ה׳ באב ה׳תשע״ז (July 28, 2017)

Sanhedrin 12a-b: Sending Secret Messages

As we learned above (see daf 10), one of the important responsibilities of the Jewish court in Israel was to establish leap years in order to keep the Jewish calendar in sync with the solar calendar. The Gemara on our daf describes how messages were sent between Israel and Bavel under Roman rule when the persecutions of the Jews reached such a height that, as in the days of Hadrian, all religious exercises, including the computation of the calendar, were forbidden under pain of severe punishment. The messages were sent in an obscure form to prevent them from being stopped by the Government under the reign of Constantius II (337-361 C.E.).

Rava received the following message:

A pair [of scholars] came from Rakkat [that is, Teveriya, whose biblical name was Rakkat, where the was operating at that time] and they were captured by an eagle [i.e. by Roman soldiers, whose symbol was an eagle]. In the hands of the messengers were things made in Luz [apparently, aside from their message they were also transporting tekhelet, sky-blue dye, for the religious needs of the Jewish community in Bavel]. Yet through Divine mercy and their own merits they escaped safely [and were not put to death – yet they were unsuccessful in sharing the information with the Jewish community in the Diaspora].

Several explanations are offered to explain the eagle – the nesher – that kept these messengers from fulfilling their mission. It could refer to the Roman Caesar, or king, as in Yeḥezkel 17, although the Ramah suggests that it is a reference to bandits who preyed on travelers going through the forests. We know that the eagle was one of the primary symbols of Roman rule that appeared on the staff carried together with every Roman legion. Such “eagles” were much more than flags; they became an icon for that particular legion, and ultimately the symbol of the Roman army.

Previous
Next