Betar (fortress)

Betar (fortress)

Betar was the last standing Jewish fortress in the Bar Kochba revolt of the 2nd century AD, destroyed by the Roman army on Tisha B'av.

The site of historic Betar (also spelled Beitar or Bethar), next to the modern Palestinian village of Battir southwest of Jerusalem, was known as Khirbet al-Yahudi, Arabic for "the Jew's ruins".

The destruction of Betar put an end to the last great revolt against Rome, and effectively quashed any Jewish dreams of freedom. Accounts of the event in Talmudic and Midrashic writings thus reflect and amplify its importance in the Jewish psyche and oral tradition in the subsequent period. The best known is from the Babylonian Talmud, Gittin 57a-b:

"Through the shaft of a litter Bethar was destroyed." It was the custom when a boy was born to plant a cedar tree and when a girl was born to plant a pine tree, and when they married, the tree was cut down and a canopy made of the branches. One day the daughter of the Emperor was passing when the shaft of her litter broke, so they lopped some branches off a cedar tree and brought it to her. The Jews thereupon fell upon them and beat them. They reported to the Emperor that the Jews were rebelling, and he marched against them.

[In explanation of the verse] "He hath cut off in fierce anger all the horn of Israel." R. Zera said in the name of R. Abbahu who quoted R. Johanan: These are the eighty thousand battle trumpets which assembled in the city of Bethar, when it was taken and men, women and children were slain in it until their blood ran into the Great Sea [=Mediterranean]. Do you think this was near? It was a whole mil away.

It has been taught: R. Eleazar the Great said: There are two streams in the valley of Yadaim, one running in one direction and one in another, and the Sages estimated that [at that time] they ran with two parts water to one of blood.

In a Baraitha it has been taught: 'For seven years [after the massacre at Beitar] the gentiles [Roman settlers in the land Hadrian then named Palestina] fertilized their vineyards with the blood of Israel without using manure.'

...Rab Judah reported Samuel as saying in the name of Rabban Simeon b. Gamaliel; What is signified by the verse, "Mine eye affecteth my soul, because of all the daughters of my city?" There were four hundred synagogues in the city of Bethar, and in every one were four hundred teachers of children, and each one had under him four hundred pupils, and when the enemy entered there they pierced them with their staves, and when the enemy prevailed and captured them, they wrapped them in their scrolls and burnt them with fire.

Other Midrashic sources can be seen here

Literature

  • David Ussishkin: "Archaeological Soundings at Betar, Bar-Kochba's Last Stronghold", in: Tel Aviv. Journal of the Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University 20 (1993) 66ff.

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