Shimon, the last surviving son of Matisyahu, became the leader of the Jewish people in 3622. He was the forerunner of the Hasmonean royal dynasty, which lasted 103 years until Herod wiped it out. The early Hasmonean rulers were righteous people who were careful not to assume the title of monarch. However, it is an old adage that power corrupts, and eventually the Hasmoneans usurped the throne, disregarding the tradition that only a descendant of King David may be called king. (Indeed, Ramban writes that G‑d destroyed the family in retribution for that act.) In addition, the enormous power and wealth generated by their position caused the Hasmoneans to identify increasingly with the Sadducees, many of whom were also rich and powerful. As a result, the Hasmoneans began persecuting and even murdering Torah-observant Jews, thereby earning the Jewish people’s enmity. Finally, and worst of all, the Hasmoneans fought wars for self-aggrandizement, ruthlessly crushing anyone even suspected of not supporting their rule.

Jochanan Hyrcanus

Jochanan Hyrcanus ruled for 31 years (3625-3656) after the death of his father Shimon. Generally righteous, Jochanan enacted several decrees to improve the spiritual level of the people, the most famous of which was the requirement of tithing any produce about which there was a doubt as to whether the necessary tithes had already been removed (demai.) However, Jochanan committed a severe error that had drastic implications for the Jewish people. Upon conquering the neighboring people of Edom, he compelled them to convert to Judaism, contradictory to the Jewish law expressly forbidding forced conversions. Later, Herod, himself a converted Edomite, caused terrible suffering for the Jewish people. According to some historical opinions, Jochanan even became a Sadducee at the end of his life, and is the person referred to in the Talmudic statement: "Do not believe in yourself until the day you die, for Jochanan served as Kohen Gadol for 80 years and in the end became a Sadducee." His son Aristobulus ruled for a year and was the first Hasmonean to proclaim himself king.


Jannai ruled 27 years (3657-3684) and completely identified with the Sadducees, even going so far as persecuting Torah sages. The Talmud relates that Jannai made a thanksgiving feast after a successful war and invited Torah sages. At that point, the Sadducees saw an opportunity to eliminate the sages, and told Jannai to don the priestly garments of the Kohen Gadol before all those at the party. Aghast, one of the rabbis told the king to remove the garments, as there was a question whether Jannai was a legitimate Kohen. Upon investigation, the rumor was found to be false, but the Sadducees used the occasion to convince Jannai that the sages opposed his rule. Thereafter, Jannai killed many Torah sages, and the rest went into hiding. Sadducees then dominated the Sanhedrin, while true Torah scholars lost all positions of influence. In another sacrilege, when Jannai was officiating as Kohen Gadol in the Bais Hamikdash on the holiday of Sukkos, he poured the sacrificial water on his feet instead of the Altar. The enraged onlookers pelted him with their holiday esrogim (citrons), whereupon Jannai's soldiers massacred 6,000 Jews in the Temple courtyard. He also murdered more than 50,000 Jews on other occasions.

Queen Shlomis

Also known as Salome and Shlomtzion, Shlomis was Jannai's wife and ruled for nine years (3686-3695). A thoroughly righteous woman, her rule was marked by great peace and prosperity. As the best period of the Second Temple era, Divine favor was manifest in Eretz Israel. For example, it rained only on Friday nights, when people stayed home, and wheat kernels grew as large as ox kidneys. Together with her brother Shimon ben Shatach, Shlomis removed the Sadducees from both the Sanhedrin and all positions of power, replacing them with Torah sages. At this time, Yehudah ben Tabai and Shimon ben Shatach became Av Bais Din and Nasi of the Sanhedrin, respectively. (One opinion in the Talmud, however, maintains that their offices were reversed.)

In order to restore order, people who had committed crimes, particularly murder, were put to death. In addition, the sages enacted decrees to increase the spiritual life of the Jewish people. When the traditional method of education – fathers teaching Torah to their children at home – became weakened, for example, Joshua ben Gamla instituted a system of public education, setting up schools for children at six. Shimon ben Shatach was active as well, making it easier for a woman to collect her kesubah (marriage settlement) upon divorce or her husband's death. In addition, as witchcraft, a sin that the Torah punishes by death, was very prevalent at that time, Shimon ben Shatach also executed many witches.