Since I began studying the history of the Christian faith, and the relation between Judaism and Christianity, I have been struck by the idea of the Second Temple's destruction. I simply can't imagine how traumatic this experience must have been for the Jewish people.

The failure of the revolt, the horrific loss of life, the destruction of the City of G-d - these events alone would have been horrendous, but the desecration of the Temple must have had a tremendous psychological impact on the survivors.

Granted, it had happened once before, but I don't think that the knowledge of the First Temple's fate would have significantly reduced the emotional pain of such a catastrophic loss. The fact that the holy relics had been taken away as spoils of war, by pagans no less, must have been devastating.

I have been led to believe that the Talmud was assembled in part as a response to the destruction of the Temple, and the experience eventually led to the understanding that G-d lives in the Torah. But this happened later, after people had a chance to absorb what had happened.

I am curious as to how people came to terms with the devastating loss of the Temple immediately after it was destroyed. How did the Jewish people deal with this horrible sequence of events in the immediate aftermath of the war? Before enough time had passed for people to accept the defeat and the terrible consequences, how did they handle it?

  • 3
    Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah) and Eicha (Lamentations) provide one window into that. Aug 17, 2015 at 3:33
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    Jews observe three weeks of reflection on the destruction of the Temple during July/August. The last "Nine Days" end in a day of intense mourning and fasting called Tisha b'Av, the day tradition states the Temple was destroyed. Many other tragic events in Jewish history are said to have happened on that day. This is a reflection on both Jews never forgetting the spiritual glory of the Temple or their attachment to Israel. Returning to the land of Israel and rebuilding the Temple in Messianic Times is in the daily prayers of Jews.
    – JJLL
    Aug 17, 2015 at 4:50
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    ......It has been faith in God and the coming of Messiah that has helped Jews survive. Without unrelentless faith in God, it is unlikely Jews would have survived in the diaspora.
    – JJLL
    Aug 17, 2015 at 4:57

3 Answers 3


Judaism was able to survive the destruction of the Second Temple because Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai set up an academy in Yavne where Torah could be taught and a generation of sages figured out how to convert Biblical, sacrifice-oriented Judaism into Rabbinic Judaism, centered on prayer, study, and righteous deeds.

From Avot d' Rabbi Natan 4:5

Once, Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai was walking with his disciple, Rabbi Y'hoshua, near Jerusalem after the destruction of the Temple. Rabbi Y'hoshua looked at the Temple ruins and said, "Alas for us! The place that atoned for the sins of the people Israel [through the ritual of animal sacrifice] lies in ruins!" Then Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai spoke to him these words of comfort: "Be not grieved, my son. There is another equally meritorious way of gaining atonement even though the Temple is destroyed. We can still gain atonement through deeds of loving-kindness." For it is written: "Loving-kindness I desire, not sacrifice." [Hosea 6:6]


As mentioned by Mike, the destruction of the Second Temple was like the climax of a slowly moving glacier that eventually splashes into the ocean. Even after the rebellion finally started, it took nearly three years for the Romans to fully conquer the Galilee and the North and then finally pivot down to Jerusalem. This gave enough time for the non-Zealot rabbis to organize and set up an academy in Yavne and generally prepare for the inevitable devastation (the Zealots of course were all pretty much wiped out in the destruction of Jerusalem).

Remember also that even at the height of the rebellion there was a significant Rabbinical movement to submit to the Romans. This was helped in part by the fact that by this time the office of High Priest had been politicized, and while the significance of having a Temple was undiminished, the current version of the Temple was felt to be corrupted (and so further Roman meddling wasn't too bad as long as they let the rabbis continue teaching).

In any case, it is undeniable that this was a traumatic time, and it took time and self-reflection to come to terms with what had happened.

From Makkot 24a

Again it happened that Rabban Gamliel, Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria, Rabbi Joshua and Rabbi Akiva went up to Jerusalem. When they reached Mt. Scopus, they tore their garments. When they reached the Temple Mount, they saw a fox emerging from the place of the Holy of Holies. The others started weeping; Rabbi Akiva laughed.

Said they to him: "Why are you laughing?"

Said he to them: "Why are you weeping?"

Said they to him: "A place [so holy] that it is said of it, 'the stranger that approaches it shall die,' and now foxes traverse it, and we shouldn't weep?"

Said he to them: "That is why I laugh. For it is written, 'I shall have bear witness for Me faithful witnesses--Uriah the Priest and Zechariah the son of Jeberechiah.' Now what is the connection between Uriah and Zechariah? Uriah was [in the time of] the First Temple, and Zechariah was [in the time of] the Second Temple! But the Torah makes Zachariah's prophecy dependent upon Uriah's prophecy. With Uriah, it is written: 'Therefore, because of you, Zion shall be plowed as a field; [Jerusalem shall become heaps, and the Temple Mount like the high places of a forest.] With Zachariah it is written, 'Old men and women shall yet sit in the streets of Jerusalem.'

"As long as Uriah's prophecy had not been fulfilled, I feared that Zechariah's prophecy may not be fulfilled either. But now that Uriah's prophecy has been fulfilled, it is certain that Zechariah's prophecy will be fulfilled."

With these words they replied to him: "Akiva, you have consoled us! Akiva, you have consoled us!"


they were able to survive because they had hope. the books of the prophets provide clear predictions that eventually the temple would be rebuilt permanently, the messiah would come, no more wars, etc.

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