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What was the story with Shimon the Tzadik and Alexander the Great?

by Rabbi Yossi Marcus

  

Library » History » The Holy Temples » Temple Personalities | Subscribe | What is RSS?


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There was a group of people living in Israel called Cutheans or Samaritans who made lots of trouble for the Jews. At one point they succeeded in convincing Alexander the Great of Macedonia that the Jews’ refusal to place his image in their Temple was an indication of their refusal to accept his sovereignty and thus the Holy Temple in Jerusalem should be destroyed. Accordingly, Alexander set out towards Jerusalem at the head of his army.

When the high priest, Shimon the Tzaddik (Simon the Righteous), heard about this decree, he donned his priestly garments and set out to meet Alexander. He was accompanied by some of the most prominent people in Israel all holding torches in their hands.

The two groups walked towards each other all night. But there was another delegation going towards Alexander’s camp—the Samaritans. At dawn, Alexander saw the Jewish delegation in the distance and he asked the Samaritans that were with him, “Who are these people?”

They answered, “These are Jews—the ones that rebelled against you.”

At the crack of dawn they met. When Alexander saw Shimon the Tzaddik he alit from his carriage and bowed to him respectfully. His entourage was obviously surprised and said, “Shall a king of your stature bow to this Jew?”

Alexander replied that Shimon’s image appeared before him in all of his battles, leading him to victory. He then turned to the Jews and asked them why they had come. They replied: “Is it possible that idolaters should mislead you to destroy the house in which we pray for you and your empire?” Shimon the Tzaddik showed Alexander the Holy Temple and explained that the Torah forbids the display of any graven image. He then offered to name all the male children born to priests that year “Alexander” as a demonstration of loyalty to the emperor (which is how "Alexander" became a common Jewish name).

At that point the tables were turned and the Samaritans gained the ill-will of Alexander.

This historic meeting occurred on the 25th of Tevet 25 of the year 3448 (313 BCE).1

Footnotes

  • 1. Talmud Yoma 69a.

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COMMENTS

the name Alexander

Posted by: Sharon Alexander, Muenchenstein, Switzerland on Mar 27, 2006

Shimon the Tzaddik showed Alexander the Holy Temple and explained that the Torah forbids the display of any graven image. He then offered to name all the male children born to priests that year “Alexander” as a demonstration of loyalty to the emperor (which is how "Alexander" became a common Jewish name).

My question: Does that make all Alexanders cohains?

Editor's Comment

No. Those priestly Alexanders passed on, and many other Israelite babies (including their maternal grandchildren) were named after them.
Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Tzaddik
(fem. Tzidkanit; pl. Tzaddikim). A saint, or righteous person.
Tevet
The tenth month on the Jewish calendar. Falls out in mid-winter.
Jerusalem
Established by King David to be the eternal capital of Israel. Both Temples were built there, and the third Temple will be situated there when the Messiah comes.
Temple
1. Usually a reference to the Holy Temple which was/will be situated in Jerusalem. 1st Temple was built in 825 BCE and was destroyed in 423 BCE. The 2nd Temple was built in 350 BCE and was destroyed in 70 CE. The 3rd Temple will be built by the Messiah. 2. A synagogue.