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The Bible and Suicide

Yochanan ben Zakkai

Yochanan ben Zakkai was the most distinguished disciple of Rabbi Hillel. He has been called the "father of wisdom and the father of generations (of scholars)" because he ensured the continuation of Jewish scholarship after Jerusalem fell to Rome in 70 C.E.

According to tradition, when Jerusalem was under siege by the Romans in 68 C.E., Ben Zakkai (a pacifist) urged the Jewish Zealots (in control of the city) to surrender. The Zealots refused to surrender. Ben Zakkai, then, faked his own death, and had his disciples smuggle him out of Jerusalem in a coffin. They carried the coffin to the tent of the Roman General Vespasian. Ben Zakkai emerged from the coffin and told Vespasian that he had had a prophesy that Vespasian would soon be emperor. He asked Vespasian to set aside a place in Yavneh (near modern Rehovot) where he could start a small school and study Torah in peace. Vespasian promised that if the prophesy came true, he would grant ben Zakkai's request. When Vespasian became Emperor and the war ended, Ben Zakkai was given permission to be establish the school at Yavneh. The Yavneh school became the center of Jewish learning for centuries and replaced Jerusalem as the seat of the Sanhedrin.

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