Zealots then and now

Zealots then and now

I just finished reading about the Zealots at the time leading up to the destruction of the Second Temple. Their attitude toward the large Jewish Diaspora of the time sounded disturbingly like current Israeli haredi positions involving who is a Jew and what consideration should be given to Diaspora opinions about many other questions of Jewish life.

There were three major political parties in Judea during the lead up to the final rebellion which resulted in the Roman destruction of the Temple and the Jewish state. The priestly party represented the well-to-do descendants of the returnees from Babylon. They recognized the power of Rome and realized that any resistance to that power would destroy their class. Accordingly, they tried to please the Romans in every way, even to the extent of giving the Romans the right to approve selections for the High Priest.

The Pharisees were led by the rabbis who wanted to preserve the Jewish state, but were very cautious in supporting acts of rebellion against provocative Roman interference in their affairs.

The Zealots were extreme in their calls for rebellion. Furthermore they had a concept of “chosen people” going far beyond anything I have ever heard, even from the ultra-Orthodox. They believed that God chose nations to rule the world. At that time, God favored the Romans. However, the Zealots believed that God would soon remove his blessing from the Romans and at that time, his first chosen people, the Jews, would become the masters of the world.

The large Jewish Diaspora in Rome thought that God had moved the center of Jewish life to the synagogues of Rome. They believed that the Jews of Judea should not oppose the power of Rome and thereby bring pogroms against the Roman Jews.

I hope that current disregard of the interest and opinions of Diaspora Jewry by the Israeli ultra-Orthodox will have a better outcome.

Victor Stein

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