Destruction and Desecration: Titus the Wicked and his Nephew Onkelos the Convert

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19 Jul 2011
Fast of Tisha B'Av

“The replacement for Vespasian, the newly crowned Emperor, was the wicked Titus, from whose mouth the verse ‘Where is their G-d, the Rock in Whom they trusted?’ seemed to come. For Titus blasphemed and cursed Heaven!”

“What did he do? He seized a prostitute, and entered the Holy of Holies, spread out a Sefer Torah, and committed a sin on it. He then took a sword and thrust it into the curtain dividing between the Holy and the Holy of Holies. A miracle occurred and blood spurted forth, causing him to think that he had killed “himself” (where “himself” is a euphemism for Heaven)…”

“Abba Chanan says, ‘Who is like You, O Strong One, G-d?’ (Psalms/Tehilim 89:9), ‘Who is like You Strong and Hard, for You hear the blasphemy and the cursing of that wicked person, and are silent?’ ”

“In the Yeshiva/Academy of Rabbi Yishmael it was taught, ‘Who is like you among the mighty (e-lim), O G-d?’ (Shemot 15:11), ‘Who is like You among the silent ones (il-mim), O G-d?’ ”

“What did he do?”

“He took the curtain and made it like a sack and he brought all the holy vessels from the Temple and put them into it, and placed the curtain with the vessels on a ship for transport to Rome where he would use them to boast (as we see to this day recorded on the Arch of Titus).”…

“On the way to Rome, a giant wave was about to crash down on his ship and sink it, when Titus again blasphemed, ‘It seems that the G-d of the Jews has power only on the water; let Him come onto the land and fight me!’ Whereupon a Heavenly voice was heard, saying to him, ‘Wicked person, the son of a wicked person, the grandson of Esav, the wicked! I have a small creature who lives on the land. Get off the boat and fight with it.’ ”

“As he stepped off the boat, a small insect entered through his nose and lodged in his brain, where it pecked for seven years, causing him incredible agony… After he died, his brain was examined and they found in it a creature the size of a wild bird weighing two selahs. Before he died, he instructed that his body be cremated, and his ashes scattered over the seven seas, so that the G-d of the Jews would not be able to find him and bring him to Judgment.”

Onkelos the son of Kalonykos was a nephew of Titus, and he considered converting to Judaism. He had his uncle raised from the dead by magic and asked him, ‘Who is most important in the next world?’ Titus answered, ‘The Jews are.’ Onkelos asked, ‘Should I attach myself to them?’ Titus responded, ‘No! They have too many laws; you wouldn’t be able to observe them all. Better to fight against them and be a leader in the world, as it says, ‘Those who oppressed them were on top.’ ” (Megillat Eichah 1:5)

“Titus’ nephew asked, ‘What is your judgment in the next world?’ ‘My judgment is what I decreed on myself. Every day I am burnt anew and my ashes are scattered over the seven seas.’ “