Sadly, upon her death the golden years of Shlomis came to an end. Almost immediately, civil war broke out for the right of succession between her two sons Hyrcanus and Aristobulus. As the bitter conflict dragged on with no end in sight, the brothers committed an unimaginable blunder that led to the end of Jewish independence — ultimately to the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash. In 3698, the brothers asked Pompey of Rome to mediate their dispute. Pompey, until that time uninterested in the land of Israel, sensing Jewish weakness and political instability, promptly marched into Jerusalem and conquered it. (Although the Romans had exerted influence over the Jews even during the period of Jewish independence, they did not specifically meddle into Jewish affairs.)

As conqueror, Pompey put the weaker brother Hyrcanus on the throne as a figurehead while imprisoning the more dangerous Aristobulus. Real power, however, was in the hands of the Roman lackey, the Edomite Antipater. Thus, Jochanan Hyrcanus' misguided policy of forcibly converting the Edomites bore bitter fruit. The Romans abolished the Sanhedrin and destroyed some cities. Although Julius Caesar (later assassinated in 3717, or 44 BCE) restored the Sanhedrin and some territory, his successors Cassius and Marc Anthony further oppressed the Jews. As such, the Torah leaders of the time, Shemaya and Avtalyon, encouraged the sages to leave politics and not be involved in governmental affairs.


In 3725, the Romans installed Antipater's son Herod as king of the Jews, and his wicked rule was a blow from which the Jewish people would not recover. As a descendant of Edomite slaves who had Hasmonean masters, Herod realized that the majority of the Jewish people would never accept him as a legitimate king. Therefore, in order to give the appearance of legitimately occupying the Hasmonean throne, he exterminated the entire Hasmonean family, leaving but one young girl whom he intended to marry. However, the maiden committed suicide, bringing the Hasmonean line to an end after 103 years.

Aside from being cruel, Herod was also extremely paranoid, imagining plots against him although none existed. He murdered thousands of Jews, especially sages, and did not spare even his closest family members. As an avid admirer of Roman culture, Herod entered into a frenzy of grandiose construction projects, building palaces, amphitheaters, and other structures at Jerusalem, Masada, Herodion, and other locations; some of his creations still exist today. In addition, Herod built the great seaport of Caesarea, along with smaller cities, populating them with Greeks and Romans. The great prominence of foreigners in the Herodian demographic had the effect of making the Jewish people feel like strangers in their own land.

Nevertheless, Herod had one positive achievement to his credit. Following the advice of the sage Bava ben Buta, Herod refurbished the Bais Hamikdash, making it into a magnificent edifice. Currently, for example, the massive stones of the Western Wall are still known as Herodian stones, dating back to this period. (It is important to note that while the Bais Hamikdash was being reconstructed, the sacrificial service continued uninterrupted because the Altar was left in place.) Herod's motives were not altogether altruistic, however, for when the Bais Hamikdash was completed he ordered the Roman eagle placed on the front gate. When some outraged sages removed it, Herod had them burned alive.

At the end of his life, as he lay dying with a fatal illness, Herod commanded that on the day of his death many Jews be executed, so that the Jews should mourn and not rejoice. Fortunately, this order was not carried out. Herod died in 3757 and was succeeded by his son Archelaus, who ruled for nine years and continued his father's wicked legacy. Eventually, the Romans deposed Archelaus and took direct control of the Jewish people. Eretz Israel was then ruled by local Roman governors, called procurators, who were in turn overseen by the regional Roman official in Syria, the proconsul.