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In Gittin 56a-b, we read how the sages warned the Zealots (a.k.a. the Biryonim) to not wage war with the Romans who were holding Jerusalem under seige, but that the Biryonim set fire to the store houses, making war inevitable. Thereafter, Yochanan ben Zakkai faked his death and negotiated with Vespasian, the Roman General and future Caesar, to spare the city of Yavneh and to spare the line of Nesiim -- the family of Rabban Gamliel. Were the sages united in opposing the Biryonim's tactics? Or were there some well-known rabbanim who were known to have fought and died with the destruction of Jerusalem?

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"Were the sages united in opposing the Biryonim's tactics? Or were there some well-known rabbanim who were known to have fought and died with the destruction of Jerusalem?" The second question is not the negation of the first; willingness to fight if necessary does not imply support for the biryonim. – Fred Apr 28 '13 at 23:47
You realise as well that it is very difficult to answer this question historically, since the only two documents to record this phenomenon are the Talmud and Josephus, and both are ideologically motivated corpora - neither of them records "history" as we understand it today. Josephus's bias is to show that the majority of the Jews and their leaders actually supported dialogue with Rome, and the Talmud's is to support Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai and show that the council at Yavne had unanimous rabbinic support. Both biases might be perfectly correct, but how would you know? – Shimon bM Apr 29 '13 at 1:52
@ShimonbM I'm not convinced that it is that difficult. The issue of whether it is a Jewish obligation to hold the Land at all cost, or whether compromises can be met with an enemy, is as much a contemporary issue today as it was 2000 years ago. One would think that those taking sides on the debate today would look back to those days as well. – Bruce James Apr 29 '13 at 13:22
@ShimonbM: Goes to show that those who "learn" from history always believe that they are emulating those who had done it correctly the first time. Whether or not they do emulate the historic figures they think they emulate, is another matter. – Bruce James Apr 29 '13 at 19:34
I am pretty sure the answer is "Yes," for some value of "well-known rabbanim," but I can't remember any at the moment. – Shmuel Apr 27 '14 at 10:35
up vote 3 down vote accepted

Rabbi Eleazar Ben Hanania Ben Hizkiya.

The evidence for this one is not 100% proof, but:

1) In Shabbat 13b it says that חנניה בן חזקיה וסעתו compiled Megillat Taanit. He is also identified as one of the leaders of Beit Shammai, and is known for "saving" the book of Ezekiel among other things.

2) We only have an Aramaic version of Megilat Taanit, but there is a Hebrew commentary (known as the "Scholion on Megilat Taanit"), that is at attributed to at least 7th century CE. You can see an online copy of it here: http://www.tsel.org/torah/megtan/adar.html

The very end of this commentary attributes the megillah to a "Rabbi Elazar ben Hanania Ben Hizkia Ben Garon". Note the difference from the bavli - there's an attached commentary in the link that says the megillah was started by the father (חנניה) and then completed by the son (אלעזר) eliminating the potential contradiction.

3) There is an Eleazar Ben Ananias (i.e. ben Hanania) in Josephus who was famously one of the three leaders of the Zealots during the churban. See: http://www.encyclopedia.com/article-1G2-2587505744/eleazar-ben-ananias.html

Note that he also is the person (according to Josephus) who made the ruling not to accept korbans from the romans -- helping incite the revolt.


Thus, it is suggested by certain talmudic scholars that this is indeed the same person, and R. Eleazar was both a kohen, a rabbi, and a zealot.

See also here for some sources for further links: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Megillat_Taanit#Authorship http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/10555-megillat-ta-anit

Final note:

I'll admit this is not 100% evidence, but I submit that this the whole theory is not so far-fetched that it should be completely rejected. We know that Beit Shammai had a bunch of rulings regarding Tumah/uncleanliness of gentiles, etc. We've also got the story of Zecharia ben Avkulus (Gittin 56b), which connects the rejection of a roman korban with the destruction of the temple. The compilation of something like Megilat Taanit might very well be something a zealot might be inclined to write as proof of hashem's purpose. Thus, if R. Eleazar Ben Hananya was a prominent Cohen/Beit Shammai, it's not impossible he that he would have ruled like Zecharia ben Avkulus (as described in Josephus) and would probably have sided with the zealots at least on ideology.

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There is a book arguing for the connection between Beit Shammai and the Zealots: בית שמאי ומאבק הקנאים נגד רומי, by הרב ישראל שלום יוסף פרידמן בן שלום. Here is a link to the (Hebrew) Wikipedia summary of the book: he.wikipedia.org/wiki/… – wfb Dec 18 '14 at 15:58
That is correct, but there is a difference between having a worldview that is sympathetic to the Zealots and actually supporting the Biryonim's actions during the siege. Remember that by the time of the Vespasian/R. Yochanan meeting, all of the Galil was already vanquished, and the remaining rebels in Jerusalem were still killing each other and burning the grain. One of the two pupils who smuggled R. Yochanan out of Jerusalem was R. Eliezer who was known to be a follower of Beit Shammai (Niddah 7b - but not according to Rashi's pshat), so while there was a connection , it wasn't 100% support. – Nic Dec 18 '14 at 16:11

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