The Babylonian Exile that followed the destruction of the First Temple lasted for 70 years. Under the leadership of Ezra and Nechemia, however, the Jews began to return to the land of Israel and to Jerusalem. Many chose not to return, but those who did rebuilt the Temple, although on a far more modest scale than the First Temple.
While the Jews had returned to the land, they were no longer independent and were ruled by a succession of empires including the Persians, Greeks, etc. There was a brief period of independence after the overthrow of the Syrian-Greeks (c. 165 BCE - the Chanukah story), but independence was short-lived.
By 64 BCE, Judea (Israel) was under the dominion of Rome. Around 37 BCE, the Romans appointed Herod as the ruler of Judea. While he was a murderous tyrant and not very religious, Herod was also a great builder. It was his grand redesign of the Temple that is the most famous image of the Second Temple.
Roman oppression, however, led to a general uprising. During the suppression of the Judean Revolt, the Temple, which had stood for 420 years, was destroyed by Titus in 70 CE. The famous Arch of Titus, which still stands in Rome today, depicts the pillaging of the Temple and its sacred vessels, including the Menorah.
Some years after the destruction of the Temple, Rabbi Akiva and several other rabbis saw the Temple lying in ruins. The Talmud (Makkot 24b) relates that when they beheld the destruction, his companions cried, but Rabbi Akiva laughed. When asked to explain his behavior, Rabbi Akiva said: “Because when I see this fulfillment of the prophecy of complete destruction and desolation (Micah 3:12), I know that the prophecy of the redemption (Zechariah 8:4) will also be fulfilled.” (The prophecies of redemption and destruction are linked in Isaiah 8:2.)
This Treat was originally posted on August 7, 2008.
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