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The Historical Aftermath of the Ḥurban

As those on the East Coast of the US are soon to see this year’s Tisha B’av exit, I thought that I would bring a text that accentuates the gap between the historical memory of ḥurban ha-bayit and what we know from the historical record. The text below is from Lee I.A. Levine, “Judaism from the Destruction of Jerusalem to the End of the Second Jewish Revolt: 70-135 C.E.,” in Hershel Shannks ed. Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism: A Parallel History of Their Origins and Early Developemnt (Washington, D.C.: Biblical Archaeological Society, 1992), 126-127. The challenge for Jews who don’t ignore historical research is how to incorporate into our lives the conclusions of scholarship, along with the historical memory of these same events and the religious observances and beliefs associated with them.

However, theological considerations aside,the objective reality for the Jewish people following the destruction of 70 was far more comlex. Indeed, much of Jewish life lay shattered: Jerusalem was totally destroyed, only the three great towers that had once guarded Herod’s palace and remnants of the western city wall remained intact. The Temple had been razed and the city’s population massacred or exiled. The high priesthood and Jerusalem’s aristocratic class, which had dominated Jewish religious and political life for much of the Second Temple period, all but disappeared. Judea had dared rebel against mighty Rome; having failed, she paid the heavy price of revolt.

Many of the Jewish sects that had played a central role in Jewish religious life during the first century disappeared: The Sadducees, centered around the Jerusalem priesthood in the days of the Temple, lost their base of political and religious authority; the Essene center at Qumran was destroyed by the Romans in 68 C.E.; members of the various pre-70 revolutionary movements (Sicarii, Zealots, followers of John of Gischala and Simon Giora) either were killed, taken captive, fled to North Africa or went underground.

Nevertheless, it is easy to overstate the effects of the year 70. Contrary to popular opinion, the exile did not commence in that year-most Jews were already living in the Diaspora before the destruction-nor did the year 70 signal the loss of Jewish independence. In reality, Judea had been conquered 130 years earlier by Pompey in 63 B.C.E. Although much autonomy had been granted to Herod (37-4 B.C.E.), it had already been greatly curtailed following Judea’s annexation as a Roman province in 6 C.E.

Moreover, the continuum between the pre-70 and post-70 periods was maintained by the ongoing rule of Rome; culturally, econimically and even socially much of Jewish life was not seriously interrupted between the pre- and post-destruction era. Indeed, large parts of the Jewish people were unaffected or only marginally affected by the revolt and its aftermath. Few Jewish communities in the Galilee were destroyed-Jotapata and Gamla were the exceptions. The Roman military march had little, if any, effect on the large Jewish settlement in Perea east of the Jordan, on the communities along the coastal plain or even on many areas in Judea itself. Thus, beyond Jerusalem and some parts of Judea, the upheavals of the First Revolt were not at all widespread, either demographically or economically.

The possible gap between historical memory and history may be the reason why so many calamities were associated with Tisha B’av, making it the default day for major Jewish tragedies.

5 Responses to “The Historical Aftermath of the Ḥurban”

  1. 1
    Jewish Ideas Daily:

    We also tend to confuse events from the destruction of the First Temple with events relating to the destruction of the Second Temple. This is probably why most Jews assume that the destruction of Bayit Sheini was accompanied by mass exile.

  2. 2
    rabbichaplain:

    I think the answer for those of us who are historically inclined is quite simple. Regardless of the political, social and cultural aspects of the destruction, an epicenter of Jewish life, Jerusalem was destroyed. Granted that most of Jewry was already “in exile,” it still was devastating to imagine that G-d’s house was destroyed.

  3. 3
    Sara Raftenberg:

    Agreeing with rabbichaplain, I offer that the author’s view is loveless, heartless, and without a spiritual center. You might very well manage to go on if a loved one died (God forbid), but you’d merely subsist, be wounded and empty to the core and hopeless. You might remarry, have another child, etc. and “heal” but there’d still be a deep dark cave within that would never go away.

  4. 4
    Menachem Mendel:

    How can the author’s view be “loveless, heartless, and without a spiritual center,” when he is simply describing the historical reality that the loss of Jerusalem did not have a large affect on the spiritual and religious lives of a large number, if not, the majority, of Jews who were living at that time. It was a decisive event for Jews living in Jerusalem, although a good argument can be made that the failed Bar-Kochba revolt may have affected a similar number of Jews even worse that the first revolt against Rome.

  5. 5
    jdub:

    MM:

    Think of it this way: I am, unfortunately, a diaspora Jew. Always have been, probably always will be. Yet my connection to Israel, my emotions for Jerusalem are extremely strong. Bad news in Israel can affect my mood.

    While it wouldn’t have been instantaneous, how could the destruction not have had a huge emotional and theological impact on contemporaneous diaspora Jews? It would have been extremely traumatic that “home” no longer was, even if the reality was that it wasn’t their physical home.

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