Betar (fortress)

Betar fortress (Hebrew: בֵּיתַּר‎) was an ancient, terraced farming village in the Judean highlands.[1][2][3] The Betar fortress was the last standing Jewish fortress in the Bar Kokhba revolt of the 2nd century CE, destroyed by the Roman army of Emperor Hadrian in the year 135.

Walls of the Betar fortress.
Betar (fortress) is located in the West Bank
Betar (fortress)
Shown within the West Bank
LocationWest Bank
Coordinates31°43′48″N 35°08′08″E / 31.73°N 35.135556°E / 31.73; 35.135556

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.


Bet tar in ancient Hebrew means the place of the blade.[citation needed] Based on the variant spelling found in the Jerusalem Talmud (Codex Leiden), where the place name is written בֵּיתתֹּר,[4] the name may have simply been a contraction of two words: בית + תר, 'bet + tor', meaning, "the house of a dove."

History and archaeologyEdit

Early mentionsEdit

The origins of Betar are likely in the Iron Age Kingdom of Judea.[citation needed] It is not mentioned in the canonical Hebrew Bible, but is added in the Septuagint as one of the cities of the Tribe of Judah.[citation needed]

The location produced archaeological finds of pottery beginning from 8th century BCE and until late period of the Kingdom of Judah and again from early Roman period.[citation needed] In the early second century the town was a major stronghold and urban center in the Bethlehem area.[citation needed]

Bar Kokhba revoltEdit

Siege of Betar
Part of Fourth Phase of Bar Kokhba Revolt
Fortifications of ancient Betar
DateSummer 135 CE[citation needed]
Result Roman victory
Jews Roman Empire
Commanders and leaders
Simon Bar Kokhba
Units involved
Legio V[5]
Legio XI[5]

The city was the stronghold of Bar Kokhba, the leader of the Jewish Revolt against Roman occupation and took place in the days of Emperor Hadrian.[citation needed] After losing many of their strongholds, Bar Kokhba and the remnants of his army withdrew to the fortress of Betar, which subsequently came under siege in the summer of 135. Based on an inscription found there, the Legio V Macedonica and Legio XI Claudia have taken part in the siege.[6] 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.[5]

Roman Inscription found near Battir mentioning the 5th and 11th Roman Legions


The destruction of Betar in 135 put an end to the Jewish–Roman wars against Rome, and effectively quashed any Jewish hopes for self-governance in that period. Following the Fall of Betar, the Romans went on a systematic campaign of wiping out the remaining Judean villages, and hunting down refugees and the remaining rebels, with the last pockets of resistance being eliminated by the spring of 136.[7]

Talmud narrative and Jewish traditionEdit

According to the Jerusalem Talmud, also known as the Palestinian Talmud, Betar remained a thriving town fifty-two years after the destruction of the Second Temple, until it came to its demise.[8][dubious ]


According to the Jerusalem Talmud, the city was besieged for three and a half years before it finally fell (Jerusalem Talmud, Taanit 4:5 [24a]). According to Jewish tradition, the fortress was breached and destroyed on the fast of Tisha B'av, in the year 135, on the ninth day of the lunar month Av, a day of mourning for the destruction of the First and the Second Jewish Temple.[citation needed] Earlier, when the Roman army had circumvallated the city (from Latin, circum- + vallum, round-about + rampart), some sixty men of Israel went down and tried to make a breach in the Roman rampart, but to no avail. When they had not returned and were assumed as dead, the Sages of Israel permitted their wives to remarry, even though their husbands' bodies had not been retrieved.[9]


The massacre perpetrated against all defenders, including the children who were found in the city, is described by the Palestinian Talmud.[10]

The Jerusalem Talmud relates that the number of dead in Betar was enormous, that the Romans "went on killing until their horses were submerged in blood to their nostrils."[11] The Romans killed all the defenders except for one Jewish youth whose life was spared, viz. Simeon ben Gamliel.[12]

Hadrian had prohibited the burial of the dead, and so all the bodies remained above ground. According to Jewish legend, they miraculously did not decompose.[13][dubious ] Many years later Hadrian's successor, Antoninus (Pius), allowed the dead to be afforded a decent burial.[citation needed]

Rabbinical explanationEdit

Rabbinical literature ascribes the defeat to Bar Kokhba killing his maternal uncle, Rabbi Elazar Hamudaʻi, after suspecting him of collaborating with the enemy, thereby forfeiting Divine protection.[14]


Accounts of the Fall of Betar in Talmudic and Midrashic writings 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-58a:

Rabbi Yohanan has related the following account of the massacre:[15] "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 (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 styli [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."


Judaic religionEdit

The fouth blessing that is said by Israel in the Grace over meals is said to have been enacted by the Sages of Israel in recognition of the dead at Betar who, although not afforded proper burial, their bodies did not putrefy and were, at last, brought to burial.[16]

Revisionist and Religious ZionismEdit

The name of the Revisionist Zionist youth movement Betar[17] (בית"ר) refers to both the last Jewish fort to fall in the Bar Kokhba revolt,[citation needed] and to the slightly altered abbreviation of the Hebrew phrase "Berit Trumpeldor"[18] or "Brit Yosef Trumpeldor" (ברית יוסף תרומפלדור), lit. 'Joseph Trumpeldor Alliance'.[17]

The village of Mevo Betar was established on 24 April 1950 by native Israelis and immigrants from Argentina who were members of the Beitar movement, including Matityahu Drobles, later a member of the Knesset.[19] It was founded in the vicinity of the Betar fortress location, around a kilometre from the Green Line, which gave it the character of an exposed border settlement until the Six-Day War.

Beitar Illit, lit. Upper Beitar, is named after the ancient Jewish city of Betar, whose ruins lie 1 kilometre (0.62 mi) away. It was established by a small group of young families from the religious Zionist yeshiva of Machon Meir. The first residents settled in 1990.[20]


  1. ^ David Ussishkin, "Soundings in Betar, Bar-Kochba's Last Stronghold"
  2. ^ D. Ussishkin, Archaeological Soundings at Betar, Bar-Kochba's Last Stronghold, Tel Aviv 20, 1993, pp. 66-97.
  3. ^ K. Singer, Pottery of the Early Roman Period from Betar, Tel Aviv 20, 1993, pp. 98-103.
  4. ^ Jehiel ben Jekuthiel, ed. (1975). Talmud Yerushalmi (Codex Leiden, Scal. 3) (in Hebrew). 2. Makor Publishing Ltd. p. 644. OCLC 829454181.
  5. ^ a b c C. Clermont-Ganneau, Archaeological Researches in Palestine during the Years 1873–74, London 1899, pp. 263-270.
  6. ^ Charles Clermont-Ganneau, Archaeological Researches in Palestine during the Years 1873–1874, London 1899, pp. 463-470
  7. ^ Mohr Siebek et al. Edited by Peter Schäfer. The Bar Kokhba War reconsidered. 2003. P160. "Thus it is very likely that the revolt ended only in early 136."
  8. ^ Jerusalem Talmud (Ta'anit 4:5 [24b])
  9. ^ Tosefta (Yevamot 14:8)
  10. ^ Palestinian Talmud, Taanit 4:5 (24a); Midrash Rabba (Lamentations Rabba 2:5).
  11. ^ Ta'anit 4:5
  12. ^ Palestinian Talmud, Taanit 4:5 (24a–b)
  13. ^ Burial at Betar, blog.
  14. ^ Jerusalem Talmud Ta'anit iv. 68d; Lamentations Rabbah ii. 2
  15. ^ Midrash Rabba (Lamentations Rabba 2:5)
  16. ^ Babylonian Talmud, Berakhot 48b
  17. ^ a b "Youth Movements: Betar". Centenary of Zionism: 1897–1997. Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 4 August 1998. Retrieved 26 September 2020.
  18. ^ Shavit, Yaakov (1988). Jabotinsky and the Revisionist Movement 1925–1948. Frank Cass. p. 383.
  19. ^ About Mevo Beitar
  20. ^ Tzoren, Moshe Michael. "Some Talk Peace, Others Live It". Hamodia Israel News, November 21, 2018, pp. A18-A19.

Further readingEdit

  • Berenbaum, Michael; Skolnik, Fred, eds. (2007). "Bethar (Betar)". Encyclopaedia Judaica. Quoting from Gibson, Shimon. Encyclopaedia Hebraica (2 ed.). 3 (2 ed.). Thomson Gale. pp. 527–528. ISBN 978-0-02-865931-2.
  • Ussishkin, David, "Archaeological Soundings at Betar, Bar-Kochba's Last Stronghold", in: Tel Aviv. Journal of the Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University 20 (1993) 66ff.

External linksEdit