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Sukkot, Bar Kokhba’s Favorite Holiday

October 8, 2014

elazarbarco coin  0 R kaysh

The coin on the right is of special interest and historical value. It was minted during the third and last year of the Jewish revolt against Rome (year 134/135 CE). Lulav holder with 3 Minim and Etrog on his left. Hebrew inscription around – For the Freedom of Jerusalem.

This arrangement follows (unsurprisingly) the opinion of Rabbi Akiva in the Mishna (1.

Also interesting to note, the sort of basket that is meant for holding all the species together. This is still followed by Ashkenazim.

The first coin depicts a palm tree and the legend: Elazar the High Priest. Many scholars identify him with Elazar Hamodai who was, according to the Talmud, an uncle of Bar Kokhba.

What’s interesting about this coin is that the writing is in Paleo-Hebrew while R’ Elazar championed the superiority of the ‘modern’ Assyrian script (2.

It seems that Jewish nationalists (this is evident from Maccabean coins as well) actually deemed the older script to be more authentic –and the reintroduction of this script, at such a late date, may have been part of a nationalist revival on the part of Bar Kokhba.

The fragment is part of a letter written by Bar Kokhba to a district commander requesting the immediate delivery of four species to supply his troops for the  upcoming Sukkot holiday.

This is the text of the letter:

ליהודה בר מנשה לקרית ערביה. שלחת לך תרי חמרין די תשלח עמהן תרי גברין לות יהונתן בר בעין ולות מסבלה די יעמרן, וישלחן למחניה לותך ללבין ואתרגין. ואת שלח אחרנין מלותך וימטון לך הדסין וערבין. ותקן יתהן ושלח יתהן למחניה בדיל די אכלסה סגי. הוא שלם.

וזה תרגומה העברי:

שורה א: ליהודה בר מנשה מקריית ערביה. שלחתי לך שני חמורים כדי שתשלח
שורה ב: עמהם שני אנשים אצל יהונתן בן בעיה ואצל מסבלה כדי שיעמיסו
שורה ג: וישלחו למחנה אצלך לולבים ואתרוגים. ואתה שלח אחרים מאצלך
שורה ד: ויביאו לך הדסים וערבות והתקן אותם ושלח אותם למחנה מפני
שורה ה: שהצבא רב(.) היה שלום


Shimeon to Yehudah bar Menashe in Qiryath ‘Arabaya.
I have sent to you two donkeys, and you must send with them two men to Yehonathan, son of Be’ayan and to Masabala, in order that they shall pack and send to the camp, towards you, palm branches and citrons. And you, from your place, send others who will bring you myrtles and willows. See that they are tithed and sent them to the camp. The request is made because the army is big. Be well.


במשנה סוכה פרק ג משנה ד אומר רבי ישמעאל שיש לקחת למצווה זו אתרוג אחד, לולב אחד, שלושה הדסים ושתי ערבות. רבי עקיבא חולק עליו וסובר שמכל מין יש לקחת אחד, אך דעתו של רבי ישמעאל נפסקה להלכה. מטבע עתיק מימי בר כוכבא מראה את ארבעת המינים לפי שיטתו של רבי עקיבא, שכנראה רווחה בזמנו

רבי שמעון בן אלעזר אומר משום רבי אליעזר בן פרטא שאמר משום רבי אלעזר המודעי: כתב זה לא נשתנה כל עיקר, שנאמר )שמות כ”ז( ווי העמודים; מה עמודים לא נשתנו – אף ווים לא נשתנו.
סנהדרין כב א


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  1. Finally, something that doesn’t have to do with Kairites!

    Your question about the Bar Kochba rebels using Ksav Ivri is not so strong. As I discuss in my upcoming book, Lashon HaKodesh: History, Holiness, & Hebrew (Mosaica Press, 2014), everyone (even Rabbi Eliezer HaModai) agrees that the Jews used Ksav Ivri for non-religious purposes; it was definitely their “secular” script. The discussion in the Gemara in Sanhedrin, it seems, only pertains to the script used to write religious items and/or Sifrei Torah.

    • Yeah, I hear you on the Karaites thing. Well, what can I do, schisms in jewish history is my forte. But perhaps a moratotorium on Karaites is in order (for a little while)..

      The truth is that Ketav Ivri seems to have been the norm on coinage. This can be seen on coinage from virtually all throughout the Second Temple period. While some of the Bar Kochba letters are in Hebrew and some in Aramaic (even one in Greek), virtually all the coinage bear ketav ivri and virtually all the letters (all of them are of a secular nature) are in ketav ashurit.

  2. And in the DSS that usage is also found. But we have to know who wrote these things and if thy are from fringe groups that doesn’t prove anything about the mainstream Jews of the time and their favored script.
    Agav,I seem to remember Kasher somewhere in Torah Shleimah discussing the halachik status of a Sefer Torah written in normal Ashuri but with its instances of the ineffable name written in Ivri.

  3. Ephrayim permalink

    my friend, you have it all wrong. Zohar Amar (ארבע מינים) and others have pointed out that what you think is a woven holder (koshikel) is really just a bunch of hadasim and that two branches that jut out are both aravot. Take a look at pictures of Yemenite lulavim and you will understand. There are also plenty of such pictures in Amar’s book. The custom on using many hadasim is indeed very old and seems to date back to at least the 2nd century.

    RCK, Kasher discusses the kashrus of ksav ivri after it was replaced with Ashuri in his teshuvohs. I don’t recall such a discussion in כתב התורה ואותיותה (Torah Shleimah v. 29). Anyhow, special practices in regards to the name of God are mentioned by Chazal and they said if one writes all of the names in gold it is pasul.

    • Hi Ephrayim,

      Thanks for your comment.

      As to what you said re: the Kaishekel, iirc the latter is made up of woven lulav leaves. The holder illustrated on the coin is undoubtedly some type of holder. I haven’t read Amar yet but there is some mention of a vessel pictured on a Bar Kochba coin, which he deems, to be a keli meant for nisuch hamayim גם במטבעות בר כוכבא נמצא ציור של ענף ערבה וכלי עם פיה, אשר משערים כי היה מיועד לניסוך המים.
      Or perhaps I’m confusing two different things.
      (I’ve seen the Yemenite bunched up hadassim but I don’t think that is what is represented on the coin though).

      Yoel Davidi

  4. Btw, Professor Steven Fine (YU) also thinks its a basket.

    • Ephrayim permalink

      What are you proving exactly with your quotes? That other people thought like you? So what, somebody made a mistake and now people have a hard time seeing in otherwise. Fine?! Plllleease… I’ve taken a class with him. Read Amar and you will see that he is correct.

  5. Nathaniel Feingold permalink

    See page 12 here for a photo of the letter:

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