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One of the leading factions in the Jewish Revolt of 66-70 was the Zealot movement, and its splinter group, the Sicarii. I would imagine that the attitude towards them is somewhat complicated, or at least, it was once complicated. On the one hand, they were fighting for a noble cause - the overthrow of domination by heathens. On the other hand, they were largely responsible for the disastrous Revolt, which led to untold suffering for the Jewish people. I seem to remember reading somewhere on this site that the Sicarii are also condemned for murdering a priest in the Temple itself, which I assume is a serious offense against G-d's law.

Does modern Judaism take a stance regarding the Zealots and Sicarii?

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    What would satisfy you as "official"? Judaism doesn't have the equivalent of a Pope or an Archbishop of Canterbury. – msh210 Aug 19 '15 at 0:45
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    @msh210 I guess I'm asking what the main view is. I don't know how to phrase it properly, and I would very much appreciate it if you could offer some guidance. – Wad Cheber Aug 19 '15 at 0:49
  • @msh210 - I've removed the word altogether, but I think I could still use a little help. How do you think I should phrase it? – Wad Cheber Aug 19 '15 at 0:51
  • I think your last sentence is fine as is. – msh210 Aug 19 '15 at 1:01
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    @Shalom The questions don't look remotely similar to me. – Double AA Aug 20 '15 at 15:25
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The Talmud (Gittin 56a) relates the following about the Zealot-Pharisee relationship:

The biryoni [presumed to be Zealots] were then in the city. The Rabbis said to them: Let us go out and make peace with them [the Romans]. They would not let them, but on the contrary said, Let us go out and fight them. The Rabbis said: You will not succeed. They then rose up and burnt the stores of wheat and barley so that a famine ensued [...]

Abba Sikra the head of the biryoni in Jerusalem was the son of the sister of Rabban Johanan b. Zakkai. [The latter] sent to him saying, Come to visit me privately. When he came he said to him, How long are you going to carry on in this way and kill all the people with starvation? He replied: What can I do? If I say a word to them, they will kill me. (Soncino trans.)

This passage clearly portrays the Zealots as being responsible for mass starvation, and clearly aligns them against the Pharisees, and their leader Rabban Yochanan b. Zakkai. Their military struggle against the Romans was viewed as doomed to failure, and the Pharisees considered diplomacy the only viable solution.

This approach seems to have remained accepted among later rabbinic thinkers such as R. Ovadiah S'forno (16th century) who in his commentary to Genesis (33:4) notes that were it not for the "baryonim" [Zealots], the Temple would not have been destroyed.


Regarding the murder of a high priest, this website states that Antiquities (20:162–66) relates that the first victim of the Sicarii was Jonathan (b. Anan), who had previously been high priest under the influence of the procurator Felix, who was interested in getting rid of Jonathan. Interestingly I have not found reference to this in rabbinic literature. (I haven't looked that hard).

  • This answer is good on Jewish tradition, but I would like to see more on contemporary uses of Zealots as positive or negative moral exemplars. Perhaps they have largely been forgotten and ignored. – sondra.kinsey Oct 12 '18 at 15:43

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