English author Edward Bulwer-Lytton once said: “The pen is mightier than the sword.“ Whether or not that’s true, Jewish history shows that both can be invaluable weapons in the struggle to maintain religious life and national identity. Never was this more clear than in the period when the Romans dominated the Holy Land, when the Temple was destroyed, and — only a couple of generations later — another failed revolt and wave of persecutions decimated the ranks of the Sages, leaving the Jewish people with few teachers and dismal prospects for Jewish continuity.
Eli Kavon writes that “If he indeed made this request, it was the most sensible and responsible. Yavneh became the heir to Jerusalem. Saving the rabbinic elite insured the survival of Judaism and the Jewish people. All the Zealots could offer was glorious death in the name of God and Israel. Masada, the last stronghold of the rebels, was a dead end, literally and historically. The rebels died as free men and women by choosing suicide. Perhaps this was heroic and an inspiration to modern Zionists—but Yavneh, quietly and without the drama of mass suicide, transformed Jewish life and faith. Only many centuries later did Masada emerge as a symbol of defiance and heroism.