Tag Archives: Josephus

The Caesar Who Saved Judaism

“Isaac Blessing Jacob”, by Gustav Doré

This week’s parasha, Toldot, begins with the births of the twins Jacob and Esau. Their mother, Rebecca, felt trouble brewing in her womb, and received prophecy that “two nations are in your womb, and two peoples will emerge from your innards” (Genesis 25:23). Jacob, of course, is the forefather of the Jewish people, while Esau would become the spiritual progenitor of the Roman Empire, and then the entire Christian world as a whole (see ‘How Esau Became Rome’).

The Ba’al haTurim (Rabbi Yaakov ben Asher, c. 1269-1343) comments on the above verse that the words shnei goyim b’vitnekh (שני גוים בבטנך), “two nations are in your womb”, has the same gematria as “this is Rabbi Yehuda and Antoninus” (זה רבי יהודה ואנטונינוס). Recall that Rabbi Yehuda haNasi was the president of Israel in the 2nd century CE, and is credited with composing the Mishnah, the first complete corpus of Jewish law, while Antoninus was a Roman official who was his close friend. The Ba’al haTurim is telling us that there is a profound connection between these two sets of people that are separated by nearly two millennia. What is the connection between the pair of Jacob and Esau, and the pair of Rabbi Yehuda haNasi and Antoninus? Continue reading

The Jews Who Destroyed the Temple

‘Destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem’ by Francesco Hayez (1867)

This Sunday is Tisha b’Av (postponed from Shabbat), commemorating numerous tragedies in Jewish history, most notably the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem. The Tanakh outlines quite clearly the events that led to the destruction of the First Temple. When it comes to the Second Temple, however, little is generally spoken of even though we have a lot more historical information about what was going on at the time. We tend to greatly simplify things by reducing it to the same old adage that “the Temple was destroyed because of sinat chinam”, baseless hatred. How did the destruction of the Temple really come about? What were the events that led to the Great Revolt and the first Jewish-Roman War? And who, exactly, were those Jews that harboured such immense hatred for each other?

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Judaism vs. Christianity

How did Christianity emerge, and why did it split from Judaism to become a religion of its own? In this class we explore the true origins of Christianity, and explain the Jewish position on Jesus. Also discussed is the purpose of Christianity in world history, and some rabbinic perspectives on the religion.