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Story of The Churban - Part 18
Part 18: Bar Kochba - The Final Blow
Roman rule continued over Judea, and the Jews suffered from the abuses of the successive Roman Emperors. The abuse became intolerant under Hadrian, despite the fact that he began his reign by treating the Jews like proper Roman citizens, and even granted the Jews permission to rebuild the Bais Hamikdash. This tranquility did not last for long. Hadrian eventually rescinded his offer to rebuild the Bais Hamikdash, and began forbidding the Jews to follows the laws of the Torah. He outlawed the practice of Bris Mila, Shemiras Shabbos, and Taharas Hamishpacha. Anyone caught violating the law was executed. In time, Hadrian ordered that a pagan temple be built on Har Habayis. This decree was beyond the Jews' tolerance; the seeds of a revolt against Rome had been planted.
It was during these turbulent times that Bar Kosiba arrived on the scene, and began an organized revolt against the Romans. Rabbi Akiva witnessed the unbelievable and almost supernatural military prowess of Bar Kosiba, and was convinced he was Moshiach. He dubbed him Bar Kochba, which was a reference to the possuk, "A star has risen in Yaakov." (Bamidbar 24:17). Most of the Sages of the time agreed with him, and thousands of Jews joined his army. The few Sages that were wary of his authenticity deemed him Bar Kosiba, the son of deceit. Within a year, Bar Kochba had reconquered nine hundred and eighty-five cities. Eventually, Hadrian was forced to send a Roman general, Julius Severus, to reconquer Judea.
Severus and his troops began reconquering Judea city by city. After more than fifty battles which lasted several years, Severus succeeded in subduing Judea. All the cities of Judea had been recaptured except for Beitar, where Bar Kochba was now barricaded with his men. Beitar was southwest of Yerushalayim, near the Mediterranean Sea. It was a well-populated city filled with the sounds of Torah study. Hundreds of batei midrash were filled with thousands of students. The city was difficult to conquer due to its natural layout; it was bordered on three sides by deep valleys. It also had its own wellspring of water, and was surrounded by a sturdy wall.
The Romans besieged Beitar for three years before they finally conquered it. The conquest of Beitar was an inconceivable tragedy; it was equivalent to the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash. (Mishnah Taanis 4:6) The sheer number of victims was mind-boggling; the number was more than the number of victims during the Roman conquest of Yerushalayim. Tens of thousands of children were burned alive, swathed in their scrolls. The blood of the victims flowed in violent streams, horses almost drowned in the red torrents, and huge rocks were lifted up as the pools of blood streamed into the sea.
Seven years later, the nearby vineyards were still fertilized with the blood of the dead. Hadrian had ordered that the bodies could not be buried. Hadrian took the bodies of the victims and used them to make a wall around his vineyard which was eighteen miles square. The height of the wall was the height that a man could reach with his hands raised above his head. Hashem performed a miracle and the bodies did not decompose for years, when they were finally allowed to be buried.
Judea was now fully under Roman control. On Tisha B'av, Yerushalayim was plowed over until it was completely destroyed. The Romans rebuilt Yerushalayim as a Roman city and changed its name to Aelia Capitolina. A pagan temple was constructed on Har Habayis honoring the Roman god Jupiter Capitolina.
"May we be zocheh to the final geulah speedily in our days."
"May You return to Yerushalayim, Your city, and may You dwell in it like You said, and may You rebuild it speedily in our days as an everlasting edifice, and may You speedily establish the throne of Your servant Dovid there."
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