We Once Had an Anti-Zionist King; His Name Was Herod

Professor Gerald Aranoff,

Prof. G. Aranoff
Prof. G. Aranoff

We see much praise of Herod today, in blurbs such as:

“Herod, the greatest builder in Jewish history".

"Indeed, Herod’s main legacy lies in his massive building projects.”

People are mistaken to praise Herod for his building of the Temple, ampitheaters, and other edifices.  This is like praising Stalin for his building the Moscow subways and trains.

On Sunday, a consortium of foreign-funded, radical, anti-Zionist NGOs presented arguments to the Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of the 2011 Anti-Boycotts law.  If the  anti-Zionists get their way, Heaven forbid, we could end up with another Herod in our lifetime.  The anti-Zionists today speak of the need that the “international community” accept us much as Herod probably spoke of the need of the powers in Rome to accept us.

There is no better example of an anti-Zionist that rose to the top of the power structure than Herod.

Encyclopedia Judaica volume 8 (375-387) and Tractates Baba Bathra 4a and Sanhedrin 19a describe him:

The Encyclopedia Judaica (vol. 8) states:

“When he came to power, Herod took absolute control of the government by putting to death 45 members of the Sanhedrin who supported the Hasmoneans.” (376)

“He also made the appointment to the high priesthood dependent on his favor and during his reign dismissed and appointed high priests arbitrarily.” (379)

“He was regarded as one of the most powerful monarchs in the sphere of Roman patronage in the east, and foreign authors flattered him with the title ‘The Great.’ ” (379)

“In his court too he was attended predominantly by hellenizers, conspicuous among them being Nicholas of Damascus, his chief counselor, who wrote his biography and instructed him in Greek wisdom.” (380)

“His army, too, seems to have been hellenistic in character.  Jews constituted only a small portion of it, his main force of professional soldiers being composed of foreign mercenaries from Thrace and Gaul.” (380)

“He destroyed, in the full eastern hellenistic tradition, all members of the Hasmonean house, whose existence seemed to him to endanger his position.” (380)

“Herod was a courageous soldier and commander, an efficient and energetic administrator, and in particular a talented diplomat whose skill lay in his ability to assess who were the real powers of his period; his personality was such that he knew how to win over all types of people. 

"At the same time he was a man of unlimited ambition whose opportunism was never restricted by ties of friendship or loyalty (the only exception being his loyalty to his brothers); when in power he brooked no opposition but ruled with cruelty, intensified by his suspicion and jealousy. 

"Herod’s rule destroyed the internal organization of the Jewish community. In contrast to the Hasmonean kings who had ruled jointly with the popular institutions, Herod abolished all traditional autonomous institutions, and in practice he did away with the authority of the Torah, although this never took official form.” (382)

Baba Bathra 3b-4a states:

“Who are they, he said, who teach, you shall be free to set a king over yourself, one chosen by the Lord your God. Be sure to set as king over yourself one of your own people; you must not set a foreigner over you, one who is not your kinsman (Deut. 17:15). The Rabbis! He [Herod] therefore arose and killed all the Rabbis, sparing, however, Baba b. Buta, that he might take counsel of him. He placed on his head a garland of hedgehog bristles and put out his eyes.

One day he came and sat before him and said: See, Sir, what this wicked slave [Herod] does. What do you want me to do to him, replied Baba b. Buta. He said: I want you to curse him. He replied with the verse Don’t revile a king even among your Intimates. Don’t revile a rich man even in your bedchamber; For a bird of the air may carry the utterance, And a winged creature may report the word (Eccl. 10:20). 

Said Herod to him: But this is no king. He replied: Don’t revile a rich man even in your bedchamber, it is written, and be he no more than a prince, it is written You shall not revile God, nor put a curse upon a chieftain among your people (Ex. 22:27).

Said Herod to him: This applies only to one who acts as one of your people, but this man does not act as one of your people. He said: I am afraid of him. But, said Herod, there is no-one who can go and tell him, since we two are quite alone. He replied: For a bird of the air may carry the utterance, And a winged creature may report the word. Herod then said: I am Herod. Had I known that the Rabbis were so circumspect, l should not have killed them. Now tell me what amends I can make. He replied: As you have extinguished the light of the world, [for so the Rabbis are called] as it is written For the commandment is a lamp, The teaching is a light (Prov. 6:23).

"Go now and attend to the light of the world [which is the Temple, of which] it is written, In the days to come, The Mount of the Lord’s House Shall stand firm above the mountains And tower above the hills; And all the nations Shall gaze on it with joy" (Isaiah 2:2).

Sanhedrin 19a-19b states:

“Because of an incident which happened with a slave of King Jannai [Herod] who killed a man. Simeon b. Shetah said to the Sages: “Set your eyes boldly upon him and let us judge him.” So they sent the King word, saying: “Your slave has killed a man.” Thereupon he sent him [Herod] to them [to be tried]. But they again sent him a message “You too must come here, for the Torah says If, however, that ox has been in the habit of goring, and its owner, though warned, has failed to guard it, and it kills a man or a woman—the ox shall be stoned and its owner, too, shall be put to death (Ex. 21:29). [Teaching], that the owner of the ox must come and stand by his ox.

The king accordingly came and sat down. Then Simeon b. Shetah said: “Stand on thy feet, King Jannai, and let the witnesses testify against you; yet it is not before us that you stand, but before Him who spoke and the world came into being, as it is written  the two parties to the dispute shall appear  [stand] before the Lord, before the priests or magistrates in authority at the time (Deut. 19:17). “I shall not act in accordance with what you say, but in accordance with what you colleagues say,” he answered.  [Simeon] then turned first to the right and then to the left, but they all, [for fear of the King], looked down at the ground. Then said Simeon b. Shetah to them: “Are ye wrapped in thoughts?  Let the Master of thoughts [God] come and call you to account! Instantly, Gabriel came and smote them to the ground, and they died.”