Jerusalem's Call to the exiled Teacher of the Pharisees
ALEXANDER JANNAI, the Hasmonean, became High Priest and King of Judaea in 103 B.C.E. He attached himself to the Sadducean or aristocratic party in the State, and soon became intensely hated by the Pharisees, the popular party formed by the faithful custodians of the sacred tradition. The tension between the High Priest and the Pharisees exploded during a service in the Temple on the feast of Tabernacles. The worshippers, most of whom were Pharisees, gathered in the Temple, the customary palms and citrons in their hands. As the ceremony of the water libation was about to be performed, all eyes were fixed on the High Priest. The crowd was thunderstruck when he poured the water on the ground, as the Sadducees prescribed, instead of against the altar, as ordained by the Pharisees. In a flash, hundreds of citrons whizzed through the enormous hall towards the spot where Alexander stood, though without causing him injury. Infuriated by this outrage, he at once ordered his mercenaries to attack the rebellious worshippers. It was said that six thousand people lost their lives on the spot.
The ruthless persecution which followed this incident caused a flight of the most prominent Pharisees from the Holy Land. Among them was the leading Pharisaic teacher, Judah ben Tabbai, who took refuge in Alexandria. There he remained until the end of Alexander Jannai's reign. The King, after having relented in his enmity towards the Pharisees, on his deathbed advised his wife, the Queen Salome Alexandra, who was to succeed him, to make peace with them. One of her first acts accordingly was to invite Judah ben Tabbai to return to Jerusalem. Thus, c. 76 B.C.E., a letter reached the sage, the shortest and the most subtle call ever sent to an exile:
'How long will my bridegroom live among you?'
[Jerusalem, about 76 B.C.E.]
From Jerusalem the great to Alexandria the little.
How long will my bridegroom live among you, and I remain separated from him in distress?1
The author of these picturesque lines was another outstanding Pharisee, Simeon ben Shetah, the brother of the Queen. He also had fled to Egypt