Coverts to Judaism and Tisha B’Av

In the weeks before and after Tisha B’Av, it would be good to relate stories about noble Gentiles and converts to Judaism, who have risked, and sometimes lost their lives, helping the Jewish people survive. The following account comes from Midrash Rabba to Deuteronomy 2:24

In the year 95, when Rabbi Eliazar, Rabbi Joshua, and Rabbi Gamaliel lived in Rome, a mandate went forth that no Jew should be suffered to live (in Rome or Italy) after the lapse of thirty days after the decree.

Amongst the ministers of state was one, (T. Flavius Clemens) who was devotedly attached to Jews and Judaism (in secret). He informed Rabbi Gamaliel of the decision sometime before before it was made public, at the same time telling the Rabbi of his confidence that the God of Israel would frustrate this evil decree.

Returning home from his private interview with Rabbi Gamaliel, T. Flavius Clemens informed his wife (Domitilla, who had converted to Judaism years earlier) of the decision arrived at concerning the destruction of the (Roman) Jews, which was to be carried out in the coming days.

As there was no other way out of the difficulty Domitilla advised her husband to commit suicide by means of poison, for at that time, it was the practice of Roman nobility to carry poison in the hollow of their signet rings for use in case of emergency.

Domitilla’s advice was based on the fact that amongst the Romans, if the fixed time for carrying out a decree had elapsed, the decree was no longer in force; and since it was also customary to observe thirty days of mourning for the death of any high statesman, during which time no steps could be taken for the carrying out of a newly enacted law, the anti Jewish law would through the death of the statesman and the subsequent mourning period, become for a time, inoperative if not entirely obsolete.

This advice the statesman followed: he sucked out the poison concealed in the hollow of his ring and died. Thirty days of mourning were proclaimed by the Romans and observed; the decree lapsed and was not reenacted.

Inquiring of his wife Domitilla, who everyone knew has converted to Judaism years previously, the Rabbis found that the late statesman had secretly undergone circumcision and had been (in secret) a devout convert to Judaism.—Deuteronomy Rabba 2: 24.

Flavius Clemens’ Kiddush HaShaem should be remembered especially when we focus on the Anti-Semitism of today’s Romans.

About the Author
Rabbi Allen S. Maller has published over 850 articles on Jewish values in over a dozen Christian, Jewish, and Muslim magazines and web sites. Rabbi Maller is the author of "Tikunay Nefashot," a spiritually meaningful High Holy Day Machzor, two books of children's short stories, and a popular account of Jewish Mysticism entitled, "God, Sex and Kabbalah." His most recent books are "Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms' and "Which Religion Is Right For You?: A 21st Century Kuzari" both available on Amazon.
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