of serving the crown and the queen.

It is incredible to think that two hundred years ago English soldiers were crossing the Atlantic Sea prepared to give their lives for the "right" to exploit the citizens of the United States of America, for the "right" to buy agricultural products for next-to-nothing prices and to sell them at market rates. For this "right" many an English soldier gave his life in the war against American independence. Neither did America succeed in cleansing itself of this evil influence. For many years they exploited black slaves by the millions before the concept of man being created in God's image finally managed to permeate their consciousness.

A Culture War
The fact that the Jewish people have not been erased after so many years is in itself a miracle. The burning of so many volumes of the Talmud did not succeed in wiping out the Talmud altogether, though many Jews lost their life as a result. The power of the Holy Scriptures continued to grow year by year. Today we are able to measure the impact of the Bible in numbers. True, numbers are mere technical data, but they can teach us a lot. Today, the Bible has been translated into nearly every language in the world. In the time of Rome it had been translated into Greek, which was then the most important and cultured language in the world - this, in itself, constituted a "threat." Today the Bible is the most translated book in the world. It exists in an astounding 1,080 languages. Most people are not even aware that there are so many languages and dialects in the world. It has been printed in 3,950,000,000 copies! This number is a few billion times greater than any other book in the world. It has been translated and printed so many times because it speaks to the Chinese, Japanese, Indians, Russians, Ethiopians, British, Austrians, Hungarians, Persians, and a huge variety of other nations. This is exactly what Titus was worried about. So, we can see for ourselves who got the last laugh.

Every thief eventually gets what he has coming to him. The Germans murdered millions upon millions, but, in the end they were subdued. The "strong-shall-survive" culture shared by the Nazis and the Romans has been forced into hiding and made nearly nonexistent. Imperialism has even become a kind of rude word. The eternal and unavoidable fate of evil in this world is such that it can only enjoy temporary success - tens, perhaps even hundreds of years. In the end, however, the world learns its lesson and internalizes the message. The message of "love your fellow as yourself" eventually penetrates world consciousness.

So much suffering on the way though.

The Destruction of the Temple
The struggle between Rome and Jerusalem, which was temporarily decided with the Temple's destruction, has not yet come to a close. The Temple's demise was a turning point in world history. With it, the world entered a period marked by the massive influence of Roman culture. The sages rightfully saw the struggle between the two cultures as being polar in nature:

"If someone should tell you that both Jerusalem and Rome have been destroyed, do not believe him; that both are standing, do not believe him. For, if one is ruined, the other stands, and if one stands the other is in ruin."

The peak of the struggle was reached with the destruction of the Temple. This was such a pivotal point that Titus himself took active participation. He considered it a personal privilege to be on site and do destroy the structure which he so detested. We have been mourning the destruction of the Temple for more that 1,934 years. With the destruction we lost our kingdom, we lost our glory, our independence, the Torah, unity, statehood, life. In order to remind ourselves that the struggle continues, that we have scored victories in our struggle and that we must push forward until we come out victorious, we fast on Tisha B'Av.

We will continue to fast each year on the Ninth of Av until we see the illumination of the building of the Holy Temple whose "insides are filled with love"; the Holy Temple, upon which no iron instrument has been raised - for such instruments are known for their ability to shorten life; the Holy Temple, into which no person who has come into contact with the dead may enter. The great and sacred house which bears the name of God. The house into which only one who is attached to life may enter. The Holy Temple - "the Sanctuary of Life."

Some of the translated verses in the above article were taken from The Jerusalem Bible (Koren).

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