Jerusalem Talmud, Berakhot 4:1, 7b; Taanit 4:6, 68c

The destruction of the Temple
360 CE to 400 CE
Syria Palaestina
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Jerusalem Talmud
Berakhot 4:1, 7b; Taanit 4:6, 68c

This text explains Mishnah Taanit, 4:6, which lists five calamities that are said to have taken place on the seventeenth of Tammuz: “Five events happened to our forefathers on the seventeenth of Tammuz… On the seventeenth of Tammuz: the tablets [of the covenant] were broken, and the Tamid [offering] ceased, and the city [wall] was breached, and Apistemos burned the Torah [scroll] and he erected an idol in the Temple.” These traditions from the Jerusalem Talmud seek to explain the circumstances under which the Tamid sacrifice ceased to be offered, thus bringing about the destruction of the Temple. The Tamid – a public offering of a sheep (following Numbers 28:3-8) – was sacrificed in the Temple each day, in the morning (before any other sacrifice) and in the afternoon. During a siege, it was difficult to obtain animals for the Temple cult. The Talmud presents two traditions: one about the Greek (Hellenistic) era, and the other about the Roman period. In both, an agreement existed between the besieged (within the city or the Temple) and their besiegers: those inside the walls would lower a container of gold in exchange for a pair of animals needed for sacrifice. In both cases detailed in this passage, those laying the siege failed to uphold this understanding.

Section A discusses an incident that occurred during the Greek kingdom, but there are no details that indicate its specific time. Here, instead of lambs, the besiegers give kids, despite the fact that goats were unsuitable for the Tamid sacrifice. However, the offering was not disrupted because God intervened and the besieged Israelites found “in the chamber of lambs” two “inspected lambs,” meaning that they were already inspected and found suitable to be used as sacrifices.

Section B took place at the time of “that wicked kingdom.” Several amoraic texts refer to Rome with this epithet (for example, Genesis Rabbah 2:4). The Romans' disrespect for this agreement and their substitution of two pigs is significant. According to the Torah (Leviticus 11:7; Deuteronomy 14:8), swine are considered ritually impure; therefore, Jews are prohibited from eating pork. Moreover, Rome itself is represented as a swine in several amoraic rabbinic texts (Leviticus Rabbah 13:5; Genesis Rabbah 65:1). A boar was also one of the symbols of the Tenth Roman Legion (Legio X Fretensis), which besieged and conquered Jerusalem during the Great Revolt (70 CE) and was later stationed there. According to this passage in the Jerusalem Talmud, the swine did not enter the city (or the Temple) premises since, while the two pigs were lifted, the wall of the city (or the Temple) was shaken when the body of one of them came into contact with it; then the swine leapt out of the Land of Israel. At that moment, the sins of the people of Israel caused the termination of the Tamid offering and, as a result, the Temple was destroyed. Despite the Roman role in the siege and the episode that brought the Tamid offering to an end, according to the Jerusalem Talmud, the sins of the people are responsible for these events.

The Babylonian Talmud (Sotah 49b; Bava Qamma 82b; Menahot 64b) integrates these two stories, thereby creating a new tale that is situated in new contexts within that Talmud. Although the Babylonian Talmud presents this tradition as a baraita (a tannaitic tradition, meaning an early teaching from the Land of Israel), it seems to be a combination of these two traditions from the Jerusalem Talmud with a Babylonian touch. The tale in the Babylonian Talmud describes the war between two Hasmonean brothers:Hyrcanus II and Aristobulus II. During that conflict – just before the Romans, led by Pompey, conquered Judea – Hyrcanus besieged Jerusalem while Aristobulus was inside the city. In that version, a swine was uploaded by Hyrcanus’s forces:

תנו רבנן כשצרו מלכי בית חשמונאי זה על זה היה הורקנוס מבחוץ וארסטובלוס בפנים ובכל יום ויום היו משלשלין להן דינרין בקופה ומעלין להן תמידין היה שם זקן אחד שהיה מכיר בחכמת יוונית לעז להם בחכמה יוונית אמר להם כל זמן שעסוקין בעבודה אין מסורין בידכם אותו היום שלשלו להן דינרין בקופה והעלו להן חזיר כיון שהגיעו לחצי חומה נעץ צפרניו וצעק ונזדעזעה ארץ ישראל ארבע מאות פרסה באותה שעה אמרו ארור מגדל חזיר וארור לומד בנו חכמת יונית

The rabbis taught [in a tannaitic tradition]: When the Hasmonean kings besieged each other, Hyrcanus was outside and Aristobulus was inside. Each and every day, they [who were besieged] lowered dinars in a basket, and the [besiegers] would upload temidim [animals for the Tamid sacrifice]. There was an old man there that knew Greek wisdom. He spoke to them in the foreign tongue of Greek wisdom: “As long as they engage in sacrificial service, they are not to be given into your hands.” On that day, [when] they lowered down dinars in a basket, the [besiegers] uploaded a swine. As it reached the middle of the wall, it pressed its hoofs (lit: nails) [against the wall] and squealed. The Land of Israel was shaken [for a radius of] four hundred parasangs. At that hour they said: “Cursed be anyone who raises swine” and “Cursed be anyone whose son studies Greek wisdom” (or “Cursed be anyone who teaches his son Greek”; b. Sotah 49b).

In contrast to the Jerusalem Talmud’s versions of this tradition, which make no mention of a Jewish siege on Jerusalem since the besiegers are Greek and Roman, in this passage from the Babylonian Talmud, the besieged and the besiegers alike are Jews, for this scenario takes place during a Jewish civil war. It is important to mention here that Josephus recounts a similar incident which took place when Hyrcanus was laying siege to Jerusalem and Aristobulus was positioned therein (Jewish Antiquities, XIV.25-28):

“While the priests and Aristobulus were being besieged, there happened to come around the festival called Phaska, at which it is our custom to offer numerous sacrifices to God. But as Aristobulus and those with him lacked victims, they asked their countrymen to furnish them with these, and take as much money for the victims as they wished. And when these others demanded that they pay a thousand drachmas for each animal they wished to get, Aristobulus and the priests willingly accepted this price and gave them the money, which they let down from the walls by a rope. Their countrymen, however, after receiving the money did not deliver the victims, but went to such lengths of villainy that they violated their pledges and acted impiously toward God by not furnishing the sacrificial victims to those who were in need of them. …” [Loeb translation by Ralph Marcus, 1933].

Scholars debate whether the authors of the Babylonian Talmud were familiar with Josephus’s writings. Thus, we cannot yet determine if the Talmud integrated Josephus’s story with the two traditions from the Jerusalem Talmud. Nonetheless, the Babylonian tale seems to represent a later version which depends on the Jerusalem Talmud. Despite its presentation of this text as an early Palestinian tradition, this Babylonian passage includes at least one term, “Greek wisdom” (חכמת יוונית) that is only found in the Babylonian Talmud and later midrashim. While several texts from the Land of Israel prohibit teaching one's sons the Greek language (Mishnah Sotah 9:14; Tosefta Sotah15:8), especially at times of conflict with Greek neighbors and Roman authorities, the term “Greek wisdom” only appears vis-à-vis the Torah in the Babylonian Talmud (Bava Qamma 83a; Menahot99b).

In contrast to this Babylonian version, the Jerusalem Talmud’s context for this story about the pigs is Roman. The Jerusalem Talmud uses the term “the wicked kingdom” in reference to Rome and it is Romans rather than Jews who attempt to contaminate Jerusalem with a swine. Yet, the Jerusalem Talmud understands the destruction of the Temple to stem from sins committed by the people of Israel. This theological concept pervades rabbinic texts from the Land of Israel. According to this notion, if Israel had observed the laws of the Torah and avoided sin, no empire would have been able to rule over them. 

Bibliographical references: 

“The Alleged Ban on Greek Wisdom”

Lieberman, Saularticle-in-a-bookHellenism in Jewish Palestine: Studies in the Literary Transmission Beliefs and Manners of Palestine in the I Century B.C.E. – IV Century CE100-114“The Alleged Ban on Greek Wisdom” New YorkThe Jewish Theological Seminary of America1962

“Greek Wisdom in Babylonia”

Vidas, Mouliearticle-in-a-bookEnvisioning Judaism: Studies in Honor of Peter Schӓfer on the Occasion of his Seventieth BirthdayRa‘anan S. Boustan, at el.287-305“Greek Wisdom in Babylonia”TübingenMohr Sibeck2013

“When Hyrcanus was Besieging Aristobulus”

Wilk, Romanarticle-in-a-bookDor Le-Dor: From the End of the Biblical Times up to the Redaction of the Talmud, Studies in Honor of Juhua Efron Aryeh Kasher, Aharon Oppenheimer99-104“When Hyrcanus was Besieging Aristobulus” Jerusalem and Tel AvivThe Bialik Institute and Tel Aviv University1995
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