By Andrew Rose
One of the great leaders and legends of Jewish leaders was Shimon bar Kokhbah, alternately spelled bar Kochba. Renowned in legend, history and in the Talmud, he was alternately referred to as bar Koszeva or bar Koseva.
The meaning of his name, bar Kokbah, is the son of a star whereas the meaning of bar Koseva is son of deceit. The meanings of these two names are intrinsically related to the essence of the story of this man as shall shortly be related.
The time was about 130 in the common era (C.E.). It was during the Roman rule of Israel. Hadrian had established a new city in Jerusalem and called it Aelia Caapitolina after his name Aelius and in honor of Jupiter Capitolinus. He built a temple to Jupiter which infuriated the Jews and provoking a subsequent war.
There was widespread despair and disillusionment with Hadrian and with the new ruler, Tinneius Rufus. The expectations that the Temple would be rebuilt were shattered. The promise of the Messiah was on the minds of the Jews.
Rebellion began on a small scale. Small towns were seized and fortified with walls and subterranean passages for escape. As the clashes with the Romans increased, the rebels inflicted losses on the Romans. Finally Hadrian was compelled to send from Britain his ablest general, Julius Severus. Severus did not wage open war. He preferred to surround the fortresses of the rebels and prevent food supplies from entering. He succeeded in wearing down the Jewish fighters until he finally reduced them to a state of submission.
During this revolt, the city of Jerusalem was taken by the rebels. Many coins were minted that celebrated this event and which have been found by archeologists. The rebels had control of Jerusalem for about three and a half years.
The leader of this revolt was Shimon bar Kokhba. There is no evidence that bar Kokhba succeeded in rebuilding the Temple or even renewing the sacrificial services. Yet during this period, the name of bar Kokhba was equated with that of the Messiah.
During the time of the rebellion, bar Kokhba was referred to as the Nasi, the leader or prince of the Jewish people. The Messianic hopes that the Jews possessed during those times were centered around him. Because of this he was called bar Kokhba, the son of a star.
No less than the great sage, Rabbi Akiva, called bar Kokhba the messiah as related in the Talmud Jerusalmi, tractate Tannit, "When Rabbi Akiva saw bar Kokhba, he said, 'this is the king Messiah'. Rabbi Yochanan was not so impressed and replied to Rabbi Akiva, "grass will grow from your cheeks and yet the son of David (the king messiah) will not have come." The Rambam explains that the sages of that generation were convinced that bar Kokhba was the Messiah. However since due to his sins he was killed, the sages realized he was not the Messiah. (Rambam, Malachim, 11:3) Because of this, he is not referred to in the Talmud as bar Kokhba, but as bar Koseba, the son of deceit, since he was not the Messiah. Instead of redemption, he brought upon them greater destruction.
It was during his time that the rebels took over the fortified city of Beitar. Jerusalem's walls had not been repaired, so the city was difficult to defend. Beitar, which was to the south of Jerusalem, was a large city with fortified walls. It was also a strategic site, overlooking the main road (in those days) from the Sorek Valley to Jerusalem. The rebels took that city to be their stronghold against the Roman armies. When the Roman armies finally conquered Beitar every one in the city was slaughtered and the bodies were left to rot. Finally after a long time when the Roman's finally consented to have the bodies given over to burial, the sages instituted a blessing, which is said each time we say the blessing after eating bread called "HaTov U'Mativ", (meaning G-d is good and does good). The fall of Beitar was a disaster of equivalent magnitude almost to the destruction of the Temple.
From this point, the Jews were completely subjugated and sold into slavery. They were uprooted from their homes and taken into captivity. Religious persecution and mass murders of Jews were carried out by the Romans eager to secure the area. Only the Galilee remained Jewish.
Bar Kohkba and his forces re-grouped in the famous fortress by the Dead Sea, Massada. It was in this famous fortress that bar Kokhba and his followers made their last fight against the Romans.
At first the rebels moved into the various caves along the rocky crag facing the Dead Sea. Many artifacts of their existence have been found there by archeological expeditions. But the Roman armies eventually surrounded the fortress at Massada. The ruins of Massada attest to the ruggedness of the rebels. Yet as the siege of the Romans became impervious, and the end was deemed to be soon, the rebels took their lives rather than submit to capture, torture and slavery.
So ended the autonomous reign of the Jews in their land.
from the March 2004 Edition of the Jewish Magazine