R Yohanan motivation

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    Why did R Yohanan greet Vespasian as Caesar, risking being put to death? He wanted to get some attention and some respect, but could he say something witty and flattering without risking his life (and mission)?

    R Yohanan has several risky episodes while dealing with Vespasian:
    he sneaks out of Yerushalaim in a coffin; greets V as a Caesar; asks him for favors. He takes risk in first two cases, and asks for less in the latter.

    Is he a risky person, or expects that “Hashem will help”? No, as we see from the last case. If he were sure of himself, he would ask for more. In fact, he was not sure till the end of his life, whether he was right or wrong not to ask V to spare Yerushalaim.

    So, why did he risk in the first two cases. During escape, risk was not his first option. He first tried to talk to his nephew, and went with sneaking out as a last resort. Without that, the mission could not have been achieved. So, we see that R Yohanan is ready to risk but would not do it irresponsibly.

    So, why did he greet this way? Possibly, he had a clue that V might be elected. He was reading papers and knew that this was an unstable year of 4 emperors and none were good, so new elections were likely. Electing a popular general who already pacified most of Judea was reasonable.
    Still, was it enough to risk such a greeting. USA has a senate, modeled in Rome, and we know that you can’t expect them to do anything on time.

    So, my theory is that R Yohanan had an advanced warning. For example, he could have had informers in the port of Yaffo who would see Roman officers arriving to inform V. Then, they would use the smoke signals (that were used to warn about rosh Chodesh) to send a signal to R Yohanan.
    It would probably take 1-2 hours to gallop 60 km from Yaffo to Yerushalaim and that is when R Yohanan made his move.


    You need to clarify what you are trying to say.

    My theory is that you are theorizing before doing the research.



    I don;t get these type of posts.

    You ask “So, why did he greet this way? ” and come up with some made up explanation.

    The Gemara says how he knew he was a King/emperor “IF you were not a king Yerushalyim would not be given to you as the passuk says…”

    Now I understand someone who doesn’t believe the Gemara R”L * But I find it odd when people believe the story took place but not the way it is told.
    why are you willing to accept that R’ Yochanana ben Zakai greeted him has a Ceaser, but not that he knew this based on a passuk (as the Gemara says)?

    (To be clear before I get attacked, I don’t agree with such a person but I understand someone who doesn’t view a the story as historical, certainly not all the details)

    Reb Eliezer

    He says that if he would have been there, he would have designated Tisha Beov on the 10th but by us the beginning of the punishment is more severe. The Chasam Sofer explains that the Babilonians and Romans once they are entered, they desecrated the temple when they put it to fire a holy temple burned but once it burned, it became mundane, so we commemorate the start of the fire.


    Ubiquitin, it’s a well-known story, even among people who don’t learn Gemara. A person might be familiar with the story but not the Gemara’s explanation for it. For someone who doesn’t know the explanation, the question is a reasonable one.



    thanks that makes sense
    I didn’t consider that.


    ok, ok, you got it, I wrote this triggered by a recent Daf Yomi, without carefully looking back at the text.

    I don’t think R Yohanan quoting the posuk changes risk calculation that he will be hanged or crucified – unless the messenger arrived on time.

    In another correction to what I wrote above, V did not engage in “Talmudic logic” about two ways of liability, but simply gave R Yohanan “trei katala” – two death penalties, despite only one of them possible under different hypotheses. Tells you how quick “Roman justice” was … and not much ope of escaping it. R Yohanan surely considered that.


    Tosfos is also asking why the posuk relates to V as he was not the one who conquered Yerushalaim, Titus was, and answers that surrounding for several years and causing hunger was a sufficient event.

    Question on tosfos: it says “ba Titus”, Titus came, but Titus did not come, he was already in EY – he was Vespasian’s son in charge of one of the Roman legions.

    Also, historical context explaining Vespasian’s expectations: this was a year after Nero died (or disappeared/converted according to our tradition), an unstable year of “four emperors” – all generals, old Galba, then Otho, Vitellius. who commanded some far-away legions. Vespasian’s brother Sabinus was killed rebelling against the latter. German barbarians (but I repeat myself) invaded Rome and killed Viltellius. So, Vespasian was clearly hoping for becoming an emperor and supported his appeal by being methodical and successful in Judea (recapping history al pi R Berel Wein).


    Interesting that Avot D’Rabbi Nosson 4:5 has a different order of events:
    V knew that Rabban Yohanan was in the peace camp before the meeting based on his spies reports of R Yohanan arguing with rebels. So, V is ready to listen from the beginning. Then, R Yohanan asked for Yavneh (no mention of other items); and after V agreed, R Yohanan foretold that he will be melech. And the news came – not immediately, but in 3 days. But then it seems to imply that V (not Titus) destoyed Yerushalaim by recounting events forward.

    This order of events discards my question about risk, as R Yohanan mentions malchus after the negotiations, and V does not object at all, just takes it is a brocha from a tzadik.


    Additional food for thought: V was pronounced Emperor first by legions in Alexandria July 1, 69 [sivan 23, shabbat], then by legions in Judea July 3 and others after that. Looks like V was scheming for this proclamation for several months before that. And it also looks like V left for Egypt after the proclamation and there learned in December about current emperor Vitellius killed by generals who joined V. That would make July 2 or 3rd a day of the announcement arriving (from Egypt, not Rome, but from a Roman official).

    The official who proclaimed V emperor in Alexandria was praefectus Aegypti was Tiberius Julius Alexander – who was Jewish and a relative of Philo… praefectus also sounds somewhat similar to feristaka that Gemora uses as a title of the messenger to Vespasian.

    To deepen the story – according to Roman stories, apparently Romans picked up on the idea of savior coming from Judea and Vespasian applied that to himself and his vanity and aspirations were already known. Josephus (who was captured earlier than this meeting) claims in “Wars” that he also foretold Vespasian’s accession to emperor.


    Another thing worth noting here that may answer the OPs question the family of the Herodian Jewish king at the time of the revolt was allied with the family of Vespasian and Titus and the Herodian princess Berenice was known to have spent a lot of her personal money and time helping Vespasian to become Emperor. She eventually had a 10 year affair with Titus which only ended when Titus became emperor 10 years or so after the Churban around the year 80 CE. I would imagine R Yochanan Ben Zakai would have known about this. It’s also worth noting as an earlier commenter on this thread mentioned that Josephus claimed an almost identical story about himself that he wrote at least a couple hundred years before this story was written down.


    646, thanks! seems like Tiberius Julius Alexander who was first to proclaim Vespasian the emperor was … Berenice;s brother in law from her first marriage.

    The difference between Josephus a R Yochanan is that Josephus starts at the death penalty, so is ready to use all tricks to save himself and, as seen from above, Vespasian’s desire for becoming an emperor was known. R Yohanan starts as a respected member of the peace camp (esp in Avos d R Nosson) and then risks it all.

    Also, note the Roman ideology here: they considered themselves free republicans, not under a king like other lowly nations. “emperor” was a proclamation by the troops of a winning general as a prerequisite for the Senate to declare a triumph ceremony. So, it was expected to start with the support from the troops, as was in the case of Vespasian.

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