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After the unsuccessful revolt of Bar Kokhba from 132 to 135 against Roman rule, the Roman emperor Hadrian attempted the spiritual destruction of the Jewish people. Upon penalty of death, he forbade the study of the Torah. Jews were not permitted to practice the most fundamental laws of their religion. Sabbath observance, celebration of holidays, and circumcision were forbidden.

Jewish scholars were the major target of this persecution. However, they braved death rather than submit to Roman oppression. The story of their courageous stand and martyrdom became embodied in legend. The foremost scholars and leaders of their people defied the Roman decree and continued to teach the Torah to their students. Among these martyrs were Rabbi Akiba ben Joseph, Juda ben Bava, and Hananiah ben Teradion. While enduring a slow agonizing death, the martyrs proclaimed their faith in God. It is related that the executioner of Hananiah ben Teradion was so moved by the spirit of the sage that he did everything possible to spare his suffering. Moved to remorse by his victim’s saintly bearing, the executioner leapt into the flames to atone for the cruel task he had been forced to perform. Thereafter, the heroic death of the ten scholars served as a symbol of martyrdom. Their faith and fortitude gave countless Jews the strength to sacrifice their lives “for the sanctification of the name of God.”

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