Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Jerusalem.  Circa 70 C.E[1].  Inside the city’s walls a violent civil war raged between rival factions of Jews; outside Titus’ Vth, XIIth and XVth Roman legions surrounded the city to the west with the Xth legion to the east.  Along with the 60,000 experienced warriors came attendants, road builders, land surveyors, transport, generals, cavalry, all sorts of war-machinery, standard bearers, trumpeters, servants, and mercenaries.  Inside was a starving populace – but one surrounded by sturdy stone walls on one side and a sheer cliff on the other.  Titus would have to breach these walls to capture Jerusalem.
The Xth  Legion, stationed in Judea for 200 years, left behind this column, located just inside the Jaffa Gate.  Its currently in use as a lamp post.
 On the 7th of the Jewish month of Iyar Titus’ army broke through the first wall, near present day Jaffa Gate, capturing the Bizitiya area.  Eight days later he broke through the second wall, to the New Quarter.  On the 1st of the Jewish month of Tamuz he began his assault on the Antonia Fortress that protected the Holy Temple and the Lower City.  For five days, bitter fighting raged with heavy casualties, and when it ended on the 5th of Tamuz, the Jewish forces under Yochanan Gush Chalav had retreated to the Temple Mount, while the Romans controlled most of the city.[2]

Model of the Second Temple, locted at the Israel Museum
Throughout all this, the kohanim (priests) had continued their service in the Temple, faithfully bringing the daily offerings.  But on the 17th of Tamuz the altar lay empty – there was nothing for the daily sacrifice.[3]  The kohanim were urgently called from their holy duties to battle the Romans.  But it was for naught.  The last wall fell, and as legionnaires poured onto the Temple Mount, the fate of the Temple was sealed – but it would take three more weeks of bloody battles before its destruction.
It is this tragedy that we commemorate on Tuesday with the Fast of the 17th of Tamuz.
To learn more about this calamitous time, see here and here.

[1] There are varying opinions as to when the destruction of the Second Temple took place.  Rashi (Avodah Zarah 9b) places it in 68 C.E, while Tosafos says it occurred in 69 C.E.  Others – both Jewish and secular scholars – identify the year 70 C.E.
[2] Even after the destruction of the Temple, the Romans did not succeed in capturing all of Jerusalem until the 8th of Elul, when they finally defeated Shimon bar Giora’s forces, who controlled the Upper City.
[3] Goldwurm, Hersh & Friedner, Yekutiel. (1986). History of the Jewish People: the Second Temple Era (volume I).  Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications.  Others say that this incident occurred much earlier, during the time of the warring brothers , Hyrkanus and Aristobulus.

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