135 – Roman armies enter Betar, brutally slaughtering thousands and effectively ending the bar Kokhba revolt.
Betar fortress (Hebrew: בֵּיתַּר) was an ancient, terraced farming village in the Judean highlands. The Betar fortress was the last standing Jewish fortress in the Bar Kochba revolt of the 2nd century CE, destroyed by the Roman army of Emperor Hadrian in the year 135.
The site of historic Betar (also spelled Beitar or Bethar), next to the modern Palestinian village of Battir, southwest of Jerusalem, is known as Khirbet al-Yahud in Arabic (meaning “ruin of the Jews”). Today, the Israeli settlement and city Beitar Illit is also located nearby.
Fall of Betar
According to Jewish tradition, the fortress was breached and destroyed on the fast of Tisha B’av, the ninth day of the lunar month Av, a day of mourning for the destruction of the First and the Second Jewish Temple. The city was the stronghold of Bar Kokhba, the leader of the Jewish Revolt under Hadrian. Hadrian sent against the city several of his Roman legions to capture the city. According to historical records, the city was besieged for three and a half years before it finally fell, and its defenders (including children who were found in the city) were put to death. The horrendous scene after the city’s capture could be best described as a massacre. 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. The destruction of Betar in 135 put an end to the last great Jewish revolt against Rome, and effectively quashed any Jewish hopes for self-governance in that period. Accounts of the event in Talmudic and Midrashic writings thus 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-b:
“Through the shaft of a litter Bethar was destroyed.” It was the custom when a boy was born to plant a cedar tree and when a girl was born to plant a pine tree, and when they married, the tree was cut down and a canopy made of the branches. One day the daughter of the Emperor was passing when the shaft of her litter broke, so they lopped some branches off a cedar tree and brought it to her. The Jews thereupon fell upon them and beat them. They reported to the Emperor that the Jews were rebelling, and he marched against them.
[In explanation of the verse] “He hath cut off in fierce anger all the horn of Israel.” R. Zera said in the name of R. Abbahu who quoted R. Johanan: These are the eighty thousand battle trumpets which assembled in the city of Bethar, when it was taken and men, women and children were slain in it until their blood ran into the Great Sea [=Mediterranean]. Do you think this was near? It was a whole mil away.
It has been taught: R. Eleazar the Great said: There are two streams in the valley of Yadaim, one running in one direction and one in another, and the Sages estimated that [at that time] they ran with two parts water to one of blood.
In a Baraitha it has been taught: ‘For seven years [after the massacre at Beitar] the gentiles fertilized their vineyards with the blood of Israel without using manure.’
…Rab Judah reported Samuel as saying in the name of Rabban Simeon b. Gamaliel; What is signified by the verse (Lamentations 3:51), “Mine eye affecteth my soul, because of all the daughters of my city?” There were four hundred synagogues in the city of Bethar, and in every one were four hundred teachers of children, and each one had under him four hundred pupils, and when the enemy entered there they pierced them with their staves, and when the enemy prevailed and captured them, they wrapped them in their scrolls and burnt them with fire.
The Jerusalem Talmud relates that the number of slain was so enormous, that the Romans “went on killing until their horses were submerged in blood to their nostrils,” and that the flow of blood overturned large stones in its course, and that when the flow of blood travelled along a riverine brook at a distance of 40 biblical miles to the Mediterranean sea, the red hue from the blood of the slain could still be seen in the sea at a distance of 4 biblical miles. Such hyperbolic speech was used only to emphasize the horrendous scene after the capture of the city, and the ensuing massacre of its inhabitants. The same account reports that the corpses were collected and used to make a hedge around the vineyard belonging to Hadrian, and which hedge stretched many long biblical miles and was as high as a man’s stature.
Rabbi Yohanan has related the following account of the massacre: “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 (Hebrew: 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 metal pointers [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.”
Hadrian had prohibited their burial, and so all the bodies remained above ground. Miraculously, they did not decompose. Many years later Hadrian’s successor, Antoninus (Pius), allowed the dead to be afforded a decent burial.
1872 – Oswaldo Cruz, Brazilian physician, bacteriologist, and epidemiologist, founded the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (d. 1917)
Oswaldo Gonçalves Cruz, better known as Oswaldo Cruz (Portuguese pronunciation: [oʒˈvawdu ˈkɾuʃ]; August 5, 1872 in São Luís do Paraitinga, São Paulo province, Brazil – February 11, 1917 in Petrópolis, Rio de Janeiro state), was a Brazilian physician, pioneer bacteriologist, epidemiologist and public health officer and the founder of the Oswaldo Cruz Institute.
He occupied the fifth chair of the Brazilian Academy of Letters from 1912 until his death in 1917.
Oswaldo Gonçalves Cruz was born on August 5, 1872 in São Luis do Paraitinga, a small city in São Paulo Province, to the physician Bento Gonçalvez Cruz and Amália Bulhões Cruz. As a child, he moved to Rio de Janeiro with his family. At the age of 15 he started to study at the Faculty of Medicine of Rio de Janeiro and in 1892 he graduated as medical doctor with a thesis on water as vehicle for the propagation of microbes. Inspired by the great work of Louis Pasteur, who had developed the germ theory of disease, four years later he went to Paris to specialize in bacteriology at the Pasteur Institute, which gathered the great names of this branch of science of that time. He was financed by his father-in-law, a wealthy Portuguese merchant.
Work in Brazil
Cruz found the seaport of Santos ravaged by an epidemic of bubonic plague that threatened to reach Rio de Janeiro and engaged himself immediately in the combat of this disease. The mayor of Rio de Janeiro authorized the construction of a plant for manufacturing the serum against the disease which had been developed at the Pasteur Institute by Alexandre Yersin and coworkers. He asked the institution for a scientist who could bring to Brazil this know-how. The Pasteur Institute responded that such a person was already available in Brazil: Dr. Oswaldo Cruz.
On May 25, 1900, the Federal Serum Therapy Institute destined to the production of sera and vaccines against the bubonic plague was created with Baron Pedro Afonso as director general and the young bacteriologist Oswaldo Cruz as technical director. The new institute was established in the old farm of Manguinhos at the western shores of Guanabara Bay. In 1902, Cruz accepted the office of director general of the institute and soon expanded the scope of its activities, now no longer restricted to the production of sera but also dedicated to basic and applied research and to the building of human resources. In the following year, Cruz was appointed director general of Public Health, a position corresponding to today’s Brazilian Minister of Health.
Using the Federal Serum Therapy Institute as technical-scientific base, he embarked in quick succession of important sanitation campaigns. His first challenge was a series of yellow fever endemics, which had earned Rio de Janeiro the sinister reputation of ‘Foreigners’ Grave’. Between 1897 and 1906, 4,000 European immigrants had died there from the disease. Cruz pursued the new technique of eradicating mosquitoes and their breeding grounds, fumigating houses, and isolation of the ill. There was opposition to the campaign by many, including physicians, the military, and the poor, but the campaign was successful. Cruz was initially successful in the sanitary campaign against the bubonic plague, to which end he used obligatory notification of cases, isolation of sick people, treatment with the sera produced at Manguinhos and extermination of the rats populating the city.
Smallpox vaccination controversy
He was not successful in implementing a widespread vaccination against smallpox, due to popular resistance to it. In 1904, a smallpox epidemic was threatening the capital. In the first five months of the year, more than 1,800 people had been hospitalized. A law imposing smallpox vaccination of children had existed since 1837 but had never been put into practice. Therefore, on June 9, 1904, following a proposal by Oswaldo Cruz, the government presented a bill to the Congress requesting the reestablishment of obligatory smallpox vaccination. The extremely rigid and severe provisions of this instrument terrified the people. Popular opposition against Cruz increased sharply and opposition newspapers started a violent campaign against this and the federal government in general. Members of the parliament and labor unions protested. An anti-vaccination league was organized.
On November 10, the Vaccine Revolt exploded in Rio. Violent confrontations with the police ensued, with strikes, barricades, and shootings in the streets, as the population rose in protest against the government. On November 14, the Military Academy adhered to the revolt, but the cadets where dispersed after an intense shooting. The government declared a state of siege. On November 16, the uprising was controlled and the obligatory vaccination was suspended.
In 1908, a violent smallpox epidemic made the people rush en masse to the vaccination units. Some 9,000 people died. Cruz was vindicated and his merit recognized.
Among the international scientific community, his prestige was already uncontested. In 1907, on occasion of the 14th International Congress on Hygiene and Demography in Berlin, Cruz was awarded with the gold medal in recognition of the sanitation of Rio de Janeiro. In 1909, he retired from the position as director general for Public Health, dedicating himself exclusively to the Manguinhos Institute, which has been named after him. From the institute he organized important scientific expeditions, which allowed a better knowledge about the health and life conditions in the interior of the country and contributed to the colonization of regions. Cruz eradicated urban yellow fever in the state of Pará. His sanitation campaign in the state of Amazonas allowed concluding the construction of the Madeira-Mamoré railroad, which was interrupted due to the great number of deaths from malaria and yellow fever among the workers.
In 1913, Cruz was elected a member of the Brazilian Academy of Arts and Letters. In 1915, due to health problems, he resigned from the directorship of the Oswaldo Cruz Institute and moved to Petrópolis, a small city in the mountains near Rio. On August 18, 1916, he was elected mayor of that city and outlined an extensive urbanization project he would not see implemented.
Death and Legacy
In the morning of February 11, 1917, at 44 years of age, he died of kidney failure.
As a consequence of the short, fruitful life of Dr. Oswaldo Cruz, an extremely important scientific and health institution was born, which marked the beginning of experimental medicine in Brazil in many areas. To this day it exerts a strong influence on Brazilian science, technology and public health.
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