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Dr. Haskel Greenfield

Editor in front of the Binyanei Haumah Conference Centre at call to Israel Bar in 1996, the site of the tenth Roman legion

Back of the Bar Kochba Coin, with a large, five-lobed vine leaf, hanging from a curved, cut branch with a Palaeo-Hebrew inscription "For the Freedom of Jerusalem

Dreidel made with blue Roman glass that is 2000 years old


front of coin from Bar Kochba Revolt

Haskel Greenfield Uncovers History at the President's Conference in Jerusalem - Where the Romans Defeated Bar Kochba and A Channukah Story

By Rhonda Spivak, Dec 1, 2013

This past, June I attended Shimon Peres's President's Conference in Jerusalem, which took place at Binyanei Hauma--the international conference centre in Jerusalem, located near the entrance to the city , just across from the central bus station. Professor of Archaeology Haskel Greenfield, who is also the Co-ordinator of the Judaics Program at the University of Manitoba, attended the Conference with me as a reporter for the Winnipeg Jewish Review, as he was in Jerusalem anyway.

The conference was so packed that it was very difficult to get into the afternoon sessions, and on several occasions attendees were turned away as the rooms were filled to capacity.
On the first day of the conference, I had left Haskel at noon, and we decided we'd meet up at 4 p.m. after we'd each attended sessions.

When I met up with Haskel, he told me he hadn't been able to get into either of the sessions he'd planned on since they were too full. I asked him "Haskel did you manage to accomplish anything?" He smiled and said "Well, first of all I went for a nice lunch" (I burst out laughing, imagining the headline "Greenfield Goes for Lunch in Lieu of Conference Sessions").

But I know Haskel well enough never to count him out. Unable to get into any of his chosen sessions, Haskel had decided to meander about the building until he descended to the depths of the basement where sure enough Haskel managed to find a small archaeological exhibit.

As Haskel explained "The [Binyanei Hauma] building is based on the campsite of the Tenth Roman legion. It was the legion that participated in the destruction of the Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount and the suppression of both the first Jewish Revolt (66-73 CE) and the second Jewish Revolt against the Romans (which began approximately 60 years after the first). The Tenth Roman legion stayed here for about 200 years."

I myself had been to the conference centre building before as it was where the ceremony of my call to the Israeli Bar took place in 1996. But, up until Haskel's explanation, I had no idea what significance this location had on the history of our people. Of course, there were hundreds of foreign media covering the President’s Conference, but I am certain that Haskel and only Haskel had managed to find the archaeological exhibit in the basement!

"In other words, the Conference centre we're in is located on the site where the 10th Roman Legion had its base and from which it went out to defeat Bar Kochba", Haskel emphasized.

Who was Bar Kochba? The Second Jewish Revolt against the Romans occurred as a result of the Roman Emperor Hadrian, who came to Jerusalem in 129 CE and decided to rebuild Jerusalem as a pagan city. He cleared the ruins of the Second Temple on the Temple Mount and built a pagan temple to the Roman G-d Jupiter in its place. This led to the Second Jewish Revolt (132–135 CE) under the leadership of Shimon Bar Kochba, who was heralded as the Jewish Messiah by the Rabbis (the most famous of which was Rabbi Akiva).

For a brief moment in time, Bar Kochba succeeded in establishing an independent Jewish state that lasted three years. Eventually, the Romans had to commit no fewer than twelve legions, amounting to one third to one half of the entire Roman army, to reconquer Bar Kochba's independent state.

Bar Kochba ended up taking refuge in the fortress of Betar in the mountains to the south of Jerusalem, but the Romans eventually captured it and killed all the defenders.

After the revolt was crushed, Hadrian was determined to erase the Jewish connection to Jerusalem by renaming this part of the region as Palestine. He banned Jews from living in Jerusalem, praying on or near the Temple Mount, and made it a capital offense to study, teach or practice Judaism in Jerusalem. This led to the development of Rabbinic Judaism and the end of Temple Judaism.

Now, after Haskel had explained this history, I could understand the significance of this location of the Confernece  Center on the site of the Tenth Roman legion for Israelis and Jews everywhere, particularly as we approach Channukah. . It's a way of saying, that the Roman Empire has come and gone, but we Jews are still here after all these years. Bar Kochba may have been conquered, but we're back and back to stay.

I've been thinking about Haskel's history lesson for the last couple of months, and learned that in the three years that the Jews had their own independent state under Bar Kochba, the state was powerful enough to mint its own coins--known as the Bar Kochba coinage. And strangely enough, I realized that several years earlier I had bought an ancient coin from an Arab vendor near Jaffa Gate in the Old City. I had been meaning to look up what it was, but had long forgotten about it. Sure enough, the coin, [see related photo] is attributed to year three  (134-135 CE) of the Second Revolt, otherwise known as the Bar Kochba War, 132-135 CE. On one side of the coin there iss a large, five-lobed vine leaf, hanging from a curved, cut branch with a Palaeo-Hebrew inscription "For the Freedom of Jerusalem". I think the coin I have is not authentic, but a replica. But, I am not sure and will need to get it checked.

According to the late Israeli Archaeologist Yigael Yadin, it was Simon Bar Kochba who tried to restore Hebrew as the official language of Jews. It had disappeared as the everyday language of Israel before the time of the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE. Already, even by the time of Jesus (who died c. 29 CE), Aramaic had become the major language of the land.

And I was thinking of Haskel and the site of the Tenth Roman Legion, when this past July I came across a rare silver Channukah dreidel made by a Yemenite Jewish silversmith that had a round piece of light blue Roman glass that was 2000 years old in it. It was Haskel who first taught me how to identify Roman glass. The Dreidel's message was also unmistakeable--The Roman Empire, just like the Greek Empire in the Holy land has come and gone--but the Jewish people lives on!

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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