The Jewish Eye
Story of The Churban - Part 17
Part 17: Masada - The First Post Churban Revolt
During the Roman conquest of Yerushalayim, a group of Zealots successfully escaped from the massacre in Yerushalayim. They ran to the Judean desert and took refuge in Masada, which overlooks Yam Hamelech. When Titus left Judea, he left one legion behind headed by Flavius Silva, and directed him to eliminate any remaining fighters.
Masada was a fortress which was built by Herod one hundred years earlier and was situated on an enormous rock, which was fourteen-hundred-feet high. Cavernous valleys and slopes encircled the rock, and a twenty -five foot high wall protected it. The wall was four-thousand-two hundred feet long, and embedded into it were thirty-seven seventy foot towers. Masada contained palaces, bathhouse, and hundreds of storage rooms. It also contained all the amenities of Jewish life, including Sifrei Torah, Tanach, mikvaos, and a shul. The Zealots and their families, which included nine hundred and sixty seven people, stayed in this well- provided fortress. This was the remnant of the Zealots, who numbered twenty-three thousand men before the Romans conquered Yerushalayim. A Zealot named Elazar ben Yair was the leader of the group.
The Romans lay siege to Masada for years without success. The group had an ample supply of water and food, some of which had been plundered from starving Jewish families before the Roman conquest. Ein Gedi, a nearby Jewish town was devastated by the Zealots, who plundered its spoils to add to their supplies.
Silva, however, had abundant manpower on his side, including ten thousand troops from the Tenth Legion, and thousands of Jewish slaves from Yerushalayim. Eventually, the Romans, out of a lack of a better alternative, decided to build a siege wall around the mountain. They built a three-hundred foot high ramp on the western side of the mountain. They then paved a road on top of the ramp, and placed their war machines on top. They were now in a position to breach the wall.
Inside the fortress, the Jews made a desperate decision; they would not fall alive into the hands of the Romans. Elazar ben Yair encouraged the group to commit mass suicide. In his parting words, Elazer ben Yair admitted the Zealots' guilt in harming their fellow Jews, and conceded that Hashem was punishing them for their sins. Each head of a household was instructed to kill his family. The men then drew lots to kill each other. When the Romans finally breached the fortress, they were met with a chilling site. Hundreds of Jews, men, women, and children lay dead. Two elderly women and five children had escaped death by secreting themselves in a cave, and they were the only survivors. The fall of Masada, which was the end of the First Revolt against Rome, took place on the first day of Pesach, in the third year of the fall of Yerushalayim.
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