The Jewish Eye
Story of The Churban - Part 12
Part 12: Life Under Titus
Titus ordered that that all the surviving warriors and anyone connected to the Zealots should be killed. Anyone vulnerable, such as the elderly and ailing, were also killed. The remaining young survivors were divided into groups. Anyone over seventeen were sent as slaves to the copper mines of Egypt. Those under seventeen were sold as slaves. Many were sent to Greek cities to become living entertainment for the masses at the circus, where they were forced to fend off gladiators and wild animals. The Romans then chose 700 of the tallest, fittest, and attractive Jewish youths. This group would be marched to Rome to take place in Titus' victory parade.
While these selections were taking place, 11,000 more Jews died from starvation. Altogether, 1,100,000 Jews died from the sword or from hunger, and 97,000 were taken captive. Thousands of captives were taken to Rome and other cities to be sold as slaves.
The life of a Jews was worse than worthless. Titus announced, "Whoever does not kill a Jew shall be killed." As time went on, Titus declared, "Whoever kills a Jews must pay a fine of forty zuz." Eventually, Titus announced, "Whoever kills a Jew will be killed."
All the Jews in the Roman Empire were taxed. This was the Fiscus Jusaici (the Jew tax); it was fifteen shekels every year. Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai sadly said, "Those who did not wish to pay the tax to the treasury of the Bais Hamikdash will now pay the tax to their enemy. Those who refused to give the half-shekel are now forced to pay fifteen shekel. Those who did not repair the streets and the roads for the olai regal are forced to make repairs for the attendants of the emperor." (Mechilta Shemos 19:1).
The captive were aware that many of them would be forced into a life of immorality. Many chose to die rather than sully their neshamos. The Gemara relates a story about this.
Four hundred boys and girls were taken captive for a life of shame. When they realized what was in store for them, they asked, "If we drown in the sea, do we have a share in Techiyas Hameisim? The oldest among them answered: "It is written, ‘Hashem said, I will bring back from the depths of the sea' (Tehillim 68:23). ‘I will bring back from Bashan' -this means from the teeth of the lion; ‘from the depths of the sea' - this speaks of those who drown in the sea." As soon as the girls heard this, they leaped into the sea. The boys reasoned that if the girls gave up their lives to avoid immorality, they should give up their lives to avoid unnatural immorality, and they too leaped into the sea. Concerning such as these, Scripture (Tehillim 44:3) says; "For your sake we are killed all day, we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter" (Gittin 57b).
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