Church / Jewish History / Talmud / Temple / Tisha be'Av

Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi, the Second Temple and the time of the Romans

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Photo: Miriam Woelke

B”H
The book I am reading at the moment: Aharon Oppenheimer’s biography about the great Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi.
I am deliberately avoiding a Wikipedia link here because the text on Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi doesn’t seem to be 100 % correct. First of all, we don’t know the exact time when Rabbi Yehudah was born and lived. What we do know are approximate dates. 
Moreover, it says that on the day Rabbi Akivah passed away, Rabbi Yehudah was born (see Kiddushin 72). Here, the Talmud doesn’t necessarily mean that Rabbi Yehudah was born on the very same day Rabbi Akivah died. This statement should not be taken literally but what it teaches us is that Rabbi Yehudah was born around the time when Rabbi Akivah died.
Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi has an important role in Jewish history because he provided the final version of the Mishna. He put all kinds of laws into a specific order so that they could be written down and teach the generations after the destruction of the Second Temple how to continue a Jewish lifestyle without a Temple. Nevertheless, the plan of writing down the oral law had come into existence much earlier and Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi wasn’t the first one dealing with it. After the Temple destruction, Jews and their laws had to be re – established. Especially the Jewish calender. Otherwise many laws would have been lost and later generations wouldn’t know what to do anymore. It has been the Talmud keeping Judaism and the Jews alive. A fact, our enemies are very much aware of and what the church has been doing since: Trying to discredit the Talmud.
Some frum Jews may say: “Argh, a Rabbi biography written by a Tel Aviv University Professor Aharon Oppenheimer …”. Yes, I do understand certain doubts but what Aharon Oppenheimer provides is real historical facts in connection with a lots of quotes from Talmudic passages. I have to say that I learned a lot.  
For instance that Christians claim that G – d allowed the Romans to destroy the Second Temple because the Jews refused to accept J. as Messiah. Thus, it must have been a G – dly punishment leading the “stubborn” Jews into another Diaspora (Galut).
Indeed, G – d did allow the Romans to destroy the Second Temple, as He did allow Nebuchadnezzar to destroy the First Temple. The reasons, however, were different and had nothing to do with the Jewish refusal accepting the false Messiah J. First of all we have to understand that there were major differences between the First and the Second Temple. Secondly, Meshiach is not coming while the Second Temple is still standing because, according to basic Jewish principles, he is supposed to build the Third Temple and re – establish the service of Cohanim and Levi’im. Meshiach at the times of a Second Temple wouldn’t make any sense. So, in order to pave the way for Meshiach, the Second Temple had to go.
Aharon Oppenheimer states in his book that no real Galut took place after the destruction of the Second Temple. On the contrary, most Jews stayed in the Land of Israel and didn’t try to run away. A historical fact is that there were only very few years during the Second Temple period when the Jews were free and independent: In the days of the Maccabees. Most of the time, however, Israel was occupied by the Persians, Hellenists and Romans. So, in a way, a Diaspora had already taken place within the Land of Israel.  
After the Second Temple destruction, the Jews were not trying to escape and settle abroad. Jerusalem became a prohibited area according to Roman law and thus the Jews were settling in other place in Israel. Many were gathering in Yavne and it was there that the law for later generations was established. We all know about Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai and Yavne.
Quite a few Jews left Israel before the Temple destruction. Not necessarily due to the Roman occupation but because they were looking for a better life somewhere else. Aharon Oppenheimer compares this those Europeans leaving Europe for a better life a hundred years ago.
In the days of Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi (approx. 175 – 220 of the Common Era), the Land of Israel was blossoming. The Rabbi was very friendly with the Roman government and the Romans, in return, trusted him. Rabbi Yehudah saw the importance in negotiating with the Roman occupation and not fighting the emperor. Thus, the Romans left the Jews alone and the economy was growing. It was peaceful until the Muslims began occupying Israel in the seventh century.
What I also didn’t know: Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi had tried to cancel Tisha be’Av (Fast day on the 9th day in the Jewish month of Av). Maybe due to the fact that the land was in good shape and times were peaceful. However, other Talmudic Rabbis refused to abolish Tisha be’Av (commemoration of the two destroyed Temples). See Talmud Megillah 5.
Tisha be’Av remains in existence until today and this year it comes out on July 26. 
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