Tuesday, December 22, 2015

An Earlier Siege

Today, the tenth of Tevet, is a fast day that commemorates the beginning of the Babylonians’ final siege on the city of Jerusalem, which served then as the capital of the Kingdom of Judea. Jews fast on this day because this siege marked the beginning of the end, leading to the destruction of the Holy Temple and the long exile in Babylon which followed. It was not, however, the first Babylonian siege of Jerusalem. 

Approximately 10 years earlier, Nebuchadnezzar took issue with the faltering loyalty of Judea, which was then a Babylonian tribute state. After King Johoiakim died in Nebuchadnezzar’s captivity, Nebuchadnezzar allowed Johoiakim’s 18 year old son Jeconiah (also known as Johaiachin) to assume the throne. When he returned to Babylon, however, his advisors said to him: “The saying goes, ‘Do not rear a good puppy born to a bad dog.’ How much more so a bad puppy born to a bad dog.” (Leviticus Rabbah 19:6). Therefore, Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Jerusalem in order to depose the new king.

To end the siege (which was not very long, given that Jeconiah reigned only 3 months), Jeconiah gave himself to Nebuchadnezzar who then also took with him to Babylon Jeconiah’s mother, wives, officers and the chief men of the land. “Ten thousand captives and all the craftsmen and the smiths; none remained save the poorest sort of the people of the land (II Kings 24:14). Nebuchadnezzar also took the treasures from both the temple and the king’s house. Before leaving, Nebuchadnezzar crowned Jeconiah’s uncle and renamed him Zedekiah

Although the Torah specifically states that Jeconiah “did that which was evil in the sight of the L-rd” (Ibid., 24:9), Jewish tradition infers that he repented his ways while imprisoned in Nebuchadnezzar’s prison. Jeconiah did not die in prison. After the ascent of Evil-Merodach, Nebuchadnezzar’s son, Jeconiah was released and treated with the respect owed to a fellow king.

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