Friday, August 23, 2013

Untombed, Dishonored, and Unchapleted

Bar Kochba
by Emma Lazarus

Weep, Israel! your tardy meed outpour
Of grateful homage on his fallen head,
That never coronal of triumph wore,
Untombed, dishonored, and unchapleted.
If Victory makes the hero, raw Success
The stamp of virtue, unremembered
Be then the desperate strife, the storm and stress
Of the last Warrior Jew. But if the man
Who dies for freedom, loving all things less,
Against world-legions, mustering his poor clan;
The weak, the wronged, the miserable, to send
Their death-cry's protest through the ages' span-
If such an one be worthy, ye shall lend
Eternal thanks to him, eternal praise.
Nobler the conquered than the conqueror's end!

Simon bar Kochba (or bar Kokhba) led a massive revolt against the Roman Empire in the second century. After some initial success, everything went wrong; the Romans under Emperor Hadrian mowed over bar Kochba's independent principality of Israel in a matter of years, massacring his armies, banning Jews from Jerusalem, and attempting to stamp out Judaism in the area. According to legend, the senior members of the Great Sanhedrin were put brutally to death, and whether this is true or not, it is an appropriate symbol for the consequences of the revolt. The end of the revolt is often seen as the beginning of the Jewish diaspora. However, the period under Rome had seen Jewish life become much more flexible, and it had already by this point more-or-less developed the highly flexible rabbinical approach that we associate with Judaism today, and in the aftermath of the revolt begins the slow development of the Talmud as a written way to preserve Oral Law and halakhic decisions.

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