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Asara Harugei Malchus – Ten Martyrs

The kinnah of the Asarah Harugei Malchus describes the martyrdom of the ten great Jewish leaders whom the Roman rulers executed in gruesome fashion. The detailed description of this prayer is so grisly that we remind ourselves of this atrocity twice a year, Yom Kippur and Tisha B’av. It would therefore be worthwhile to learn and understand this story, its depth and details, in order to internalize its message. For this reason, we present the story in great detail as it is written in “The war against the Jewish spirit” by Rabbi Aaron Shurin.

Who were those ten Jews whom the Roman authorities executed? In what manner did they perish? When did it happen? Before answering these questions, a brief historical introduction is in order. “The Second Destruction” is a reference to the destruction of the second Beis HaMikdash in Yerushalayim by the Romans in the year 70 C.E. Actually, three destructions occurred at that time, and it was only with the third one that Eretz Yisroel was totally devastated. The Talmud refers to those three destructions as the Vespasian war, the Quietus war, and the final war. Those were the three wars the Jews fought in their attempt to free themselves from Roman subjugation. “The Vespasian war” refers to the destruction of Yerushalayim at the hands of Emperor Vespasian and his son, Titus the Wicked. Still, after defeat, many strongholds remained in Eretz Yisroel that were manned by Jews ready to fight the Romans. “The Quietus war” took place during the reign of Emperor Hadrian and his general, Quietus, who destroyed the great city Tur Malka. The fortress Beitar remained, however, and there Bar Kochva quietly organized a new revolt, which he launched sixty-two years after the destruction of Yerushalayim. It was a fierce war, in which the Romans at first suffered serious setbacks. The designation of “the last war” refers to the final fall of the Bar Kochva Revolt in Beitar. Hadrian, drunk with his victory over Bar Kochva, soaked all of Eretz Yisroel in Jewish blood. He murdered all the great Jewish sages in the most gruesome way. The great dirge of Asarah Harugei Malchus deals with this historical event The ten Sages of the Mishnah named in this dirge were not all executed at the same time, and they were not put to death in the order in which the author lists them. Still, based on the descriptions in the Talmud and Midrash, the ways in which they died are described accurately. In the text of the Yom Kippur Machzor according to the Ashkenazic liturgy, the dirge reads as follows: Emperor Hadrian summoned Rahban Gamliel and his colleagues and asked them what the punishment was for a Jew who kidnapped a fellow Jew and sold him into slavery. The Sages responded, “The death penalty!” Hadrian then continued: In that case, you deserve the death penalty because Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery for twenty gold pieces. Since until now there have not been ten great men capable of paying for the sin of the brothers, now you must pay for their sin with your lives. The ten Sages asked the emperor to allow them three days to find out whether in fact, Heaven had decreed for them this fate. If it were God’s will, surely they would accept their fate. Rabbi Yishmael ritually purified himself, uttered the Ineffable Name of God, went up to Heaven, and asked Archangel Gavriel about the matter. Gavriel replied, “Dear righteous men, accept your fate for I have heard it decreed behind the Heavenly Curtain.” When Rabbi Yishmael returned to Earth, the royal executioners stood ready to carry out the executions. The first to be taken for execution were Rabbi Yishmael the High Priest and Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel, both leaders of the Jewish people. Neither wishing to see his colleague’s execution, each begged to be executed first. Lots were drawn and Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel’s was picked. When Rabbi Shimon Ben Gamliel had been beheaded, Rabbi Yishmael cried out, “Alas for the head that learned and taught Torah and is now rolling in the dust!” The emperor’s daughter heard Rabbi Yishmael’s cry and looked to see where it was coming from. When she beheld Rabbi Yishmael’s beautiful countenance, she begged her father to spare him. When he refused, she begged him to have the skin peeled off the Sage’s face and given to her. This wish was granted. When the Heavenly Angels cried out bitterly, “Is this the reward for Torah?,” a Heavenly Voice replied, “One more sound out of you and I will turn the universe into water and obliterate Heaven and Earth. I have so decreed. Accept your fate, you righteous ones, who learn and teach Torah!” The dirge continues, describing the atrocious torture to which the other Sages were subjected. Rabbi Akiva ben Yosef, as his body was harrowed with an iron rake, recited the first verse of the Shema: “Hear O’ Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” Upon uttering the word “One,” his soul ascended to the heavens. Next, Rabbi Chaninah ben Teradyon was taken to be executed, They wrapped him in a Torah Scroll and set fire to both him and the scroll. Rabbi. Chutzpit the translator, Rabbi Elazar ben Shamua, Rabbi Chaninah ben Chachinai. Rabbi Yeshevav the scribe, Rabbi Yehudah ben Dama, and Rabbi Yehudah ben Bava were the other Sages tortured to death. Those ten martyrs symbolize all the Jewish martyrs who have given their lives for the sake of Kiddush Hashem throughout the generations. Only because of their readiness to sacrifice themselves do the Jewish Torah and the Jewish people live on. When Hadrian had crushed the Bar Kochva revolt, he decided to exterminate the few remaining Jews in Eretz Yisroel, as well as the rest of the Jews in the world. He realized, however, that political and physical defeat of the Jews would not necessarily mean the disappearance of the Jewish people. Therefore, he first attempted to destroy the Jewish spirit by decreeing that anyone who studied Torah or observed any of the Torah’s precepts would be put to death. Some Sages, such as Rabbi Yossi ben Kisma, thought they should temporarily halt their Torah study in deference to Hadrian’s decrees. Rabbi Chaninah ben Teradyon, Rabbi Akiva, and Rabbi. Yehudah ben Bava, on the other hand, maintained that the Jews must never abstain from Torah study, even for a single moment; if the Jews stopped studying Torah, then they would disappear. They felt that it was better to die at the hands of Romans while studying Torah than to die when not studying. The Talmud (Berachos 61b) relates the following story: Once Pappos ben Yehudah asked Rabbi Akiva, “Aren’t you afraid of what the Romans will do to you if you continue teaching the Jews Torah?” Rabbi Akiva responded with a parable. A fox once advised the fish to leave the water and come to dry land in order to avoid being captured by the fishermen’s nets. The fish replied, “If our lives are at risk in water, our natural habitat, then we will certainly perish on dry land.” The same, Rabbi Akiva said, applied to the Jews. Even if our lives are at risk when we study Torah, we will surely perish if we stop learning Torah, which is the Jewish people’s wellspring. Hence, Rabbi Akiva continued to disseminate Torah among the Jews until he was finally arrested and tortured to death. But a lot purchase viagra in australia of men do not prefer this treatment, as it does not involve rubbing odd smelling ointments onto the scalp. canada cialis This herb is a very good liver stimulant. So whenever your body experiences any problem cialis price regarding to these types of searches or shopping. There are however some disadvantages of dating beautiful order viagra women has to do with: 1. Hadrian also decreed that anyone granting semichah (rabbinic ordination) would be put to death, and that the town in which the ordination was given would be razed. He knew that ordination endowed the ordained person with authority, and that so long as the Jews had ordained Sages, they would have spiritual leaders who would continue the struggle against Roman rule. Things were so bad for the Jews under Hadrian’s reign that there were hardly any Sages left qualified to grant ordination. One of the very few so qualified, perhaps even the only one, was Rabbi Yehudah ben Bava. Despite Hadrian’s decree, he gathered five of Rabbi Akiva’s disciples and took them to a concealed place between two high mountains, between the towns of Usha and Shefaram, and he ordained them. Sadly, there were informers about, and in the middle of the ceremony, Roman legionnaires appeared. When Rabbi Yehudah saw the approaching Romans, he said to the young disciples, “Dear children, rim for your lives!” They responded, “But Rebbi, what will happen to you?” He replied simply, “I am remaining here.” The Romans caught him easily and drove three hundred spears through his body, turning it into a sieve. Thus, in the shadow of death and torture, the few remaining Sages carried on the spiritual resistance against the Roman tyrant. Very tragic, but extraordinarily profound, is the Talmud’s description of the martyrdom of Rabbi Chaninah ben Teradyon, who, like his colleagues, did not cease to disseminate Torah even under the unbearable pressure of the Romans. The Talmud (Avodah Zarah 18a) tells of an interesting debate between Rabbi Chaninah and Rabbi Yossi ben Kisma. Rabbi Yossi said to Rabbi Chaninah, “My dear brother, don’t you know that this nation [the Romans], which was assigned by Heaven, has destroyed the Temple, massacred the finest elements of the Jewish people, and is still in power – yet you continue to study Torah, publicly organize learning groups, and go about carrying a Torah Scroll?!” Rabbi Chaninah replied: “Heaven will have mercy!” Rabbi Yossi retorted: “I’m speaking sense to you, and you speak to me of Heavenly mercy. I fear that you will yet be burned together with that Torah Scroll.” In the end, Rabbi Chaninah ben Teradyon was caught teaching Torah, and he was sentenced to burning. The Roman executioner wrapped Rabbi Chaninah in that Torah Scroll, planning to set him on fire. The executioner then placed wool soaked in water on Rabbi Chaninah’s heart in order to prolong the burning and the pain. Rabbi Chaninah’s daughter said to him, “Father, woe is me that I lived to see this!” He said to her, “If I were being burned alone, that might have been difficult. But now that I am being burned together with the Torah, I feel much relieved because He Who is concerned with the dignity of the Torah will also concern Himself with my pain.” The Talmud further relates that Rabbi Chaninah’s disciples, who stood around him, asked, “Rebbi, what do you see?” He replied, “I see the parchment [of the Torah Scroll] burning, and the letters [of the Torah written on it] soaring off.” Tosafos comments that at such a moment the students understood that their teacher probably saw something, or perhaps they heard the sound of the fluttering letters, but they didn’t know what was causing the sound. The above is a literal rendition of the Talmud’s account. Some commentators, however, see a profound lesson in this story: An impassioned debate had long been raging between Rabbi Chaninah ben Teradyon and his disciples. Was the struggle to learn and teach Torah worthwhile? The disciples maintained that normally it made sense to continue struggling; even if the floters might perish, the ideal would remain. In the current scenario, however, they maintained that the struggle with the Romans was futile because not only would the Romans annihilate the idealistic fighters, but they would also destroy their ideal- “You will see, Rebbi,” the disciples said to Rabbi Chaninah, “the Romans will yet burn you together with the Torah? Was it, then, worthwhile to continue struggling for an ideal that was in constant danger? Rabbi Chaninah, the great Torah disseminator, disagreed with his disciples. He always said that even if the bearers of the Torah perished, the Torah itself would live on. In the final moments of Rabbi Chaninah’s life, when he lay there burning together with the Torah Scroll, his disciples continued the discussion, wanting to hear what their teacher would say. Their question, “What do you see now, Master?” is not to be taken literally. They meant to imply that they had been right all along, that, because the teacher was being burned together with the ideal, that the struggle was really not worthwhile. Rabbi Chaninah, however, quickly answered his disciples, “No, children, you are mistaken. The ideal cannot be burned. “I see,” he said, “[that only] the parchment [is] burning, but the letters are soaring off.” Many new generations of Jews will arise who will catch the flying letters and carry on the Jewish ideal of Torah study. Today, after many more millennia of torture, we are the witnesses that Rabbi Chaninah was right. In the end, it was the Jewish sages who were victorious, not the Romans. The Talmud then continues describing this horrific episode. The Roman executioner who set Rabbi Chaninah’s body on fire and prolonged his suffering by placing water-soaked wool on his heart, upon seeing his victim’s extraordinary heroism asks, “If I help you die quickly, will you see to it that I earn a place in the World-to-Come?” When Rabbi Chaninah said that he would, the executioner removed the wool, fanned the flames, and then jumped into the fire to be burned along with Rabbi Chaninah. A Heavenly Voice then called out that both Rabbi Chaninah ben Teradyon and the Roman executioner were destined for eternal life in the World-to-Come. This dramatic denouement in the Talmud’s account teaches that not only Jews but even Roman executioners saw that the Roman war against the Jewish spirit was a lost cause. This is the significance of the holy prayer that memorializes the ten slain Sages: the Jewish people as a Torah people are invincible!


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