Masada and Mass Suicide: A study of the mass suicide at Masada, and
throughout the ages. Is suicide ever justified?
The revolt against Rome by the Jews in the year 66 was the outgrowth of an independence movement that was founded some sixty years before by a man named Judas the Galilean. Years of corrupt and cruel Roman rule, coupled with general lawlessness, fed general discontent that exploded in revolt and, unfortunately, led to disastrous results. Among the chief leaders of the revolt was Menachem, a son of Judas the Galilean, who captured the Roman garrison at Masada, a natural rock fortress on the western shore of the Dead Sea, which had been fortified and beautified by Herod the Great, some hundred years before. In the midst of the revolt, a number of Menachemís followers, led by Eleazar, the son of Jarius, Menachemís relative, made their way back to Masada and as a result survived the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70. Three years later, the Romans finally attacked and captured Masada. The conquering Romans, however, were surprised in finding their former opponents, with the exception of two women and five children who had hidden, lying dead as a result of a suicide pact. This lecture details the corruption and dissatisfaction that led to the revolt, the final battle and suicide at Masada and the Jewish halachic view of suicide in general and the unusual conditions under which suicide is justified.
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