The Human Cost Of The Destruction

The Human Cost Of The Destruction

By Warren S. Hecht

All Americans know the Twin Towers fell on September 11, 2001, but few know approximately how many people died at the World Trade Center. The towers have been rebuilt, but the effects of the attack live on. Even today, people who were first responders or lived or worked around the World Trade Center are suffering health effects from the toxins that were emitted during the destruction of the Twin Towers. Many people have died from the conditions caused by the attack. Every year at Ground Zero on September 11 they read the names of those who have perished.

On Tishah B’Av we focus on the destruction of the Second Temple, which has not been rebuilt since its destruction in year 70 CE. It is important not to lose sight of loss of life that occurred because of that calamity.

There was an eyewitness account written by Josephus Flavius titled The Jewish War. He is our Benedict Arnold, having fought for the Jews and then going to help the Romans. Therefore, his statements must be considered in that light. He wanted to curry favor with the Roman government. For example, he blames the Temple going up in flames on Roman soldiers acting on their own. According to Josephus, Titus wanted to save the Temple (Book 6, chapter 4, #241). This has been discredited by Sulpicius Severus’ Chronica written at the beginning of the fifth century, which is based on Tacitus’ Historiae (“Titus himself thought that the Temple ought specially to be overthrown, in order that the religion of the Jews … might more thoroughly be subverted.”) See also Gittin 56b, which discusses Titus’ conduct in the Temple, which was done to denigrate the Temple and his subsequent punishment. This is consistent with the attitude that he wanted to destroy the Temple.

It is important to remember the loss of the Holy Temple. However, we shouldn’t forget the human cost of this catastrophe

Josephus claims that 1.1 million people died because of the Roman siege of Jerusalem (Book 6, chapter 9, #419). He based it on the belief that the siege began on Passover. The population of Jerusalem had swelled due to people going to the Temple to slaughter and eat the Passover lamb (Id at 420). Other historians believe that this number is too high. Josephus mentions a person who told Titus that within an 11-week period of the siege 116,880 dead bodies had been carried through the gate to be buried (Book 5, chapter 13, #567).

Whatever the number, many died because of famine and others due to the Romans killing them. Both Josephus and the Talmud mention the horrible food situation inside the city. For example, Josephus mentioned a woman who committed cannibalism on her son. (Book 6, chapter 3, #208. See also Book 5, chapter 10, #429-438 about what people did to each other to get their food.) This is also mentioned in the kinos said on Tishah B’Av. The Talmud tells a story of the richest woman in Jerusalem during the siege, who every time asked for some type of food was told it was no longer available, and then she died when she tried to eat a dried fig.

In addition, 97,000 people were taken as captives by Rome (Book 6, chapter 9, #419). The Talmud mentioned various stories as to what happened to Jews taken by the Romans. (See Gittin 58.) One story involved a brother and sister sold to two different masters who committed suicide in order not to be forced into inbreeding.

In addition to the Temple, the entire city of Jerusalem was demolished by the Romans (Josephus Book 7, chapter 1, #1). There was a second arch in Rome besides the famous one that was destroyed in the Middle Ages. It was written “Senate and People of Rome to their princeps, Imperator Titus Caesar Vespasianus Augustus, son of the divine Vespasian, high priest, in the tenth year of his tribunal powers, seventeen times Imperator, eight times consul, father of the fatherland, because he (on his father’s orders and auspices and using his advice) subdued the Jewish people and destroyed the city of Jerusalem, something which none of the leaders, kings and armies before him failed to do.” It was unearthed last year in Rome.

Jerusalem was not the only place destroyed. There was death and destruction throughout the Land of Israel by the Romans either directly or by putting Jews in the position that they felt their only choice was suicide (See e.g., Gamla and Masada).

It is important to remember the loss of the Holy Temple. However, we shouldn’t forget the human cost of this catastrophe.

Warren S. Hecht is a local attorney. He can be reached at

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