The Greatness of the Second Temple
By J. KahanDuring the time that the Temples stood in ancient Israel, the Temple was a central point during the Jewish Holy days.
Yet there were certain important distinctions between the first Temple and the second. Let us understand these differences and their relevance to us.
In regards to the second Temple, the Talmud relates: "Greater is the honor of this (the second Temple) from the first." (Baba Batra 3)
In what respect was the second Temple greater than the first?
The Talmud relates that one sage said: "The building!", meaning that the first Temple was only 30 cubits (50 feet) high, whereas the second Temple was 100 cubits high (150 feet high). Another sage exclaimed: "The years!", meaning that the first Temple stood for 410 years, whereas the second Temple stood for 420 years.
Now we must understand, can we really judge the greatness of the Temples, the dwelling place of G-d, in terms of their height or in terms of the years that they existed? The essential function of the Temple was to be the dwelling place of spirituality! Its greatness has to be measured by the expression of G-dliness and holiness that was to be experienced there.
Even more so, for if we consider the expression of G-dliness and holiness that was in the Temple, just the opposite is apparent. The second Temple was on a lower level than the first. The second Temple lacked five important possessions that reflected the revelation of the Holy presence of G-d: the Holy Ark, the fire which descended from heaven to consume the sacrifices, the Holy Presence of G-d Himself, the Spiritual envelopment of the visitor, and the Holy Breast plate of the High Priest which was able to answer questions.
Therefore how is it even possible for the sages of the Talmud to suggest that the second Temple is greater than the first because of some mere physical advantage such as an additional 70 cubits in height or an extra ten years of existence?
We must understand that the advantage that the second Temple had over the first (even though it lacked the five important attributes that the first Temple had) was an advantage which can be measured in the yardstick of spirituality.
Two Manners in which G-dliness is Manifest
The purpose of the Temple was to provide a place for the dwelling place of the presence of the G-d, as it is written: "Make me a sanctuary and I will dwell in your midsts."
It is known from the mystical writings that the first Temple was in the merit of and a reflection of the attributes of our patriarch, Abraham. The second Temple was in the merit of and a reflection of the attributes of his son, the patriarch, Isaac. The third Temple, which will be built soon, will be in the merit and in the character of our third and final patriarch, Jacob.
When we say that the Temples reflected the attributes of Abraham and Isaac, we are referring to the two possible manners in which the Divine presence could be revealed. When it is said that the first Temple was a reflection of the character of Abraham, what is meant is that the divine presence was expressed through the divine character of "chesed", kindness with out limitation. This was the focal character of Abraham whose life was dedicated to the spread of the knowledge of G-d to even the lowest inhabitants in the world.
The other manifestation of the divine presence was through the character of Isaac, that of "gevurah", of strength and restraint. This was the chief character of Isaac, who is best know for allowing himself to be bound up as a perfect sacrifice to G-d, (although through divine intervention his being slaughtered was averted). This was the chief manifestation of the divine presence in the second Temple.
Obviously, each of these characteristics has an advantage that the other lacks. Therefore we can understand that each Temple had a distinct advantage in one manner over the other.
The difference between the character of Abraham, kindness, and the character of Isaac, strength and restraint, is basically a difference in what is termed "descending from above" as opposed to "ascending from below". The attribute of Abraham, kindness, is considered in the mystical tradition as "descending from above", like water which trickles down from above and seeks the lowest level. This is the opposite of the character of Isaac, restraint, which is considered as "ascending from below", like the fiery flame that seeks to jump up.
The divine presence of G-d in this world could be in one of two forms: or it could descend from above, through G-d's own desires, or it could come through the purification that the world itself has achieved through its own work. In the first manner it is considered as "descending from above", and illuminating a world that is not a proper vessel for the revelation of G-dliness. The second manner is a direct result of the hard work and effort that the world below has made through its own hard efforts to become purified and therefore becoming a vessel that is fitting to contain divine revelation.
Two Types of Students
Chassidut provides a deeper explanation through a "mushal", simile, of two different levels of students who are learning from their teacher. One type of student is one who listens carefully to the words of his master, understanding and memorizing them exactly as his teacher explains the matter to him. He grows to become a very knowledgeable person.
All that this student knows, he knows from the lessons of his teacher; he has listened and memorized his master's words. He himself is not capable of original thought, therefore if he comes across a topic that his teacher has not taught him, he can not properly understand it.
The second type of student is one whose teacher has invested with him the ability of creative thought. His mind has become elated and more sophisticated and capable of deep understanding of topics to which he had no prior knowledge.
The first student, whose knowledge is considered as "descending from above" is based entirely on what his teacher (the aspect of "above") has given to him. The second type of student is considered as one who "ascends from below". He is a changed person in that he possesses the ability to understand deeply and the knowledge that he gains is truly 'his', since through his own intellect he understood the matter and hence acquired this knowledge. His intellect has changed, become deeper and more capable.
The difference between learning in the manner of "descending from above" versus "ascending from below" is that in the first method the student does not change. He is not elevated to another level; rather he remains in his original level. He may become an extremely knowledgeable person, but this great knowledge bank does not turn him into a creative thinker, but rather it is as if the knowledge of the teacher has become his knowledge. That creative ability of the master to delve deeply into various subjects still remains the property of the teacher and not of the student. He has not changed, nor is he elevated; the proof being his inability to use reasoning in a creative manner.
In the mode of learning of "ascending from below", the student changes. He becomes a different person. His intellect becomes loftier and the level of his mind is elevated and approaches the level of the teacher. Therefore he is able to think creatively in order to bring forth original ideas with his own mind. In this aspect, there is a great advantage to the method of "ascending from below".
However, from a different vantage point, there is a definite disadvantage to the method of "ascending from below" in relation to the method of "descending from above". True, the student who may represent the method of "descending from above" approach is not a creative thinker, and only has the knowledge that he has gleaned from his master, yet his amassment of knowledge is far greater and deeper than that of the second student - even though he is unable to reach creative and deep conclusions with his own mind.
The reason is that the second student, with all of his advantages, is still only a student and has not reached the lofty level of his teacher. All of his creative solutions are like nothing in comparison to that of the knowledge of his master. Therefore the student who does not have the ability for creative thinking, yet has expended his efforts in understanding and memorizing the teachings of his teacher has amassed a storehouse of knowledge of incredible depth that can not be compared to by the second type of student.
Therefore the answer to the question of who is the better type of student must be answered in relation to the point of view focusing on either the level of the student himself or on the level of the knowledge itself. From the aspect of the student himself, it is obvious that the second type of student is preferable since he has developed his mind which makes him a loftier person - even changing into a different person. But if we are to judge from the level of sheer knowledge known, we must conclude that the advantage belongs to the first student who has expended his time absorbing the lessons from his teacher. He is a veritable storehouse of information.
The above will explain the teaching in the Ethics of the Fathers regarding Rabbi Eliezer ben Horkanus and Rabbi Elazar ben Aruch. Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai said " if all of the sages of Israel were on one side of a scale and Eliezer ben Horkanus was on the other side, he would tip the scale against all of them (and that included Rabbi Elazar ben Aruch together with the other sages).
Yet, it was also said in his name (Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai) that if all of the Jewish sages were in one side of a scale and Eliezer ben Horkanus together with them, and Elazar ben Aruch on the other side of the balance, then he would tilt the scale in his direction. The rabbis explain that there is no contradiction, meaning that both statements have merit. Each of the two sages mentioned had qualities which were capable of tilting the scale in their favor.
The explanation is as we have stated above. Rabbi Eliezer ben Horkanus was described as a "cistern which never loses a drop of water". So great was his memory and storehouse of the teachings of his master, Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai, that his knowledge compared to the rest of the sages of Israel was so much greater that he would tilt the scales in his favor. He was the essence of "descending from above" in the most magnanimous manner.
Yet from the aspect of the student's abilities, Rabbi Elazar ben Aruch was greater. He was considered a "geyser that bust forth", a student that possessed a creative mind that could tackle the greatest difficulties and bring forth creative solutions. From this aspect he was greater than all the other sages together. He was the manifestation of "ascending from below".
The Advantages in the Two Modes of Revelation
In view of the simile we may begin to understand the difference between the two revelations of G-dliness as expressed in "descending from above" as opposed to "ascending from below".
There is a certain manner in the revelation of G-dliness in the world when the G-dly influence descends from above. The world is neither purified nor elevated. The G-dliness which descends down upon the world is not dependent upon the actions of the inhabitants of the world. This is the aspect of "descending from above". The level of G-dliness is very great to the point that it can be felt in even the lowest physical manner in this lowly world.
There is a different manner of revelation of G-dliness which emanates from the purification and elevation of the world. The world feels this revelation of G-dliness because it has become purer and more sanctified. The world itself has changed and has become more lofty; therefore it merited a revelation of G-dliness.
In the subject of the Temples, as in the simile of the students, there are two aspects: There is the level of the G-liness that is being reveled in the world, and for certain the supernal infinite light that G-d Himself reveals (meaning the supernal light which "descends from above") is the greatest light that can be revealed. This divine light that G-d reveals is not dependent in any respect to the level of the limited world down below. This is similar to the first student's knowledge of the teacher's lessons compared to the second student's mere ability to engage in creative thought.
But if the measurement is of the level of the world - how much G-dliness has actually permeated into the world - then there is a distinct advantage to the second aspect, "ascending from below". Here the world itself has become more pure and has risen above its previous level. The world has united with this G-dliness because the world has become a vessel worthy of the supernal G-dly light. Therefore, even though this supernal G-dly light is much less than that mentioned above, never-the-less, it permeates and unites with the world in a much greater manner than the light which is generated from above.
Comparing the Manners of Service of the Patriarchs
In view of all which we have mentioned above, the special "direction" of service employed by our patriarch, Abraham, is in a manner of "descending from above"; whereas the special "direction" of our patriarch, Isaac, is in a manner of "ascending from below". This is apparent from these following two stories which are told in the Torah.
About Abraham, the Torah relates that "..he called there by the name of G-d, the Ruler of the world". The Talmud tells us (Sotah 10) "…don't say 'he called' but rather 'he caused others to call' - it comes to teach us that Abraham caused others to call upon the name of the L-rd".
The Rambam (in the beginning of the laws of Idolatry) spends time describing the character of Abraham in spreading the recognition of G-d through out the nations of the world. In other Holy Books, it is explained that Abraham had a special gift for explanation. He was capable of explaining the lofty concepts of G-dliness even to the lowest level of people - even to the Arabs who would practice their idolatry by bowing down to the dust on their feet.
From this it is apparent that the mode of service of Abraham was "descending from above" down to the lowest. He did not change the essential nature of the people who listened to him, they remained coarse and physical, but through his great efforts he was able to implant with in them concepts of G-d. This type of work is similar to the type of learning of the first type of student. Even though he understood deep thoughts - the thoughts were not his own - but rather the thoughts were the thoughts of his teacher.
On Isaac it is related in the Torah that he spent time digging wells. Obviously the plain meaning of the Torah is not to be ignored; Isaac did dig wells. But in this there is a hint as to Isaac's spiritual service which is hinted to us through the portion dealing with his digging wells.
The digging of wells is not something that is done to fill with water from another source. The purpose of digging wells is to reveal the water which already exists there, except that it is concealed and covered by the earth. When the earth is removed, the water is revealed and begins to flow.
Therefore there is a hint to the type of service to G-d that Isaac did. Water alludes to the Torah, to G-dliness. When there exists a place that is dry, a place which is devoid of spiritualism and purity, there are two manners in which holiness can be brought down into it. It is possible to bring it from another place making it a saturated area. But if we do so, the water is not really connected and related to that place. Another manner is to dig deep and reveal the water that exists below the concealment, meaning the inherent holiness that is concealed. Or as the mystics say: to raise up the Holy Sparks which are concealed within. That was the work of Isaac.
Time and Place
We mentioned above that the first Temple corresponded to Abraham's manner of divine service. The dwelling of the Holy Presence of G-d was in a manner of "descending from above", therefore the divine light which was in abundance in the first Temple exceeded the supernal light that was revealed in the second Temple. Therefore the first Temple had the Holy Ark, the fire which descended from heaven to consume the sacrifices, the breastplate of the High Priest, etc. The level of divine revelation was infinitely greater, but it did not exist because of the service and purification of those down below.
In the second Temple, which corresponded to Isaac, the revelation of G-d's presence was in a manner of "ascending from below". This divine revelation was no where near as great as in the first Temple especially since the five important items mentioned above were missing. But in this second Temple, there was a service that depended on inner work and purification of the world itself in order to bring about a revelation. As a result of this, the divine light that was generated in the second Temple was infused in the world in a greater scale than was in the first Temple. In this aspect the second Temple was greater.
But actually it is only because of this reason that the G-dly influence was able to be so sublime as in the first Temple to which no comparable divine light could be brought down into the world through the workings of mere mortals. The world was not capable of assimilating, even after great purification, a great G-dly light such as the one in the first Temple. Therefore in the second Temple, a divine light of much less magnitude was available. But this light was capable of being assimilated into the world.
Now it is understood the words of the Talmud which state that the greatness is measured either in the "building" of in the "years". The "building" and "years" signify the concepts of time and space. These concepts are concepts that are bound inseparably with the total essence of the world since the Creator has passed from the infinite to the limits of space and time in which only worldly concepts are relevant.
Since the advantage of the second Temple was in the elevation of that which was "below"- this is the greatness which was expressed in the terms "building" and "year". In space and time exactly as the words mean, an elevation of the mundane into the holy.
It was not the height of the Temple or the number of years - in their very simple meaning - that gave expression to the greatness of the second Temple, but rather in the actual reality that express the level of "ascending from below" which resulted in the purification and elevation of the "below". That was the greatness of the second Temple.
The Battles of the Maccabees
by Edward Greenberg
Understanding the Mind of Yehuda the Maccabee to utilize his genius for our every day life.
Much is known about the miracle of Chanukah and its subsequent impact on Jewish life. However, little is known about the battles that were fought by Judah the Maccabee and his sons. The Maccabean revolt began in 167 BCE and were at a time that there was no organized Jewish force that had engaged in any warfare. Judah the Maccabee used his genius in a manner radically different from his predecessors.
In order to fully understand the genius of Judah the Maccabee, we must understand the state of warfare which was used in those times. Greek and Roman armies were powerful, well trained, well financed, and disciplined. The Jews in that time period were basically farmers, they had lived in relative peace and had not resorted to any form of an army. Yet, after a decree was made that pigs be slaughter, offered to the Greek gods, and eaten, the revolt ensued. Mattisyahu, the Jewish priest was ordered to perform this sacrifice and to eat from the pig. Instead, with fury, he and his sons slew the Jewish traitors (who supported the Greeks) and Greek unit that had come to enforce the decree against the Jews. The Jews took refuge in the hills and mountain sides of the Modiin region, some 25 miles distant from Jerusalem. There a small group, estimated at 200 organized as a guerrilla group.
This small group reaffirmed the principles of Judaism with willingness to sacrifice themselves for the sake of their G-d. In what they lacked in supplies and training, they made up with there devotion. They worked on strengthening their contacts among the Jewish settlements, maintaining supplies and intelligence gathering. Soon, Judah, the son of Mattisyahu, was designated as the leader.
The Greek army was well trained, well organized and tried in battle. Their ranks were composed of heavy and light infantry, heavy and light cavalry, chariots, elephant units and engines for hurling huge stones. Their weapons included swords, javelins, spears bows, slings and battering rams. The Jews small group had such home made primitive weapons such as the sling and the mace. Here is where Judah’s genius came to even the sides.
The Greeks enjoyed the overwhelming superiority in manpower and arms. However they were trained for battle in a conventional fighting form. The core of the Greek army was the tactical infantry formation, a group of soldiers drawn up in close order. The troops advanced towards the enemy in a tight mass. The men in each rank shoulder to shoulder and close on the heels of the rank in front. This company comprised of some 250 men. They would march toward the enemy in close quarter with 16 men is each row and sixteen rows. Four such units comprised some one thousand men. This was the smallest fighting group that the Greeks employed.
As the unit approached the enemy force, the first five rows held their spears horizontally towards the enemy. The remaining rows held them vertically. Their large shields protected them from all sides and overhead. All men of that unit were ready to engage the enemy not as independent warriors, but as a tightly knit war machine. The entire unit would press against the enemy once battle was joined. The thundering forward crush, demolished every thing in its path. This infantry unit was protected on the flanks by cavalry and light forces which skirmished before the main forces. Judah saw that to engage the Greeks head on was insane. He realized that that the weakness in this method of warfare was in the cumbersome conventional movement of the organized units. Due to their ridged discipline and the tight internal organization of the warring units, they could not employ the element of surprise. The progress of a marching unit was powerful, yet slow and tedious. When two forces met in battle, both sides were in full view of the other. When battle was enjoined, it was in accordance to certain fixed tactical principles. The concept of using original tactics did not exist.
Judah saw the advantages to be gained from refusing to allow the enemy to dictate the field and style of battle. The Greeks were no match if challenged on flat land in a direct battle during the daylight hours. Yehuda’s strength was in the agility of his men to move quickly, quietly and independently and their desire to prevail. They possessed intimate knowledge of the local terrain therefore attacks could be carried out at night. He therefore chose to utilize the rocky and hilly slopes of the Modiin region, together with the element of surprise.
Judah decided to attack the Greeks as they were marching thought a narrow pass that winds uphill for several miles. With one group who would meet the Greeks head on, Judah split his men into other groups. One group was assigned the task of sealing off the narrow pass to prevent retreat. Two other groups hid on the hill side and waited for the first group to engage in battle. As the Greeks met the surprise attack from the front and directed their attention to the certain slaughter of these renegades, the second group attacked from one side. Turning to ward off this surprise, and as their attention was caught between two sides, they were attacked from the third side. Untrained for battle in a non-orthodox form, they were unaware of the trick that was being unfolded upon them. The Jewish warriors swept down from the sides and decimated the Greek troops. The entire Greek force was totally destroyed. The Jews wasted no time in collecting the enemy’s weapons and equipment.
This surprise victory had electrifying effects on the whole of Israel. The popular support that the Maccabean warriors had enjoyed was increased dramatically. The disgraced Greek army was forced to withdraw. Yet although the Greek army tried several times again to battle the small Jewish army, each time increasing the Greek army, they lost in a most profound manner. Judah’s genius manifest itself in utilizing the natural elements that were given to his side, and by utilizing his natural G-d given talents. He refusing to accept the enemy’s dictation of battle in any mode of conflict. We too, can learn from this, as we must deal with our enemies. We do not have to accept other modes of thought as the given, nor do we have to fight with them in their chosen conventional form (which they choose to use). Rather, we must utilize that natural and native Jewish intelligence which G-d has given us. That, together with our devotion, will help us succeed in all of our battles.
Jewish Fast Days and Jerusalem
By Eliezer CohenThis year the Seventeenth of the Jewish month of Tamuz falls on Thursday, July 1, 1999. The Ninth of the Jewish month of Av fall this year on Wednesday, July 14, 1999.
The period of time marked by the Seventeenth of Tamuz until the Ninth of Av is a time of increased mourning for the destroyed Temple in Jerusalem and a lessening in activities which bring about joyfulness. Both the Seventeenth of Tamuz and the Ninth of Av are fast days, although the severity of the fasts are different between the two days.
Among the many catastrophes that took place on The Seventeenth of Tamuz in time and history, were that the walls of the ancient city of Jerusalem, during the time of the second temple, were breached by the Roman enemy. This marked the beginning of the end to the second commonwealth of the Jewish people in their own homeland, and the beginning of a two thousand year exile.
The fast of the Seventeenth of Tamuz begins upon daylight and concludes with the day's end. Sick and ill people are excused from fasting, but should not partake of luxurious foods and drink. Children under the age of bar and bat-mitzvah are exempted from this fast.
The three week period between the Seventeenth of Tamuz and the Ninth of Av is a period of increased solemnity. No marriages take place, we refrain from hearing music, haircuts and pleasure trips. It is also customary not to wear a new garment at this time since it brings one pleasure. It is considered a time of bad mazel [luck], therefore we refrain from doing activities that could be affected by poor timing.
The month of Av is the month following the month of Tamuz. Once the month of Av begins, the solemnity increases. Nothing that may lead to happiness may be done. We refrain from planting, building, purchasing things that will give us pleasure unless that is absolutely necessary. We stop making and making clothing and refrain from eating meat and drinking wine with the exception of the Sabbath and other ceremonial meals, such as a circumcision. Many refrain from taking hot baths and washing laundry.
During the week in which the Ninth of Av falls, cutting the fingernails is avoided unless it is for a religious obligation.
The day preceding the Ninth of Av is a day for introspection about one's personal self in relation to the building of the temple. Many study those tracts that deal with the destruction of the Temple and the laws of the fast. The last meal before the fast is eaten late in the afternoon. The meal generally consists of bread and an egg dipped in ashes. The meal is not eaten at a table but on the floor in order to arouse the feelings of mourning for the Temple. After the meal leather shoes are removed, since they are considered to be a comfort. The fast of the Ninth of Av begins with the sunset and lasts till the end of the following day.
The Ninth of Av is the day on which the Temple was destroyed.This marked the complete end to our freedom in our land and freedom to serve our G-d with out encumberment. From this day after, we were slaughtered and sold as slaves, exiled and dispersed amongst the nations. This year, 1999, marks 1929 years since we are with out our Temple and have been exiled from our land.
At night the Book of Lamentations is read by a low candle light, in a low and mournful voice. Additional lamentations, called kinot, are said at night and also the following day. Greeting of peace between friends and neighbors are not exchanged on this day. It is the custom not to sit on a chair until the afternoon. When going to sleep at night it is customary to deprive one's self of some comfort, such as sleeping with out a pillow.
Work is not recommended on this day, for those who will occupy themselves in business and not mourn for our collective loss. They will certainly see no blessing in the fruits of the work done on this day. In the afternoon of the Ninth of Av, a meal may be prepared for the evening.
The following day is a partial day of mourning since the fire in the Temple was not yet extinguished. We wait until mid day before resuming all normal activities. May we all merit through the observance of our traditional mourning customs, the rebuilding of our Temple, where we once again will see with our eyes of flesh and blood the presence of the Almighty G-d.
The Persian Conquest Of Jerusalem
By Meir Loewenberg
The Jewish people encountered the Persian people at different points in history. The Purim story, as recorded in the Book of Esther, is perhaps the best remembered of these encounters, but there are others, less well known. The story of the Persian conquest of Jerusalem in 614 C.E. is almost unknown. TheEncyclopedia Judaica devotes less than three lines to this event, while many Jewish history books ignore it altogether.
Ever since the establishment of the Byzantine Roman Empire, Jews and other non-Christians were the objects of discrimination and worse. In the fifth and sixth centuries, the lot of the Jews who had remained in Palestine became unbearable. They were the victims of heavy taxes, confiscation of property and even forced conversions. Messianic hopes and dreams were the only thing that kept them going.
Just at this point in history, King Khosrau II (591-628) became the Sassanid king of Persia. He followed his predecessor's liberal policy towards the local Jews. Within the Persian royal circles, the Jews had recognized rights and privileges, but due to the fanaticism of some of the Persian people they were not always able to exercise these. At one point Khosrau considered the idea of relocating the Jews, but the opportunity to do this never presented itself.
Early in his reign, King Khosrau attempted to re-establish the ancient Achaemenid Empire by aggressively conquering neighboring countries. In 602 he launched an offensive against Constantinople with the aim of annexing as much Byzantine territory as possible. His armies invaded and plundered Syria and Asia Minor and by 608 advanced as far as Chalcedon (nowadays a neighborhood in Instanbul). Soon afterwords his armies besieged and captured Damascus.
Jews everywhere were eager to aid and abet the Persian army. When they heard the news that Jewish soldiers had joined the Persian forces, they fully expected that a miracle would soon occur. The Jews of Antioch rioted and killed the Christian Patriarch. In Yemen the Jews also rioted and killed the Christian clergy.
The next target of the Persian army was Jerusalem, capital of the Byzantine province of Palaestina Prima. Capturing this province would provide Persia direct access to the Mediterranean Sea, thereby threatening Byzantine hegemony of that ocean. Prior to embarking on the invasion of Palestine, King Khosrau made a treaty with the Reish Galuta, the head of Babylonian Jewry. Even though many historians doubt whether there actually was such a treaty, it was widely believed both at the time and in later centuries that this treaty called upon the Jews to provide 20,000 soldiers for the Persian army. In return for joining the Persian army, these Jewish soldiers were given permission to participate in the capture of Jerusalem - which they did in 614. King Khosrau appointed Nehemiah ben Hushiel, the son of the Exilarch, as the symbolic leader of Persian troops. Since Nehemiah was known to be a mystic, Khosrau was certain that he would not interfere in military affairs.
Benjamin of Tiberias, a Jew of immense wealth, enlisted and armed additional Jewish soldiers for the Persian army. Tiberian Jews, together with others from Nazareth and the mountain cities of Galilee, joined the Persian divisions commanded by Shahrbaraz on the march to Jerusalem. The united forces took Jerusalem by storm after a 21 day siege (July, 614 CE). The fall of Jerusalem's walls meant not only the capture of Jerusalem, but also of all of Palaestina Prima. Subsequent to the conquest of Jerusalem, the local Jews assisted the Persian troops in putting down a revolt of the Christian population against their new rulers.
One of the conditions for the enlistment of twenty thousand Jewish soldiers was a formal promise that a Jewish governor would be appointed to rule over Persian Jerusalem. Once the city was captured, Nehemiah ben Hushiel was appointed governor of Jerusalem. There are reports that he was a strong young man, handsome and adorned in royal robes, but actually we know very little about his reign because no contemporary accounts have survived. There are reports that he had Messianic pretensions. Soon after his appointment the new governor reestablished the sacrificial service on the Temple Mount - something that had not occurred in over five hundred years. He began to make arrangements for the rebuilding of the Temple. At the same time, he tried to clarify the genealogies of the priests in order to appoint a new High Priest. Rabbi Elazer Kalir, one of the earliest and most prolific of Jewish liturgical poets who lived in Palestine at the time of the Persian invasion, described these events in one of his piyutim (that is not found in the liturgy) as follows:
- When Assyria [Persia] came to the city . and pitched his tents there / the holy people [Jews] were a bit relieved / because he permitted the reestablishment of the Temple / and they built there the holy altar / and offered upon it holy sacrifices / but they did not manage to build the Temple / because the Messiah had not yet come.
Several other sources also confirm that sacrifices were offered on the Temple Mount during the years of the Persian occupation.
According to Antiochus Strategos, a 7th century monk who witnessed the Persian conquest of Jerusalem, an "unprecedented looting and sacrilege" occurred shortly after the Persian army entered Jerusalem. "Church after church was burned down alongside the innumerable Christian artifacts, which were stolen or damaged by the ensuing arson". However, a careful survey of the available archaeological finds from Jerusalem reveals no clear evidence of destruction or damage in churches and monasteries that can be associated with the Persian conquest. Instead, all excavated sites in Jerusalem show a clear pattern of continuity, with no evidence for destruction by the Persian conquest of 614. No other source supports the claim that the Jews were responsible for the massacre of the Christian population.
Antiochus Strategos also claimed that many Christians were captured and held for ransom. Jews offered to help them escape if they "become Jews and deny Christ". The Christian captives refused this offer. The Jews then purchased the Christians from the Persians and massacred them. He claimed that the total Christian death toll was 66,509.
The immediate results of the conquest of Jerusalem by a Persian-Jewish force filled the Jews with joy and pride. Many Christians became Jews through fear. The Jews were free from the Christian yoke for about fourteen years. They hoped that King Khosrau would permit them to establish a Jewish commonwealth. Some suggest that such an autonomous Jewish province was indeed established. If so, it barely got off the ground before the tide turned.
Three years after Nehemiah was appointed, the Persians removed the Jewish governor of Jerusalem for reasons that were never clearly stated. Perhaps they feared his messianic pretensions - or they made a strategic decision that the support of the larger Christian population was more valuable than that of the smaller number of Jews. After executing the Jewish governor and ending the Jewish rule of the city, the Persians forbade Jews from settling within a three-mile radius of Jerusalem.
The Persian control of the city, however, did not last long. Byzantine emperor Heraclius (575-641) waged a bitter war against the Persians in order to regain his lost provinces of Syria, Egypt and Palestine. He successfully destroyed the Persian army in 628 and in the following year marched into Jerusalem at the head of his army. Though he had promised an amnesty to Jerusalem's Jews, the Christian clergy of Jerusalem convinced him that his promise was invalid; subsequently the Byzantines accused the Jews of Jerusalem of having cooperated with the Persian conquerors and massacred them.
When the Persian conquest of Palestine took place in 614 CE, no one could have foreseen the long range consequences of this event. However, with hindsight it becomes evident that this was a major turning point in the history of the Near East. The brutalities of the invading armies, involving large scale damage to churches and a mass killing of the local Christian population, was undoubtedly one of the causes for the rapid Muslim conquests, twenty years later.
Additional reading on this chapter of Jewish history can be found in Sefer Zerubabel, Yehudah Even Shmuel (Kaufman), Midrashei G'ulah, Tel Aviv: Mossad Bialik, 1943, pp.55-88.
Archeological evidence of these events are reviewed in Gideon Avni, "The Persian conquest of Jerusalem (614 CE) - an archaeological assessment,"http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/pers357904.shtml
Kaliri's unknown poem, as recovered from the Cairo Geniza, is available in Ezra Fleischer, "L'pitaron sh'elat z'mano u'makom p'uloto shel R' Elazar Biribi Kilir" ["Towards a Solution to the Question of the Time and Place of Activity of Rabbi Elazar ben Rabbi Kalir"], Tarbiz 54, 5745/1985, p. 401.