International Fellowship of Christians and Jews
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History of IsraelBar Kokhba

Simon Bar Kokhba is synonymous with tragedy. His surname "Bar Kokhba" means "son of a star," and refers to the passage in Numbers 24 which speaks of a "star shooting out of Jacob." Rabbi Akiva, a contemporary of Bar Kokhba, gave him this name, which has Messianic undertones. Indeed, following the destruction of the Temple, the stripping of Jewish autonomy, and the exile of Jews from Jerusalem, the hope that Bar Kokhba raised with his brief success and leadership led many to believe that the Messianic age had begun.

Christians, who believed that Jesus was the Messiah, rejected Bar Kokhba. This led to further schisms between Jews and early Christians, helping mold the Christian identity as one separate from Judaism.

After the devastation and destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, and the crushing of the earlier Jewish revolts, Jewish life in Israel was decimated, and Jewish sovereignty over. The Emperor Hadrian visited Jerusalem, and pledged to rebuild the city and the Temple. However, his motivation was to make a new Roman city and a temple dedicated to pagan gods. When the Romans began to plough up the foundations of the Temple, tensions grew, and when he outlawed religious practices that were fundamental to the Jewish faith, such as circumcision (which the Hellenists viewed as mutilation), the Jews rebelled, the third such rebellion (or: Jewish-Roman Wars) since the destruction of the Temple. And the last.

The revolution, inspired in part by the Hasmonean Dynasty, was initially successful. Practicing guerilla warfare, the Jewish forces recaptured many towns and villages, including Jerusalem. The Romans were taken by surprise, and attempts to suppress the rebellion failed. Coins were minted with the phrase "The Freedom of Israel." Animal sacrifices were resumed, though not at the Temple; Rabbi Akiva led the Sanhedrin (Jewish Supreme Court), and Bar Kokhba established himself as Nasi (prince.)

However, in the year 135, the Romans were finally able to succeed in breaking the rebellion, and they did so brutally. They laid siege to the cities until the Jewish forces were weakened by lack of food, and then began the attack in earnest. The Jews fled to their stronghold, in Betar, but were attacked there as well, the final blow occurring on Tisha b'Av, the national day of Jewish mourning. Hundreds of thousands of Jews were killed, and Hadrian attempted to wipe out any indication that a Jewish presence ever existed in the land. Scholars, including Rabbi Akiva, were persecuted and killed; texts were burned. Hadrian erected statues in the Temple, and replaced the name "Judea" on maps with the name "Syria Palaestina," from which the modern name "Palestine" is derived. He also reinstituted the name "Aelia Capitolina" as the capital of the new Roman city. Jews were banned from even entering the holy city.

Later, Constantine I allowed the Jews to enter Jerusalem once a year, on Tisha B’Av, in order to mourn. The revolt had significant impact on Judaism. Jewish "Messianism" became a study in the abstract only and the center of Jewish learning moved to the Diaspora. However, a Jewish presence remained in the Holy Land. The Jews mostly migrated to the north to Safed and Tiberias. Safed became known as an important Torah center, especially for the study of Kabbalah. Important Jewish texts were completed in Israel, including the Mishnah and the Jerusalem Talmud. In modern Israeli history, the Bar Kokhba revolt became a symbol of national resistance. The Jewish youth group "Betar" took its name from Bar Kokhba's final stronghold, and Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, adopted the name of one of Bar Kokhba's generals.