Jewish Martyrs

And I saw thrones and they that sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them. And I saw the souls of them that had been beheaded for

[a] the testimony of Jesus — Revelation 12:17; 19:10
[b] for the Word of God — the Oracles Roman 3:1-4; Revelation 12:17

and who had not worshiped the beast, nor his image, nor had received his mark upon their foreheads or on their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years (Revelation 20:4).

Thus saith the Lord of hosts; The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth, shall be to the house of Judah joy and gladness, and cheerful feasts; therefore love the truth and peace (Zechariah 8:19).

Ten Jewish Martyrs

What is a Martyr?

A Martyr is:

1. a person who willingly suffers death rather than renounce his or her religion.
2. a person who makes great sacrifices or suffers much in order to further a belief, cause, or principle

The most familiar martyr in the Old Testament is Samson, from the tribe of Dan, one who was destined for a great life. He was devoted to God, as a Nazerite, never to cut his hair, never to touch a dead animal. However, Samson broke every requirement. He was supposed to deliver the Israelites from the hands of the Philistines, but he ended up sleeping with one of them, and partying with the others.

See the source imageSamson lived a life far from what the people expected, and far from God. Regardless, he was able to defeat the Philistines, by the power of God. But in his victory, it was also his own death. That led to a sad end of Samson’s life, a sacrifice of himself to redeem a cause. He was martyred to defeat the Philistines, at the cost of his own life.

Toward the end, Samson prayed to God to give him his great strength one more time, and God answered his prayer. Before the victory, came torture, slave labor, having his eyes gouged out, his hair cut, and the loss of the strength he has cherished since childhood. Samson, no doubt, was going through the worst experience of his life, and worse than most of us would ever experience. But as soon as God heard his prayer, His power returned to him in strength, and he finished the job by offering himself as a sacrifice.

In the New Testament time, the best known Jewish Martyrs are the “Ten Martyrs” who were ten rabbis living during the era of the Mishnah who were brutally tortured and executed by the Romans in the period after the destruction of the Second Temple. Their story is detailed in Midrash Eleh Ezkerah, about one should seek atonement for the sin of baseless hatred, the baseless hatred of Joseph by his ten brothers. For fear that Joseph would overpower and rule them, the ten sold him into slavery. And this baseless hatred resurfaced during the time of the Great Revolt (AD 66) internal fighting between the various camps of zealots in Jerusalem on the eve of the Temple’s destruction, and about the fighting between the zealots and the moderates, the followers of R Yochanan ben Zakkai, until he left Jerusalem, all the time to the Bar Kokhva’s revolt (AD 136).

Most accounts of the Ten Martyrs conclude that two of them were killed during the Great Revolt between the years AD 66 and AD 74, which was staged by the Jews against the Roman oppressors while the rest were killed in the Bar Kochba Revolt some 60 years later, between AD 132 and AD 136, spacing over a period of 70 years of persecution.

During the Great Revolt, which ultimately led to the destruction of the second Holy Temple, Jewish blood was spilled in barbaric ways and at staggering rates, yet the final blow to the morale of the people was dealt with the tragic martyrdom of the Jewish leaders, who were publicly tortured and executed. This is why only their deaths are meticulously recorded and described.

Listed Ten Jewish Martyrs

    1. Rabban Simon ben Gamliel
    2. Rabbi Yishmael ben Elisha ha-Kohen Gadol
    3. Rabbi Akiva
    4. Rabbi Haninah ben Teradion
    5. Rabbi Hutzpit the Interpreter
    6. Rabbi Elazar ben Shamua
    7. Rabbi Hanina ben Hakinai
    8. Rabbi Yesheivav the Scribe
    9. Rabbi Judah ben Dama
    10. Rabbi Judah ben Baba

1. Rabban Simon ben Gamliel

Simeon ben Gamliel (I) (AD 10 – 70) was a Tanna sage and leader of the Jewish people. He served as President of the Great Sanhedrin at Jerusalem during the outbreak of the First Jewish Revolt, succeeding his father in the same office after his father’s death in AD 52 and just before the destruction of the Second Temple.

Image result for shimon ben gamliel picsThe great-grandson of Hillel the Elder, he was considered to be a direct descendant of King David. He was a contemporary of the high priests Ḥanan ben Ḥanan and Yehoshua ben Gamla.

He is one of the Ten Martyrs mentioned in Jewish liturgy. According to the chronological tables brought down by Rabbi Sherira Gaon, he was beheaded, along with Rabbi Ishmael ben Elisha the high priest, prior to the Temple’s destruction, although the historian Josephus Flavius mentions only the execution of “Ishmael” in Cyrene during the First Jewish–Roman War (AD 66-68). The account is mentioned in, both, Tractate Semachot ch 8, and in Avot de-Rabbi Nathan (38:3), where Simeon ben Gamliel is given the title of nasi, along with the dignitary title of “Rabban” (“our Master”). Before his death, he and his fellow jurists opposed the appointment of Josephus as military governor of the Galilee and sought to remove him from that post, but to no avail.

No contemporary Greek or Roman historian has left posterity with an account of his beheading by the Romans at Cyrene, but Josephus may have alluded to the cause by writing in his Vita that Simeon, during the outbreak of the First Jewish Revolt, gave his verbal support to the warring faction in Galilee under John of Gischala.

His tomb is traditionally located in Kafr Kanna, in the lower Galilee of northern Israel.

He was a Nasi, (AD 50-70); Preceded by Gamliel I; and Succeeded by Johanan ben Zakkai

2. Rabbi Yishmael ben Elisha ha-Kohen Gadol

Ishmael ben Elisha ha-Kohen “Rabbi Ishmael ben Elisha Kohen Gadol”, lit. “Rabbi Ishmael ben (son of) Elisha [the] Kohen Gadol (High priest)”; sometimes in short Ishmael ha-Kohen, lit. “Ishmael the Priest”) was one of the prominent leaders of the first generation of the Tannaim.

Jewish tradition describes his father as High Priest in the Second Temple of Jerusalem, though no High Priest by the name Elisha is historically known. In the Talmud, he describes how he once entered the Holy of Holies, where God asked him for a blessing, and he replied by asking for God to treat Israel mercifully.

Ishmael was also one of the Ten Martyrs, along with Simon ben Gamliel. According to Jewish tradition, his son and daughter were taken captive as slaves in the Roman conquest. As the two slaves were both extremely beautiful, their respective owners decided to mate them together and share the offspring. They were brought together at night, when they could not see each other, but refused to cohabit. When they recognized each other in the morning, they embraced each other and cried until their souls departed. This story is recited in one of the Kinnot for Tisha BeAv, entitled “Ve’Et Navi Hatati”.

Ishmael’s traditional tomb is located in the Druze village of Sajur in the Upper Galilee.

3. Rabbi Akiva

Akiva ben Yosef c. 50 – 28 September AD 135) also known as Rabbi Akiva (רַבִּי עֲקִיבָא), was a leading Jewish scholar and sage, a tanna, of the latter part of the first century and the beginning of the second century. Rabbi Akiva was a leading contributor to the Mishnah and to Midrash halakha.

Rabbi AkivaOf humble origins, and a descendant of converts, Rabbi Akiva was a simple shepherd up until the age of 40. However, his wealthy employer’s daughter, Rachel, saw his refinement of character and potential for greatness, and proposed to marry him if he would study Torah. Her father, not in favor of the marriage, forbade the couple the use of his property, and as a result they lived in abject poverty. So that he could study properly, Rachel sent Rabbi Akiva away and did not see him for 24 years, until he returned as a great sage accompanied by 24,000 disciples.

As a true sage, Rabbi Akiva indefatigably served the Jewish people, traveling all over the Jewish world to aid outlying communities in spiritual need, and to raise funds for the poor and for Torah institutions. At that time, he suffered a tragedy that would have broken a lesser man — the eradication of his life’s work. All 24,000 students died in a Divine plague for not showing each other proper respect. (Since this misfortune occurred during the seven-week period between Pesach and Shavuot, it is customary for Jews to observe some mourning practices during that time.) Undaunted, Rabbi Akiva taught five new students, who became the nucleus of the Torah leadership for the next generation.

In a famous story related in the Talmud, Rabbi Akiva publicly flouted the Roman decree against Torah study. The Romans arrested him, then flayed his flesh with iron combs. Impervious to the pain, Rabbi Akiva recited the Shema, joyously anticipating the opportunity to sanctify G‑d’s name with his life. As he was pronouncing the word Echad, which signifies the unity of G‑d, Rabbi Akiva’s soul departed. Although his death was a tragedy, Rabbi Akiva’s sacrifice has served as an inspiration for countless Jewish martyrs throughout the centuries.

Akiva is also sometimes credited with redacting Abraham’s version of the Sefer Yetzirah, one of the central texts of Jewish mysticism. He is referred to in the Talmud as Rosh la-Hakhamim “Chief of the Sages”. He was executed by the Romans in the aftermath of the Bar Kokhba revolt.

4. Rabbi Haninah ben Teradion

Rabbi Haninah ben Teradion or Hananiah ben Teradion was a teacher in the third Tannaitic generation (2nd century). He was a contemporary of Eleazar ben Perata I and of Halafta, together with whom he established certain ritual rules. He was one of the Ten Martyrs murdered by the Romans for ignoring the ban on teaching Torah.

During the Hadrianic persecutions decrees (following the Bar Kokhba revolt of AD 132-135) were promulgated imposing the most rigorous penalties on the observers of the Jewish law, and especially upon those who occupied themselves with the promulgation of that law. Nevertheless, Hananiah conscientiously followed his chosen profession; he convened public assemblies and taught Torah.

Once he visited Jose ben Kisma, who advised extreme caution, if not submission. The latter said:

“Haninah, my brother, seest thou not that this Roman people is upheld by God Himself? It has destroyed His house and burned His Temple, slaughtered His faithful, and exterminated His nobles; yet it prospers! In spite of all this, I hear, thou occupiest thyself with the Torah, even calling assemblies and holding the scroll of the Law before thee.”

To all this Haninah replied, “Heaven will have mercy on us.”

Jose became impatient on hearing this, and rejoined, “I am talking logic, and to all my arguments thou answerest, ‘Heaven will have mercy on us!’ I should not be surprised if they burned thee together with the scroll.”

Shortly thereafter Haninah was arrested at a public assembly while teaching with a Torah scroll before him. Asked why he disregarded the imperial edict, he frankly answered, “I do as my God commands me.”

For this he and his wife were condemned to death, and their daughter to degradation (rape and forced prostitution). His death was terrible. Wrapped in the scroll, he was placed on a pyre of green brush; fire was set to it, and wet wool was placed on his chest to prolong the agonies of death.

Haninah ben Teradion“Woe is me,” cried his daughter, “that I should see thee under such terrible circumstances!”

Haninah serenely replied, “I should indeed despair were I alone burned; but since the scroll of the Torah is burning with me, the Power that will avenge the offense against the law will also avenge the offense against me.”

His heartbroken disciples then asked: “Master, what seest thou?”

He answered: “I see the parchment burning while the letters of the Law soar upward,” meaning that enemies can crush the Jewish body but not the spirit.

“Open then thy mouth, that the fire may enter and the sooner put an end to thy sufferings,” advised his pupils.

But Haninah replied, “It is best that He who hath given the soul should also take it away: no man may hasten his death.”

Thereupon the executioner removed the wool and fanned the flame, thus accelerating the end, but in doing so the flames caught him and he burned to death as well.

It is reported that, on hearing his sentence, Haninah quoted Deuteronomy 32:4, “He is the Rock, His work is perfect: for all His ways are judgment”; while his wife quoted the next verse, “A God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he”; and his daughter cited Jeremiah 32:19, “Great in counsel, and mighty in work; for Thine eyes are open upon all the ways of the sons of men: to give every one according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.”

5. Rabbi Hutzpit the Interpreter

Hutzpit the Interpreter was a rabbi from the third generation of tannaim.
He is described as one of the Ten Martyrs in the Midrash Eleh Ezkerah who defied the prohibition against the teaching of the Torah. His title comes from his position as the interpreter and as an interpreter of Rabban Gamaliel II, Hutzpit stood next to a sage teaching Torah.

Gamaliel would speak softly, and Hutzpit would announce Gamaliel’s words to the listeners and he was responsible for translating the Hebrew words into Aramaic vernacular and explaining their meaning to the audience.

According to legend, before killing Hutzpit, the executioner cut out his tongue and threw it away. When the sages later saw dogs carrying the tongue, they wailed: “The tongue poured forth pearls lay in the dust” (Kid. 39b, Hul. 142a).

6. Rabbi Elazar ben Shamua

Rabbi Elazar Ben Shamua lived around 3920, or AD 160, about 90 years after the destruction of the Second Temple (A. Carmell, Aids to Talmud Study and Rashi Tractate Avoda Zara 8b). He was also a student of the famed Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Akiva, after losing all of his students in a deadly plague, for which we observe laws of mourning during the days between the holidays of Pesach and Shavuot, entrusted five scholars with the Torah he received from his own teachers: Rabbi Meir, Rabbi Yehuda, Rabbi Yose, Rabbi Shimon and Rabbi Elazar Ben Shamua, who subsequently became his new students (Tractate Yevamoth 62b). The transmission of Torah to these five was a crucial link in the chain of the Mesorah; without them we would have lost the tradition of the Oral Torah. Rabbi Elazar was among these same five when they received Semicha ordination from Rabbi Yehuda ben Bava. Rabbi Yehuda ben Bava was then brutally executed by the government for doing so (Tractate Sanhedrin 14a).

Whenever the name Rabbi Elazar is mentioned in the Mishna and Beraisos (earlier sources cited in Talmud) it is referring to Rabbi Elazar Ben Shamua (Rashi, Tractate Shabbos 19b). He was the teacher of Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi, the codifier of the Mishna. His students in general were known to be particularly knowledgeable (Yevamos 84a) and it is said that these students crowded six of themselves into one square amma (at most 2 feet) to hear his precious teachings.

He was a Cohain and lived a long life. He attributed his longevity to respect for the synagogue, respect for his students, and for always saying the prescribed blessing when he did the Cohain’s service (Tractate Megilla 27b). He is actually known for saying, “The respect for your students should be as precious to you as your own respect…(Pirkei Avos, 4:12 and in some editions 4:15).” The Talmud in Eruvin 53a says he had a heart as big as the entrance hall to the Holy Temple. Also see Medrash Koheles 11:2 for a fascinating story of how he saved the Jewish People with his care for a non-Jewish refugee.

7. Rabbi Hanina ben Hakinai

Hanina ben Hakinai or Hanania ben Hakinai was a Tanna of the 2nd century; contemporary of Ben ‘Azzai and Simeon the Yemenite. Sometimes he is cited as “ben Hakinai”.

8. Rabbi Yesheivav the Scribe

Jeshbab the Scribe (or Yeshbab the Scribe) was a third generation Jewish Tanna sage, at the beginning of the 2nd century. He was a disciple of Joshua ben Hananiah and a colleague of Rabbi Akiva.

The name is also sometimes spelled Jeshebeab.

Jeshbab was benevolent, and had handed out all his property to the needy, a deed that was not viewed with favour by his colleagues. Once he wished to hand a fifth of his property to the needy, and R Akiva ben Joseph did not allow him to do so.
Jeshbab is accounted among the Ten Martyrs.

9. Rabbi Judah ben Dama

Judah ben Dama (died 24 May 136) was one of the Ten Martyrs slain in the Jewish literary work, the Midrash Eleh Ezkerah.

10. Rabbi Judah ben Baba

Judah ben Bava was a rabbi in the 2nd century who ordained a number of rabbis at a time when the Roman government forbade this ceremony. The penalty was execution for the ordainer and the new rabbis. The rabbis ordained by Rabbi Judah ben Bava include Judah ben Ilai. Rabbi Judah ben Bava was killed by Hadrian’s soldiers at the age of seventy, and is known as one of the Ten Martyrs. Rabbi Judah ben Bava was caught by Hadrian’s soldiers while ordaining his students in a place between Usha and Shefaram. He told his students to run, but he himself was too old. Hadrian’s soldiers threw 300 javelins at him, causing his death.

Other Martyrs

The Maccabees
See the source image1 Maccabees and 2 Maccabees recount numerous martyrdoms suffered by Jews resisting Hellenization and idolatry, being executed for such crimes as observing the Sabbath, circumcising their children or refusing to eat unclean food sacrificed to foreign gods.

During the Maccabean Revolt from BC 167 to 160, during at least seven wars between the Jews and the Seleucid Greeks, tens of thousands of Jews died in battle or were killed as martyrs, including some of the original Maccabees. Some of the best known Jewish martyrs of this period is the story of the woman with seven sons and Eleazar (2 Maccabees).

The Jewish holiday of Hanukkah commemorates and celebrates the miracle of the triumph of the Jews against the ancient Greeks and of Judaism and Torah over classical Greek culture.

See the source imageA number of Maccabees died as martyrs. Judah Maccabee, the leader of the Jewish revolt against the Seleucid Greeks was killed in the Battle of Elasa (BC 160) and together with his men, they died as martyrs. Jonathan Maccabee was captured by a Seleucid king and executed. Eleazar Maccabee was killed in the Battle of Beth Zechariah (BC 162). Simon Maccabee was assassinated in BC 135.

They all made great sacrifices offering their own lives, recapturing the Holy Land and the Holy Temple, setting the stage for the arrival of the Son of God as a Lamb of God, a SACRIFICE for mankind.

More to Come . . .


~ by Joel Huan on July 11, 2020.

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