Tosefta Sotah 15:6, 8-9

Decrees following wars against Rome

3d CE
Syria Palaestina
Literary genre: 
Legal text and Teaching
Title of work: 
Sotah 15:6, 8-9

In this tosefta there is a list of calamities which fell upon Israel and the decrees that were issued as a consequence. Section 6 cites Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel as saying that for each public trouble the court (beyt din) – probably rabbinic court – annuls a [mode of] rejoicing and the next passage provides examples for such decrees. Among these troubles are three wars against the Romans. While the first two wars are named after Roman generals, the third is named the “last war.”

The “last war” refers to the Bar Kokhba revolt (132-135 CE), the war of Vespasian refers to the 66 CE Jewish revolt known also as the Great revolt, and the “the war of Titus” seems to refer to the final stage of this war in which the Temple was destroyed. According to this reading, the Great Revolt is divided into two wars: 1) 67-68 CE – Vespasian leads the Roman army; 2) 69 CE onwards – Titus leads the Roman army in Judea, after his father Vespasian became emperor.  Nevertheless, as Gedalyahu Alon noted (The History of the Jews, vol. I, p. 255), rabbinic texts usually do not divide the Great Revolt into two wars. Thus, although the Tosefta’s version is “Titus,” scholars claim that it should be corrected to “Qitus,” since some of the manuscripts of Mishnah Sotah 9:14 which provides a parallel to this tosefta read Qitem (Kaufmann and Cambridge manuscripts) or Qites (some Genizah fragments). Thus, the common scholarly view is that this “war of Qitus” is named after LusiusQuietus, a general ofTrajan who fought during the Parthian war (115 CE) and afterwards against the rebels in Mesopotamia, including local Jews. In this regard, Eusebius describes Quietus’s violent oppression of Jewish rebels (Pucci Ben Zeev, Diaspora Judaism in Turmoil, p. 191-194). LusiusQuietus was appointed governor in Judea in 117 CE for a few months. During the years 115-117, Jewish communities in Egypt, Libya (Cyrene) and Cyprus also fought against the Romans in what was later named “the Diaspora Revolt.” Scholars debated whether the Jews in Judea also participated in this revolt (for the bibliography: Pucci Ben Zeev, Diaspora Judaism in Turmoil, p. 219-220). Some scholars suggest that Quietus was sent to Judea to subdue the Jews who joined their brothers in the other provinces. According to this view, the three wars mentioned by the Tosefta took place in Judea. Most scholars, therefore, accept the identification of the war of Qitem or Qites as the war of Quietus, referring to the events of 115-117, whether in the diaspora or in Judea, naming it the war of Qitus (Pucci Ben Zeev, Diaspora Judaism in Turmoil, p. 238-239). Thus, although there is no textual evidence in the Tosefta other than “the war of Titus,” scholars assume that it should be corrected to “the war of Qitus” (see, for example, Saul Lieberman, Tosefta Ki-Feshutah, vol. 8, p. 767).

In sections 8 and 9 the Tosefta delineates and discusses the prohibitions that were issued by the court: Regarding the war of Vespasian “they decreed [against] the crowns of bridegrooms.” While this section is identical to the parallel in Mishnah Sotah 9:14, the Tosefta also offers that the prohibited crowns are made from “salt and bitumen,” but crowns of rose and myrtle garlands are permitted. Salt and bitumen (called also asphalt) were originated in the Dead Sea and can be found in a solid state that can be used to make crowns. In the “war of Titus” (or “Qitus”), they forbade the “crowns of brides.” Here too the Tosefta explains that the prohibited crowns are of gold-embroidered [silk] but a cap of salt is approved within the house. It seems that the Tosefta’s goal in its discussion about these prohibitions is actually to allowed the crowns since it explains the prohibition as referring only to particular (and probably rare) type of crowns while permitting others. This trend seems to continue later in related to plastering one’s home and marriage-canopy of the grooms as the Tosefta first announces the prohibition and then limits the ban to specific kinds.    

In addition, like in the Mishnah, the Tosefta reports that they banned a man from teaching his son Greek. The Jerusalem Talmud that discusses this prohibition (Sotah 9:14, 24c) offers one opinion according to which this ban aimed to stop people from becoming informers of the Roman government, as the latter’s administrative language in the east was Greek. In the Babylonian Talmud (Sotah 49b), a prohibition of studying Greek wisdom is dated to the civil war between the two Hasmonean brothers:Hyrcanus II and Aristobulus II, just before the Romans led by Pompey conquered Judea.

The Tosefta states that a special permission was given to “the house of Rabban Gamliel” for “they are close to the government.” Thus, the Tosefta assumes that the household of Rabban Gamliel – also known as the patriarchal family, and whose exact status during this period is debated – needs the knowledge of Greek in order to connect with Roman officials whose language in the eastern part of the empire was Greek.

While these two prohibitions (the crowns of brides and the teaching of Greek to sons) are also mentioned in the Mishnah, the Tosefta adds a third one in section 9: a prohibition of plastering one’s house. Here also the Tosefta discusses several details: which plasters are allowed and which are prohibited. The Tosefta discusses plastering in association with mourning over the destruction of the Temple in two additional places: later in the same chapter in Sotah 15:12, and in Baba Batra 2:17: “A man covers (lit: plasters) his home with plaster but leaves a small area [uncovered] as a memorial [for Jerusalem]” (סד אדם את ביתו בסיד ומשייר דבר מועט זכר לירושלם). Plastering a home symbolizes its renewal and is associated with the fact that while a person celebrates a new (or renew) house, God’s home in Jerusalem is desolated. This association can also be found in several rabbinic texts, such as Mishnah Negaim 1:1; 7:2, in which a specific color is defined after “the plaster of the Temple.” 

Also, regarding the “last war” – the Bar Kokhba revolt (132-135CE) – the Tosefta presents an extended discussion when compared to the Mishnah. Both the Mishnah and the Tosefta state:  “And [they decreed] that the bride should not go forth in a litter within the town [for the wedding procession]. But our rabbis permitted that the bride would go forth in a litter within the town.” The Tosefta also discusses the marriage-canopy of the grooms, delineating exactly what is prohibited and what is permitted. In addition, the Tosefta discusses Rabbi Yehuda ben Babba’s ban “on oil prepared from leaves of spikenard,” concluding that the sages did not accept this prohibition.

In conclusion, the Tosefta provides an extended discussion (when compared to Mishnah Sotah 9:14) regarding the decrees issued by the rabbinic court in response to the wars against the Romans (no matter whether we are dealing with three wars or actually two). Although two of the wars are named after Roman generals, it seems that the Tosefta focuses on the Jewish reactions to these catastrophes and not on the Romans themselves: the issues addressed are the restrictions of modes of joyfulness, including the wedding celebration and the plastering of one’s house, or the prohibition of Greek study for children. Moreover, while other rabbinic texts like the tannaitic midrashim and the Jerusalem Talmud provide many more details about the defiling of the Temple and about Roman wickedness, here, the Tosefta is not interested in Israel’s enemy.  

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
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