The Jewish Eye
Story of The Churban - Part 3
Part 3: Civil War Erupts In Eretz Yisroel
During this period of oppression by the Romans, three Jewish factions emerged in Yerushalayim. Each one was characterized by a different approach toward the Romans. These included the Zealots, who advocated open revolt against the Romans, the moderates, who strived to avoid violence, and the Friends of Rome, who were loyal to Rome. The Friends of Rome were comprised mostly of Tzedukim and corrupt Kohanim Gedolim. Most of the Tzedukim were so assimilated that they were barely recognizable as Jews. Most Jews were moderates - they wanted to fulfill the Torah laws and avoid confrontation with the Romans. As the years passed by, the Zealots increased in number as the Roman oppression increased. The Zealots included violent members who were called Biryonim, and criminals who were called Sicarii. The violent members of the Zealots inflicted constant terror upon their fellow Jews. The Jews were more frightened of the Zealots than they were of the Romans. The Sicarii traveled around in bands committing robberies and murder against their fellow Jews. This set the stage for a civil war. Ultimately, the actions of the Zealots caused the Romans to defeat them and destroy the Bais Hamikdash.
Civil war eventually broke out between the Zealots and the Friends of Rome due to the violence the Sicarii committed against them. The Zealots invited the Edomites, whose ancestors had been forcibly converted to Judaism by Yochanan Hyrkanus, to join them. The Zealots and Edomites killed the leaders of the moderates and murdered even innocent citizens. After the Edomites had had their fill of plunder and murder, they left the city and Yerushalayim was under the control of the Zealots and their leaders, Yochanan of Gush Chalav and Elazer ben Shimon. However, the Tzeduki Kohanim Gedolim and leaders, and their allies, the Friends of Rome, did not accept the domination of the Zealots. They appointed a leader, Shimon bar Giora, and began a civil war that was unsurpassed in its violence and ruthlessness.
Many years prior to this, the peaceful citizens of Yerushalayim had been storing provisions for months in case of a Roman siege. Three wealthy men, who were students of R' Yochanan ben Zakkai, donated huge storehouses of flour, oil, and wood. There were enough supplies to survive a siege of 21 years. Shimon bar Giora burned these storehouses in order to force the Jews to fight Rome. A terrible famine ensued in Jerusalem.
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