Judea Capta-“Judea is captured”-read the the coins minted by the Romans in commemoration of their victory 70. Thousands of Jews died in battle; thousands more were taken into slavery; many others chose to leave the country center of worship, the temple, was burned to the ground and the and the capital of Judaism had fallen.

The Roman emperors redirected the temple tax, formerly collected from all Jews, to the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus in Rome. Grieving Jews abstained from eating meat and wine, formerly temple staples; they felt it wrong to enjoy what could no longer be offered to God.

With the end of temple worship, the priesthood began to decline. Although the priests could still receive heave offerings and tithes, their revenues were greatly reduced. This loss of income, plus the loss of their temple function, resulted in a loss of influence and authority.

Deuteronomy forbade alters and sacrifices outside the chosen place, Jerusalem. But this was not the first time the Jews had been deprived of their temple and sacrificial worship; during the Exile, the people had assembled regularly to read the Scriptures and to discuss their meaning. These synagogues (Greek, “assemblies”) again became vital to Judaism after the temple was destroyed.

Jewish people met at the synagogue to pray, sing, and study the Torah. The chief function of the synagogue was to foster understanding and proper observance of the Jewish law. In effect, if became the seat of a spiritual government which ordered and disciplined the lives of the people. After the destruction of the temple, the sages who interpreted the Law came to be called tannaim, and those who were authorized as leaders were given the title rabbi, or “doctor of the law.” Sages interpreted the laws found in the Pentateuch as well as the traditional, oral laws called the halakoth. They were chiefly concerned with how these laws should effect the lives of the people. Followers of the great sage Shammai were noted for their conservative interpretations, while followers of the sage Hillel adhered to more liberal interpretations.

Jabneh (modern Jamnia) on the western Judean plains soon became the center of Jewish learning. During the war with Rome, the sage Johanan ben Zakkai was smuggled out of Jerusalem in coffin. He made his way to the Roman camp, where he asked Roman authorities to allow him and his disciples to settle the coastal city of Jabneh and to establish an academy there. Johanan rightly perceived that the only important victory to be secured in the war against Rome was the survival of Judaism. If need be, a vitalized tradition could become a “portable homeland” for the Jews. Jabneh became the new center of that tradition.

After the Bar-Kochba revolt in A.D. 135, the center of Jewish studies was moved to Usha in Galilee, near modern Haifa. Here the sages began the assembling and codifying of the halakoth in document that came to be called Mishna.

The sages disagreed as to how the halakoth should be organized. One group thought it should follow the order of the biblical verses to which they referred. Another group, headed by Rabbi Akiba ben Joseph, held out for arranging the sayings by subject matter, the way that was eventually followed.

The task of assembling the Mishna was not completed until the early part of third century. The Mishna and the Gemara (a commentary on the Mishna), comprise the chief parts of the Jewish sacred book called the Talmud. This comprehensive compilation of Jewish manners, customs, beliefs, and teachings is still revered and studied by Jewish scholars.


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