The destruction of the Second Temple was far more disastrous for the Jewish people than the destruction of the First Temple. The Babylonians who destroyed the first Beit Hamikdash did so for purely political motives; they harbored no feelings of hate toward Jews per se. The Romans, however, who were fueled by anti-Semitic writings and actions of Syrians and Greeks, and the long-running Jewish revolt, despised the Jews for many years before the churban.The Romans scattered the Jews throughout their vast empire After the first destruction, the Babylonian exile was a relatively benign experience, for the conquerors deported the Jews en masse to Babylon. As a result, the Jews were all concentrated in one general area, making it much easier for them to regroup and rebuild their communities. The Romans, however, scattered the Jews throughout their vast empire, beginning the great Jewish Diaspora. After the First Destruction, the prophet Jeremiah had proclaimed that the Beit Hamikdash would be rebuilt after 70 years. However, Roman exile brought with it no such harbinger of hope. Quickly, it became apparent to the Jewish people that a dark, seemingly endless exile lay ahead.


Providentially, G‑d had prepared the cure before the blow. Before the Roman destruction, Rabbi Jochanan ben Zakkai, a great and indefatigable leader, laid the foundation of Jewish survival. With Roman assent, he brought the nation’s greatest Torah sages to Yavneh, established a great yeshiva, and reconstituted the Sanhedrin. Free of Sadducees, Herodians, Hellenists, corrupt kings, Kohanim Gedolim, and nobility, all of whom had abandoned the Jewish people in the time of their distress, the sages had the people’s sole allegiance. As such, the Sanhedrin at Yavneh had several vital tasks to accomplish:

Many halachic issues had not been decided in the tumultuous years before the churban, notably the disputes between Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel. At Yavneh, the Academy ruled in favor of Beit Hillel in virtually all cases.

As the last eyewitnesses told of the terrible events, and over time as they passed away, the Yavneh sages were concerned that Temple matters were in danger of being forgotten. As such, they recorded the laws of the Temple service, as well as the Beit Hamikdash’s layout.

The sages also created a uniform prayer service for the Jewish people. Although prayers such as the Amidah already existed during Temple times, these prayers were not written down, and different versions began to be part of general use. In addition, the sages of Yavneh added Velamalshinim to the weekday Shmone Esreh, making a total of 19 benedictions. This addition was created to counteract growing Christian influence, for the early Christians were Jews who were indistinguishable from their Torah-observant brethren and were having a pernicious influence on the Jewish people. Here, the Christians' refusal to recite thisThe sages of Yavneh sent delegations to Rome to advocate for Jewish needs blessing helped identify them. Finally, the scholars of Yavneh also revised the Amidah to reflect the loss of the Temple, changing the text from praying for the survivalof the Beit Hamikdash and Jerusalem to supplications for their restoration.

Since political action on behalf of the Jews was necessary, the sages of Yavneh, whom the Romans believed represented the Jewish people, sent delegations to Rome to advocate for Jewish needs. In addition, since thousands of Jews were held captive in Rome, the rabbis redeemed them wherever possible, sometimes expending vast sums for this purpose.

Rabbi Jochanan Ben Zakkai

A distinguished disciple ofBeit Hillel, the elder statesman of the sages was universally acclaimed. Although not of the dynastic family of Hillel, Rabbi Jochanan Ben Zakkai acted as Nasi in Yavneh until Rabban Gamliel, the son of the previous Nasi, came of age. Contrary to the charge made by secular historians, during Rabbi Jochanan’s tenure a new Rabbinic Judaism did not appear and Torah did not change. Instead, Jewish observance continued as before, without the sacrificial services then impossible to carry out. However, so that the Jewish people would not forget the Beit Hamikdash over time, Rabbi Jochanan made several enactments:

In the time of the Beit Hamikdash, the esrog, lulav, hadasim, and aravos were used as ritual objects in the Beit Hamikdash all seven days of Sukkos, as mandated by the Torah (Leviticus 23:40), but only on the first day everywhere else. Rabbi Jochanan decreed that the four species be used all seven days worldwide, thereby perpetuating the memory of the Beit Hamikdash.

In Temple times, on the second day of Pesach, the omer sacrifice was offered, thereby permitting consumption of new grain. In the absence of this sacrifice, the Torah nevertheless permits eating that year's crop immediately on the morning of the second day. However, to remember the Temple, Rabbi Jochanan forbade eating the grain the entire second day. Rabbi Jochanan’s reasoning was as follows: since, following the advent of Messiah, the possibility exists that the Third Temple could be rebuilt at any time. Unwittingly, people would not realize that when the Beit Hamikdash is rebuilt they must wait for the omer to be offered to eat, and would instead erroneously begin eating the new grain on the morning of the second day of Pesach. Not only did this enactment preserve an important law, it also elevated hope for the imminent return of the future Beit Hamikdash.

InRabbi Jochanan made several enactments addition, Rabbi Jochanan stipulated that the shofar be sounded in Yavneh when Rosh HaShanah occurs on the Sabbath. Normally, due to a concern that one might inadvertently carry the shofar into the street, thus violating the Sabbath, rabbinic law forbids sounding the shofar on the Sabbath. In Temple times, Sabbath shofar sounding was permitted at the site of the Great Sanhedrin, which met adjacent to the Beit Hamikdash. In order to invest the Great Sanhedrin of Yavneh with the necessary prestige needed for its decisions to be honored by the Jewish people, Rabbi Jochanan gave the court equal status to its earlier counterpart.

Training Rabban Gamliel to assume his rightful inheritance as Nasi, Rabbi Jochanan then moved to the distant town of Beror Chayil, so that Rabban Gamliel could make decisions without being perceived in Rabbi Jochanan's shadow.