Holy Land Headliners

 

HOME
BIBLE REFERENCES
BOOKLIST
GILA’S GIFT SHOP
HOLY LAND HEADLINERS
HOLY SITES:
GILA’S HIGHLIGHTS
HOLY LAND HEROINES
SONGS & PRAISE
TIPS FOR TOURS
ABOUT GILA
CONTACT
 
 
 


“ELI WAS SITTING ON A SEAT, WAITING BESIDE THE ROAD --
HIS HEART TREMBLING FOR THE ARK OF GOD”
I SAMUEL 4:13
 

Holy Land Headliners

Rabbi Yochanon Ben Zakkai

“If you have a sapling in your hand and someone runs in to announce ‘the messiah has come’,” said first century A.D. Rabbi Yochanon, “plant the sapling first and then greet the messiah.”  Rabbi Yochanon ben Zakkai was a prudent man.

In his youth Ben Zakkai had been a pupil of the great sage Hillel, one of the most renowned sages in Jerusalem.  He had served as co-president of the Sanhedrin and his discourses in the Temple courtyard drew large crowds.  Although his nephew, Ben Batiah, was one of the leaders of the radical Zealots resisting the Romans, Rabbi Yochanon counseled moderation.

During the three and a half years that the Roman General Vespasian besieged Jerusalem, city residents were polarized between those who supported the rebellion against Rome and those who were opposed.  Despite the siege, four wealthy city councilmen kept the storehouses filled with wheat and barley.  Then Ben Zakkai’s nephew, who was in charge of the stores, burned them to ash, to encourage his fellow citizens to go out to fight the Romans.
 

Model of 1st century AD Jerusalem

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Model of 1st century AD Jerusalem; the Temple is on the upper right

 
As Rabbi Yochanon walked through the marketplace, he witnessed Jerusalemites boiling straw and then drinking it as if it were soup.  He asked himself, “Can men who boil straw and drink its water resist the armies of Vespasian?”  He appealed to the Zealots leading the revolt to desist.  But they replied that they had killed Vespasian’s predecessors and he would meet the same fate.

Realizing that Jerusalem was doomed, Rabbi Yochanon decided to escape the besieged city in order to rescue Judaism.
 
Menorah on the Arch of Titus in Rome According to a Talmudic legend, he escaped by having his most gifted disciples carry him outside the city walls in a coffin. (Only corpses were allowed to leave the city.)  When they reached the Zealot outpost, the Zealot guard wanted to stick a sword through the coffin to be sure the “corpse” was dead.  Ben Zakkai’s pupils protested, “Thus you would defile the body of our leader?”  The Zealot guard who respected the dead, let the coffin leave the city.

His disciples brought him to the cemetery where Ben Zakkai climbed out of the coffin and walked to Vespasian’s camp.  He asked to see the general.  He was taken before Vespasian and greeted him, “Shalom to you, O king, Shalom to you O king.”  Vespasian replied, “You deserve to be executed twice, once because I am no

The Menorah which once stood in the Temple courtyard is depicted as booty

king and secondly, if the real king heard about this, he would put me to death.” 

Vespasian ordered Rabbi Yochanon to be put in solitary confinement.

Three days later, Vespasian went to the hot baths at Gofna, outside Jerusalem.  After he had bathed and had put on one of his boots, a courier arrived from Rome and proclaimed, “Rise, Nero is dead and the nobles of Rome have chosen you king.”

Legend describes Vespasian with one boot on, and unable to put on the other boot, for his feet had swelled.  Poor guy – then he couldn’t get the other boot off! One of his aides suggested that the esteemed rabbi prisoner might have a solution.  And indeed he did.

Rabbi Yochanon told him, that according to Proverbs 15:30, his feet swelled because good news makes the bones fat.  He should have the person he hated the most be brought in front of him, advised the rabbi.  Sure enough, his foot shrank, for according to Proverbs 17:22, “Despondency dries up the bones,” and he was able to put on the other boot.

Relieved and grateful, Vespasian asked the rabbi how he could reward him.  “I beg you, abandon this city of Jerusalem and depart,” replied Rabbi Yochanon without hesitation.  Vespasian responded that this was impossible.  “Did the Romans proclaim me king that I should abandon this city?  Make another request and I will grant it.” Ben Zakkai obtained a promise that the five leading rabbis would have their lives spared and be allowed to establish a teaching academy in Yavne, a village south of Jaffa on the Mediterranean coast.
 

SIGN UP for the FREE bimonthly e-letter:
"Holy Sites: Gila's Highlights"

 
At the moment Jerusalem was captured, Rabbi Yochanon was awaiting the news. When he heard that Jerusalem was destroyed and the Temple in flames, he rent his clothes, cried out and wept.  He was compared to Eli waiting for the news of the capture of the Ark of the Covenant. (I Samuel 4:13)

While a minority of Jews continued to resist the Romans from their fortress at Masada, Rabbi Yochanon revived the Sanhedrin with Yavne as its new seat.  On the first Rosh HaShana, the Jewish New Year, after the destruction of the Temple, the question arose as to whether to sound the shofar (ram’s horn) in Yavne.  Until then it had been permitted only in the Temple.

Some of the sages suggested, let us debate the issue. Rabbi Yochanon declared, “There is no time for debate; it is a time to act.”  The shofar was sounded.  To this day, the shofar, once blown only in the Temple, is sounded in Jewish synagogues throughout the world to announce the New Year.

Rabbi Yochanon did succeed in rescuing and reinvigorating Judaism.  Prayers facing Jerusalem were instituted in place of the daily sacrifice in the Temple.  Rabbi Yochanon, a native of Jerusalem, was not a pilgrim himself, but he introduced the call to pilgrimage when his academy added the pledge, "Next Year in Jerusalem" to the Passover Seder.  And thus, the hope of a rebuilt third Temple was kindled.

On your free day in Jerusalem, while roaming the Jewish Quarter, you may want to visit the Ben Zakkai Synagogue, not too far from the Zion Gate.  According to tradition, the synagogue sits on the site where Rabbi Yochanon Ben Zakkai used to teach his pupils.
 

Copyright 2006 Gila Yudkin.  Permission needed for any reuse.

 

Ben Zakkai Synaoggue in the Old City's Jewish Quarter

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

According to tradition, the synagogue sits on the site of
Rabbi Yochanon Ben Zakkai’s study house

 

For more about women's lives at the time of the Second Temple and Yochanon Ben Zakkai, read "Women at the Time of the Bible."

 
More Holy Land headliners and celebrities

 

GILA YUDKIN TCHERNIKOVSKI 64A JERUSALEM ISRAEL
gila@itsgila.com

HOME GILA'S GIFT SHOP   TIPS FOR TOURS  ABOUT GILA


 

Copyright © 2005-2017 Gila Yudkin. All rights reserved.
Holy Land Photography by Gila Yudkin