Megillat Ta'anit

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MEGILLAT TA'ANIT (Heb. lit. "scroll of fasting" but see below), a list of 36 days on which there were significant victories and happy events in the history of the Jews during the Second Temple, as a result of which the rabbis forbade fasting on them, as well as, in some cases, the delivery of memorial addresses for the dead (hespedim). The title should therefore be taken as meaning "the scroll of (the days of prohibited) fasting." The work received its present form close to the time of the destruction of the Second Temple or at the latest during the Bar Kokhba era. It is written in Aramaic and with extreme brevity. According to a tannaitic source (Shab. 13b), it was compiled by "Hananiah b. Hezekiah (b. Garon) and his company," but the appendix to the megillah gives the author as Eliezer, the son of this Hananiah, one of the leading rebels against the Romans (Jos., Wars, 2:409). S. Zeitlin regards it as a literary remnant of the rebel party. If this is accepted, the purpose of the list of victories was to strengthen the spirit of heroism and faith in the success of the revolt. The value of the megillah for historical research lies in the parallels it provides to the facts and dates mentioned in Josephus. In the period following the conclusion of the Talmud a scholium was appended to the megillah, written in mishnaic Hebrew and based upon the Hebrew original of i Maccabees, the talmudic literature, and various oral traditions unknown from any other source. The historical value of this appendix is limited. In the course of time copyists and editors added notes and explanations, taken in particular from the Babylonian Talmud, so that two versions evolved, a Sephardi and an Italian.

The dates included in the megillah from before the Hasmonean era are the second Passover (14th Iyar) and Purim. Those from the Hasmonean era are the 23rd of Iyyar when the defenders of the *Acra left Jerusalem, an event mentioned in i Maccabees 13:49–53; the 14th of Sivan, "the seizure of the citadel Zur," identified by Graetz with Beth-Zur conquered by Simeon the Hasmonean (see i Macc. 11:65–66; 14:33); the 15th and 16th of Sivan, in memory of the conquest of Beth-Shean and the valley (of Jezreel) by the sons of John Hyrcanus (see Jos., Ant., 13:280; Jos., Wars, 1:66); the 23rd of Marḥeshvan when they removed the soreg from the Temple (according to the appendix, it meant a place "which the gentiles built, on which they stationed harlots"); the 25th of Marḥeshvan, in memory of the capture of Samaria by John Hyrcanus and his sons (see Jos., Wars, 1:64; Jos., Ant., 13:275–81); the 21st of Kislev, "the day of Mt. Gerizim," in memory of the destruction of the Samaritan temple by John Hyrcanus (see Jos., Ant., 13:255/6); the 25th of Kislev, Hanukkah, for which festival the appendix mentions several reasons, including that when the Hasmoneans were victorious and found all the temple vessels ritually unclean, "they brought seven iron spits, covered them with white metal, and commenced the lighting"; the 28th of Shevat, when King Antiochus was driven out of Jerusalem (according to the appendix, the reference is to Antiochus iv (Epiphanes), but it is probable that it actually refers to Antiochus vii (Sidetes) of the time of John Hyrcanus; see Jos., Ant., 13:245); and the 13th of Adar, the day of Nicanor, in memory of the defeat of this Syrian commander (see i Macc. 7 and ii Macc. 15). The dates from the period of Roman rule over Judea include the third of Kislev, when the "emblems" (the images of the Emperor) were removed from the Temple court, apparently in the time of Pontius Pilate (see Jos., Wars, 2:169), and the 22nd of Shevat, when the edict of Gaius Caligula ordering the erection of a statue of him in the Temple was rescinded (see Jos., Wars, 2:195–203). From the period of the Jewish war with Rome are the 25th of Sivan, when the tax collectors were removed from Judea and Jerusalem, apparently a reference to the suspension of the tax payment to the emperor in 66 c.e., a matter mentioned in the long speech of King Agrippa (Wars, 2:345–401); and the 17th of Elul, when the Romans departed from Jerusalem, although it is not known to what incident this refers.

A number of dates appear to allude to victories of the Pharisees over the Sadducees, but the details are not clear, and apart from two days, the 12th of Adar, "the day of Trajan," which some connect with the emperor Trajan, and the 28th of Adar, which the appendix attributes to the abrogation of Hadrian's edicts, the megillah contains no events after 67 c.e. These memorial days were observed until the third century, but later "Megillat Ta'anit was rescinded" (tj, Ta'an. 2:13, 66a; rh 18b). A 13th-century manuscript of the work is extant in the Palatine library in Parma (De Rossi collection no. 117). Megillat Ta'anit was first published in Mantua in 1513. A critical edition, with an introduction and commentary, was published by H. Lichtenstein (see bibl.). A new critical edition, Megillat Ta'anitVersion, Interpretation, History, was published by Vered Noam in 2003.


Graetz, Gesch, 3 pt. 2 (19065), 559–77; S. Zeitlin, Megillat Ta'anit as a Source for Jewish Chronology and History in the Hellenistic and Roman Periods (1922); H. Lichtenstein (Z. Avneri), in: huca, 8–9 (1931–32), 257–351; H. Mantel, in: Sefer Zikkaron le-Y. Avineri (1970); B.Z. Lurie, Megillat Ta'anit (Heb. ed., 1964).

[Nahum N. Glatzer]