אבא סקרא ריש בריוני דירושלים בר אחתיה דרבן יוחנן בן זכאי הוה שלח ליה תא בצינעא לגבאי אתא א”ל עד אימת עבדיתו הכי וקטליתו ליה לעלמא בכפנא א”ל מאי איעביד דאי אמינא להו מידי קטלו לי א”ל חזי לי תקנתא לדידי דאיפוק אפשר דהוי הצלה פורתא א”ל נקוט נפשך בקצירי וליתי כולי עלמא ולישיילו בך ואייתי מידי סריא ואגני גבך ולימרו דנח נפשך וליעיילו בך תלמידך ולא ליעול בך איניש אחרינא דלא לרגשן בך דקליל את דאינהו ידעי דחייא קליל ממיתא עביד הכי נכנס בו רבי אליעזר מצד אחד ורבי יהושע מצד אחר כי מטו לפיתחא בעו למדקריה אמר להו יאמרו רבן דקרו בעו למדחפיה אמר להו יאמרו רבן דחפו פתחו ליה בבא נפק
"Abba Sikra, the head of the biryoni in Jerusalem was the son of the sister of Rabban Johanan Ben-Zakkai. [The Rabban] sent to him saying, Come to visit me privately. When he came he said to him, How long are you going to carry on in this way and kill all the people with starvation? He replied: What can I do? If I say a word to them, they will kill me. He said: Devise some plan for me to escape. Perhaps I shall be able to save a little. He said to him: Pretend to be ill, and let everyone come to inquire about you. Bring something that smells and put it by you so that they will say you are dead. Let your disciples carry your bed, but no others, so that they shall not notice that you are still light, since they know that a living being is lighter than a corpse. He did so, and R. Eliezer went under the bier from one side and R. Joshua from the other. When they reached the door, some men wanted to put a lance through the bier. He said to them: Shall [the Romans] say that they have pierced their Master"? They wanted to give it a push. He said to them: Shall they say that they pushed their Master? They opened a town gate for him and he got out..."
On Wednesdays we've been sharing with a small group of Christians teaching a gospel free of the anti-Semitism that sometimes gets packaged with that message. I’m blessed to have the opportunity. A few weeks back we discussed an issue of context which I think is fundamental in any dialogue between Christians and Jews. We asked some simple questions; who were those Pharisees described in scripture caring for the body of our King after His death? What became of Gamliel who protected Peter and John before the Sanhedrin? Who were these friends of Messiah and what became of them?
World Judaism finds root almost two-thousand years ago in a village of middle Israel called Yavneh. Jewish law and custom stem from an ancient school there described as Kerem B’Yavneh (Vineyard of Yavneh) where students learned in rows like those of a vineyard. Fourty years after the death of Christ, Jerusalem was sacked by the Romans and the Holy Temple was set ablaze; In an attempt to save the Godly tradition of authentic Judaism, a rabbi called Yochanan Ben-Zakkai, gathered the surviving sages of Israel and the family line of Rabban Gamliel (the same mentioned above) in that Galilean village after the destruction.
Jesus said that his was a "wicked generation," and rabbinic sources agree. Judaism had been fractured into dozens of distinct factions each with its own approach to God and Jewish law; in practice these were different Judaisms. Roman occupational forces introduced an uneasiness and fear which permeated daily life, and if it wasn’t bad enough, the Jewish people were fighting amongst themselves. Chazal (our sages blessed memory) tell us that the Temple was destroyed because of baseless hatred, hatred that continued even as Jerusalem was being surrounded by Roman troops. In a preemptive attempt to save their people, three wealthy benefactors had supplied enough wood, wine, oil and grain for a 21 year standoff; the Zealots (biryoni) speculated that the only show of faith God would respond to was a unified attack by the people of Jerusalem against the foreign enemy. Fearful that these supplies might encourage years of diplomacy and compromise rather than a show of Jewish force and faith, the biryoni burned the oil and torched the granaries. Controlling Jerusalem’s gates from the outside, the Romans were attempting to take the city by starvation. With their backs against the wall and starvation becoming a reality, the biryoni hoped those Jews inclined towards peace would have no choice but war.
Ben-Zakkai led a school of Pharisees following the teachings of a man named Hillel the Elder who had been Gamliel’s grandfather and had passed in a previous generation. The rabbi saw the destruction of the Holy City as judgement from God and knew that if he did not escape beyond the walls of Jerusalem he would die with his sages and the authentic tradition they continue to represent. Ben-Zakkai instructed his students to wrap his body in linen grave clothes. They carried him motionless on a gurney to the city gate and cunningly requested permission to pass in order to bury their beloved rabbi outside the walled city in accordance to Jewish law. Confident the fate of the Jews had been sealed, soldiers allowed this small group to make its exit. When Ben-Zakkai rose and removed his grave clothes Judaism was raised from the dead.
Its here that I think we make an important observation. This group that survived Jerusalem’s destruction became the fathers of Jewish tradition after the loss of our Holy Temple. Those sages described as hidden followers of Christ were members of this same holy fraternity. The righteous survivors of Jerusalem had within their number the friends and defenders of Yeshua.
Often, people mistakenly endorse false assumptions about Jews and Jewish faith based on what they find within the pages of apostolic scripture. What they don’t realize, however, is that nearly all of the voices recorded in those pages were silenced with Roman aggression. We should understand this well; Modern Judaism does not trace its lineage to those Jewish groups whom opposed our Master and His disciples in that generation. It may come as a surprise to many Jews and Christians alike, but its true. Modern and living Judaism is an inheritance received from those disciples of Hillel the Elder and if we look for these students within the pages of Christian scripture we don’t find enemies, but instead, we find friends and saviors.