Betar (ancient village)

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Walls of the Betar fortress.
Betar (ancient village) is located in the West Bank
Betar (ancient village)
Shown within the West Bank
LocationBattir, West Bank
RegionJudean Mountains
Coordinates31°43′48″N 35°08′08″E / 31.73°N 35.135556°E / 31.73; 35.135556
Part ofRoman Judea

Betar (Hebrew: בֵּיתַּר), also spelled Beitar or Bethar, was an ancient fortified Jewish village in the Judean Mountains. It was the last standing stronghold of the Bar Kokhba revolt, and was destroyed by the Imperial Roman Army under Hadrian in 135 CE.[1][2][3]

The archeological site of Khirbet al-Yahud (Arabic: خربة اليهود, lit.'Ruin of the Jews'[4]), located about 8 kilometres (5.0 mi) southwest of Jerusalem, comprises the ruins of ancient Betar. It is situated south-west of the modern Palestinian village of Battir, which preserves its ancient name.[5] The ruin sits on a declivity that rises to an elevation of about 680 metres (2,230 ft) above sea-level. Today, the Israeli settlement and city Beitar Illit is also located nearby.


Bet tar in ancient Hebrew might mean the place of the blade.[citation needed] Based on the variant spelling found in the Jerusalem Talmud (Codex Leiden), where the place name is written בֵּיתתֹּר,[6] the name may have simply been a contraction of two words: בית + תר, 'bet + tor', meaning, "the house of a dove."

History and archaeology[edit]

Early mentions[edit]

The origins of Betar are likely in the Iron Age Kingdom of Judah.[citation needed] It is not mentioned in the Masoretic Text of the Hebrew Bible, but is added in the Septuagint (Codex Sinaiticus) as one of the cities of the Tribe of Judah after Joshua 15:59.[7][8] The location produced archaeological finds of pottery beginning from 8th century BCE and until late period of the Kingdom of Judah and again from early Roman period.[citation needed] In the early second century the town was a major stronghold and urban center in the Bethlehem area.[citation needed]

Bar Kokhba revolt[edit]

Siege of Betar
Part of Fourth Phase of Bar Kokhba Revolt
Fortifications of ancient Betar
DateSummer 135 CE[citation needed]
Result Roman victory
Jews Roman Empire
Commanders and leaders
Simon Bar Kokhba
Units involved
Legio V[9]
Legio XI[9]

The city was the stronghold of Bar Kokhba, the leader of the Jewish Bar Kohkba Revolt against the Romans, which took place in the days of Emperor Hadrian, who sent against him Sextus Julius Severus.[8] After losing many of their strongholds, Bar Kokhba and the remnants of his army withdrew to the fortress of Betar, which subsequently came under siege in the summer of 135.

The Babylonian Talmud (Sanhedrin 95; Gittin 58, et al.) and the Midrash (in Lamentations Rabbah) mention the city Betar, the siege, and the fate of its inhabitants. Based on an inscription found at Battir, the Legio V Macedonica and Legio XI Claudia have taken part in the siege.[10] A stone inscription bearing Latin characters and discovered near the city shows that the Fifth Macedonian Legion and the Eleventh Claudian Legion took part in the siege.[9]

Roman Inscription found near Battir mentioning the 5th and 11th Roman Legions

A large moat was dug on the south-side of the stronghold, believed to have been made by the inhabitants of the town either before or during the siege, in order to enhance the town's natural defences.[8] Today, modern houses have been built in the depression, along with the planting of fruit trees. Although the general ruin is now used by the villagers of Battir for growing olive trees, along the purlieu of the site can still be seen the partial, extant remains of a Herodian wall and a Herodian tower.[8]


The destruction of Betar in 135 put an end to the Jewish–Roman wars against Rome, and effectively quashed any Jewish hopes for self-governance in that period. Following the Fall of Betar, the Romans went on a systematic campaign of wiping out the remaining Judean villages, and hunting down refugees and the remaining rebels, with the last pockets of resistance being eliminated by the spring of 136.[11]

Talmud narrative and Jewish tradition[edit]

According to the Jerusalem Talmud, Betar remained a thriving town fifty-two years after the destruction of the Second Temple, until it came to its demise.[12] Modern chroniclers push back the destruction of Betar some years later, making the time-frame brought down in the Jerusalem Talmud hard to reconcile, even if, according to Jewish tradition, the destruction of the Second Temple occurred in 68 CE. Either the time-frame carried in the Talmud is a gross error, or else some of the dates used by modern-day chroniclers are purely anachronistic.[citation needed]


According to the Jerusalem Talmud, the city was besieged for three and a half years before it finally fell (Jerusalem Talmud, Taanit 4:5 [13][13]). According to Jewish tradition, the fortress was breached and destroyed on the fast of Tisha B'Av, in the year 135, on the ninth day of the lunar month Av, a day of mourning for the destruction of the First and the Second Jewish Temple.[citation needed] Earlier, when the Roman army had circumvallated the city (from Latin, circum- + vallum, round-about + rampart), some sixty men of Israel went down and tried to make a breach in the Roman rampart, but to no avail. When they had not returned and were assumed as dead, the Ḥazal permitted their wives to remarry, even though their husbands' bodies had not been retrieved.[14]


The massacre perpetrated against all defenders, including the children who were found in the city, is described by the Jerusalem Talmud.[15]

The Jerusalem Talmud relates that the number of dead in Betar was enormous, that the Romans "went on killing until their horses were submerged in blood to their nostrils."[16] The Romans killed all the defenders except for one Jewish youth whose life was spared, viz. Simeon ben Gamliel.[17]

Hadrian had prohibited the burial of the dead, and so all the bodies remained above ground. According to Jewish legend, they miraculously did not decompose.[18] Many years later Hadrian's successor, Antoninus (Pius), allowed the dead to be afforded a decent burial.[citation needed]

Rabbinical explanation[edit]

Rabbinical literature ascribes the defeat to Bar Kokhba killing his maternal uncle, Rabbi Elazar Hamudaʻi, after suspecting him of collaborating with the enemy, thereby forfeiting Divine protection.[19]


Accounts of the Fall of Betar in Talmudic and Midrashic writings reflect and amplify its importance in the Jewish psyche and oral tradition in the subsequent period. The best known is from the Babylonian Talmud, Gittin 57a-58a:

Rabbi Yohanan has related the following account of the massacre:[20] "The brains of three-hundred children were found upon one stone, along with three-hundred baskets of what remained of phylacteries (Hebrew: tefillin) were found in Betar, each and every one of which had the capacity to hold three measures (three seahs, or what is equivalent to about 28 liters). If you should come to take [all of them] into account, you would find that they amounted to three-hundred measures." Rabban [Shimon] Gamliel said: "Five-hundred schools were in Betar, while the smallest of them wasn't less than three-hundred children. They used to say, 'If the enemy should ever come upon us, with these styli [used in pointing at the letters of sacred writ] we'll go forth and stab them.' But since iniquities had caused [their fall], the enemy came in and wrapped up each and every child in his own book and burnt them together, and no one remained except me."

Carved foundations at Khirbet al-Yahud



The fourth blessing that is said by Israel in the Grace over meals is said to have been enacted by the Ḥazal in recognition of the dead at Betar who, although not afforded proper burial, their bodies did not putrefy and were, at last, brought to burial.[21]

Revisionist and Religious Zionism[edit]

The name of the Revisionist Zionist youth movement Betar[22] (בית"ר) refers to both the last Jewish fort to fall in the Bar Kokhba revolt,[citation needed] and to the slightly altered abbreviation of the Hebrew phrase "Berit Trumpeldor"[23] or "Brit Yosef Trumpeldor" (ברית יוסף תרומפלדור), lit. 'Joseph Trumpeldor Alliance'.[22]

The village of Mevo Betar was established on 24 April 1950 by native Israelis and immigrants from Argentina who were members of the Beitar movement, including Matityahu Drobles, later a member of the Knesset.[24] It was founded in the vicinity of the Betar fortress location, around a kilometre from the Green Line, which gave it the character of an exposed border settlement until the Six-Day War.

Beitar Illit, lit. Upper Beitar, is named after the ancient Jewish city of Betar, whose ruins lie 1 kilometre (0.62 mi) away. It was established by a small group of young families from the religious Zionist yeshiva of Machon Meir. The first residents settled in 1990.[25]


  1. ^ David Ussishkin, "Soundings in Betar, Bar-Kochba's Last Stronghold"
  2. ^ D. Ussishkin, Archaeological Soundings at Betar, Bar-Kochba's Last Stronghold, Tel Aviv 20, 1993, pp. 66-97.
  3. ^ K. Singer, Pottery of the Early Roman Period from Betar, Tel Aviv 20, 1993, pp. 98-103.
  4. ^ Palmer, 1881, p. 312
  5. ^ Tamén, Conder, Claude R. Tent Work in Palestine: A Record of Discovery and Adventure (1887 ed.). p. 143.
  6. ^ Jehiel ben Jekuthiel, ed. (1975). Talmud Yerushalmi (Codex Leiden, Scal. 3) (in Hebrew). Vol. 2. Makor Publishing Ltd. p. 644. OCLC 829454181.
  7. ^ Septuagint (Codex Sinaiticus), p. 59a, Greek: καὶ Καρεμ καὶ Γαλλιμ καὶ Βαιθηρ καὶ Μανοχω, although some texts transcribe "Θεθηρ" instead of "Βαιθηρ".
  8. ^ a b c d Ben-Yosef, Sefi (n.d.). "Battir". Israel Guide - Judaea (A useful encyclopedia for the knowledge of the country) (in Hebrew). Vol. 9. Jerusalem: Keter Publishing House, in affiliation with the Israel Ministry of Defence. pp. 88–92. OCLC 745203905.
  9. ^ a b c C. Clermont-Ganneau, Archaeological Researches in Palestine during the Years 1873–74, London 1899, pp. 263-270.
  10. ^ Charles Clermont-Ganneau, Archaeological Researches in Palestine during the Years 1873–1874, London 1899, pp. 463-470
  11. ^ Mohr Siebek et al. Edited by Peter Schäfer. The Bar Kokhba War reconsidered. 2003. P160. "Thus it is very likely that the revolt ended only in early 136."
  12. ^ Jerusalem Talmud (Ta'anit 4:5 [24b])
  13. ^ "Jerusalem Talmud Taanit 4:5:13". Retrieved 15 February 2022.
  14. ^ Tosefta (Yevamot 14:8)
  15. ^ Jerusalem Talmud, Taanit 4:5 (24a); Midrash Rabba (Lamentations Rabba 2:5).
  16. ^ Ta'anit 4:5
  17. ^ Palestinian Talmud, Taanit 4:5 (24a–b)
  18. ^ Babylonian Talmud, Berakhot 48b
  19. ^ Jerusalem Talmud Ta'anit iv. 68d; Lamentations Rabbah ii. 2
  20. ^ Midrash Rabba (Lamentations Rabba 2:5)
  21. ^ Babylonian Talmud, Berakhot 48b
  22. ^ a b "Youth Movements: Betar". Centenary of Zionism: 1897–1997. Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 4 August 1998. Retrieved 26 September 2020.
  23. ^ Shavit, Yaakov (1988). Jabotinsky and the Revisionist Movement 1925–1948. Frank Cass. p. 383.
  24. ^ About Mevo Beitar
  25. ^ Tzoren, Moshe Michael. "Some Talk Peace, Others Live It". Hamodia Israel News, November 21, 2018, pp. A18-A19.


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