יום שני כ"ב באייר תשפ"ב 23/05/2022
Search
  • The Mission Continues

    As in the past so it remains today - we were and still are under the selfsame commitment to adhere to the directions of the Gedolei Yisrael, who stand guard against breaches of purity threatening our camp. When we were required to ask – we asked. When we were instructed to depart – we left. The moment we are summoned back to raise the flag, every other consideration is pushed to the side and we answer: We are ready!

    Read More...

בראי היום

  • Harav Yisrael Friedman zy”a, the Rebbe of Husyatin

    מוטי, ויקיפדיה העברית

    The ancestral chain of Harav Yisrael Friedman, the founder of the Husyatin chassidic court, originates with the holy Baal Shem Tov. The Husyatin chassidus has its roots in Galicia and eventually came to Tel Aviv, during the turbulent years between the two World Wars.

    Read More...

Place

  • Maccabi'im Gravesite

    In honour of Chanukah, we will discuss a fascinating, ongoing investigation attempting to establish the place of burial of Mattisyahu Kohen Gadol and his family.

    Read More...

Join Our Mailing List!

Please add a Valid Email Address
Join
Thanks!

Reflections

the Conquering of Massada

In southern Israel stands Massada, the great rock which was witness to the brave story of the Jews more than 2000 years ago.

09/04/2009 10:00
To the south of the Dead Sea, among many high cliffs, stands the giant Massada Cliff.

The top of its plateau is flat and rhomboid-shaped, about 1,800 feet (550 m) by 900 feet (275 m), and it is surrounded by deep abysses, a fact that makes the access to the cliff extremely difficult. On the top of the cliff, Herod the Great built a fortified city which was surrounded by a thick wall measuring 4,593.18 feet (1400 meters). Several watch-towers were built upon the wall and inside the fortified city; palaces for the king and his family were built as well as water wells, food storerooms and residences for his many soldiers. Three narrow, winding paths led from below up to the fortified gates.
In the year of 3826, the Jewish resistance began fighting the Roman Empire and a group of Jews called the Sicarii conquered Massada and expelled the Roman forces.

The Sicarii were a violent group that encouraged physical resistance against the Romans. They were named after a small stiletto called Sica which they would hide beneath their clothes. The Sicarii were extreme in their views and were not deterred from using any method they saw fit for reaching their goal, even killing many of their Jewish brethren whom they suspected were opposed to them, along the way. The Gemara in tractate Gittin testifies that the Sicarii burnt down the food reservoirs of Jerusalem, which was besieged by the Romans, in order to force the people to fight against the Roman Empire. A conversation between Rabbi Yochanan and his nephew Abba Sicra, one of the leaders of the Sicarii, is also mentioned in the same Gemara, which calls the Sicarii "hooligans".

A few years thereafter, a short period before the destruction of the Second Temple, several families among the Sicarii who were expelled from Jerusalem by the Romans, joined the Sicarii in Massada. From their fortified fortress, the Sicarii attacked Roman and Jewish villages indiscriminately and looted their property. The head of the Sicarii in Massada was Menachem Ben Yehudah the Galilean; however, following his death in the battle over Jerusalem, he was replaced by Elazar Ben Yair.

The Sicarii continued sowing fear in the hearts of the residents of the neighboring villages and the broader area. According to the testimony of the Jewish historian Josephus Flavius, during an attack on Ein Gedi the Sicarii killed over seven hundred residents and caused great damage.

After the Romans conquered Jerusalem, only three Jewish fortresses remained: one in Herodium, which is located south-east to Bethlehem, one in Mekir – to the east of the Dead Sea, and the one in Massada. In 3830, the Romans conquered Herodium and Mekir, which rendered Massada the last Jewish fortress that had not yet succumbed to the Roman forces.
In order to conquer Massada, a Roman commander by the name of Lucius Flavius Silva marched against Massada with the Roman legion X Fretensis, which numbered ten thousand soldiers, and laid siege to the fortress. After failed attempts to breach the wall, they built a circumvallation wall and then a rampart against the western face of the plateau, using thousands of tons of stones and beaten earth. After a few months, the Romans succeeded in breaching the wall and entering the fortress. However, during those few months, the Jews had cleverly erected an additional internal wall which was parallel to the first wall. The new wall was made by two parallel wooden walls with the space between them filled with dirt. As the Roman breached the first wall and discovered the additional one, they set it ablaze and it burned down. Thereafter, the Romans prepared for ascending to the top of the cliff and capturing the Jews.

When the head of the Sicarii, Elazar Ben Yair, realized that their end was nearing, he suggested to his followers that they commit mass suicide in order to avoid facing certain capture, defeat, slavery or execution by their enemies. Josephus Flavius describes the persuasive speech of Elazar Ben Yair in his book: "Hence, we were born to die, and we bore our children to die, and even the happiest and most contented man cannot escape death. However, a man is not doomed to slavery and disgrace and to watching his wife and children suffering before his eyes, but this is brought upon him by his own cowardice and weakness…Our hands are not yet tied and they can grasp the dagger – let us bring our own salvation and kill ourselves before we fall as slaves in the hands of our enemies, and we, our wives and our children will depart from this world as free men. This is how our holy Torah has commanded us to act, and this is what our wives and children ask of us. G-d has brought this decree upon us, and we shall overcome it and not let the Romans capture us. Our enemy fears that we will die before being captured, let us then hurry and carry out this deed which will replace the Romans' rejoicing in our defeat with embarrassment, confusion and wonder at our courageous hearts."

The besieged Jews adhered to Elazar's suggestion and on the 15th of Nissan – the holiday of Passover, 3833, took turns killing each other. Those who remained set the fortress and the surrounding houses ablaze, but speared the wells and the food storerooms so as to testify that their death was not a result of hunger or thirst; rather it was their own free will. The Jews who committed mass suicide in Massada numbered 960 men, women and children. Two women and five children, who had hid during the suicide, were left to bear witness to the bitter end of the besieged Jews of Massada.

As the Romans entered Massada, to their utter disappointment, they found only dead corpses. Josephus Flavius describes: "And when the Romans found the dead Jews, they did not rejoice in the death of their enemy, but they were astonished by the great spirits and powerful deed of the enemy, who did not fear death and were not deterred from conducting this courageous act."

During the last few years, extensive archeological diggings have been conducted in Massada and several founds have confirmed the testimony of Josephus Flavius.

As of today, Massada serves as a popular tourist attraction and offers cable car rides which transport the tourists to the top of the cliff.