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Leader of the rebellion against the Romans (132-135 C.E.). His name, meaning “son of a star,” is believed to be derived from the Messianic interpretation of the prophecy, “There shall step forth a star out of Jacob.” Known also as Simeon ben Koziba, Bar Kokhba won numerous enthusiastic followers who believed in his mission to free Judea from the Roman Empire. Among his supporters were famous scholars and his host of disciples. In particular, Rabbi Akiva considered him the Messiah and changed his name from Ben Koziba to Bar Kokhba. At first, Bar Kokhba and his heroic men conducted guerilla warfare against the powerful garrison in Palestine. His army grew steadily, attracting zealous fighters from all over Palestine and the Diaspora. According to legend, he tested the valor of his soldiers by requiring each to cut off one of his fingers. After the rabbis protested this needless mutilation, Bar Kokhba devised a less cruel test. Every prospective soldier was required to uproot a cedar tree while charging on horseback. Within a short time the army was strong enough to meet the Roman legions in open battle. Over the next two years, the Jews captured ninety forts and a thousand cities and villages, including Jerusalem.

The Roman emperor Hadrian, fearing that the Jewish revolt would encourage the uprising of more subject countries, dispatched his best legions to squash the revolt. At the head of his legions he placed Julius Severus, the general who had distinguished himself in the campaign against Britain. Severus recaptured all the fortresses, including Jerusalem, forcing Bar Kokhba to concentrate on the mountain stronghold of Betar in the Judean hills. The siege of Betar lasted a year. After a bitter struggle, the Roman legions entered the city on the ninth of Av, 135 C.E. Bar Kokhba and his men continued fighting to the end, dying with sword in hand. The number of Jewish dead reached half a million. Scores of Jews were sold as slaves. The rest hid in caves or fled to neighboring countries. Jerusalem was renamed Aelia Capitolina, in honor of Hadrian. The subjugation of Palestine was now complete, but the story of the Bar Kokhba revolt would become a living symbol of the Jewish desire for freedom and independence.

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