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When in Rome

Rabbi Elazar the son of Rabbi Yossi said, "In Rome I saw the parochet of the Beit Hamikdash, and there were drops of blood on it."

The wicked kingdom of ancient Rome issued severe decrees against the religious practices of the Jewish People in order that they assimilate. For example, the Romans banned keeping Shabbat and doing circumcision. At first, one of the Rabbis tried to blend in to the royal council and convinced the king that it was in the best interest of the Roman Empire to revoke the decrees. He argued that the decrees were contrary to the interest of Rome: “By keeping Shabbat the Jews will be poorer, and by doing circumcision they will be weaker. Wouldn’t it be better for the king if his enemies were poorer and weaker?” Although his advice was initially accepted and the bans were lifted, eventually, when he was discovered to be Jewish the bans were reinstated.

Following this, our Sages decided to send Rabbi Elazar the son of Rabbi Yossiand Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai to Rome to seek annulment of their anti-religious decrees. When these Sages saved the king’s daughter from the attack of a demon, the king rewarded them with an invitation to take any wealth or item they desired from the royal treasury. What transpired is that when they were looking through the royal treasures, they saw the document with the terrible anti-religious decrees. They took it and destroyed it. Also, while they were checking out the contents of the royal treasures, Rabbi Elazar the son of Rabbi Yossi noticed the blood-stained parochet — the partition veil that had been in the Beit Hamikdash between the Kodesh and the Kodesh Kodashim. The blood was from the bullock and goat sacrifices that were sprinkled towards the parochet during the Yom Kippur service.

It is recorded in our sources that not only was the parochet kept in secret cellars in Rome — and is still presumably there — but also that the Shulchan (Table), Menorah, the special vessel used for preparing the Ketoret (Incense) and the Tzitz (the Headband, one of the eight garments of the Kohen Gadol), were all kept in storage in Rome. Does this remind anyone of The Arch of Titus? (Avotd’Rabbi Natan §41)

Some years ago, a Rabbi I had the merit to study with each morning before dawn told me about an event related to the current state of storage of the holy articles from the Beit Hamikdash that were captured by the ancient Romans and taken into exile with them to Rome. He told me about a relative of his who was a professor of history, specializing in the Roman Empire. She had received great recognition and a special award and was invited to an official visit to the Vatican. She was given a special tour of the normally secret and hidden treasures that ancient Rome had accrued, and, among them, she identified many vessels that were clearly from the Second Beit Hamikdash. She wasn’t permitted to film them, but the leaders told her they were authentic, and from her vast studies and experience shewas certain that this was the case. Her relative, the Rabbi I studied Torah with, concluded that it was probably better that these holy items remain where they are, for now, instead of trying to bring them back to Israel. What could be done with them without a Beit Hamikdash? And there would always be the risk of using them in an improper manner, debasing them and defiling them. And even possibly transgressing the Torah command regarding the prohibition of me’ila — the central topic of the Tractate which we conclude for now.

Me’ila 17 a-b

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