Saturday, February 18, 2012

Bar Kochba Tartan?

Last week I was speaking with my father about the similarities between the Scots and the Jews. Both seem to make a disproportionate contribution to politics and business throughout the world (though we were speaking mainly about Britain and New Zealand).

Then I was at a wedding later in the week and I heard something very interesting. I am not sure if it is true, but it may be. And if anyone can verify it, or send me to some sources I would appreciate it.

As you may know, Scotland is in the midst of a bid for independence from the rest of Britain. There will be a referendum in 2014 where the population will decide whether to stick with the rest of the island, or go it alone.

Why are the Scots not part of England, like all the other counties which were once separate and independent kingdoms? The answer is (I think) "Hadrian's Wall". Hadrian's Wall once stretched across the top of England (today many parts are still standing, but not all of it) to keep the Scots out of the rest of Britain. As the name suggests, it was built in the time of the Emperor Hadrian, who succeeded in conquering the rest of mainland Britain. It was this wall that allowed Scotland to remain an independent and separate country until the Treaty of Union in 1707

Why did Hadrian instruct his soldiers to build a wall, instead of continuing north to vanquish the entire country? (And here is the chidush) - Because of the Bar Kochba revolt in Israel.

Hadrian realised that he needed his troops and his best general back in the Middle East, and not in the furthest corner of Europe.

The Bar Kochba rebellion took the Romans by surprise. Hadrian called his general Sextus Julius Severus from Britain, and troops were brought from as far as the Danube. The size of the Roman army amassed against the rebels was much larger than that commanded by Titus sixty years earlier. Roman losses were very heavy - XXII Deiotariana was disbanded after serious losses. In addition, some argue that Legio IX Hispana disbandment in the mid 2nd century could also have been a result of this war.

Now, according to Wikipedia that are many theories as to why Hadrian constructed the wall, and its construction precedes the outbreak of the Bar Kochba rebellion. But it is still possible that the ongoing rebellion in Palestine was a major reason why the wall was constructed.

Reasons for the construction of the wall vary, and the exact explanation has never been recorded. However, a number of theories have been presented by historians, primarily centering around an expression of Roman power and Hadrian's policy of defense before expansion. For example, on his accession to the throne in 117, Hadrian had been experiencing rebellion in Roman Britain and from the peoples of various conquered lands across the Empire, including Egypt, Palestine, Libya, Mauretania.[5] These troubles may have had a hand in Hadrian's plan to construct the wall, and his construction of limes in other areas of the Empire, but to what extent is unknown.

So the reason that Scotland wants to become independent, and the reason they wear kilts, play bagpipes and eat haggis (rather than trousers, cricket and 'fish and chips') may be because of Bar Kochba and the rebellion in Palestine.

Kind of neat to think that ultimately the Jews can be blamed for that one too!


  1. The Scottish Tartans Authority actually has an official Jewish tartan.

  2. Yes, but that is the Chabad Tartan - so there is still an opening for another kosher tartan! (Mendel Jacobs actually is Lubavitch, and runs the Chabad house in Glasgow).
    Actually there are many 'Jewish' tartans, because one of the biggest kiltmakers in Edinburgh is owned by members of the Edinburgh Shul:
    Geoffrey (Tailor) Kiltmakers and Weavers

    And Howie Nicholsby was at my place for Purim seudah many years ago. I'm not sure if you would call it (only) tartan, but he does design kilts:
    21st Century Kilts

  3. (I had guessed RMJ was Lub from his beard and hat.)

    As the old saying goes: Two Jews, three tartans.

    I recall on usenet, many years ago (might be the late 80s), two Scottish Jews were arguing about proper attire for Shabbos. One was justifying wearing the standard yeshivish uniform. The other argued that since anyone would wear a kilt to formally greet Queen Elizabeth, one would have to dress no less for Shabbos -- and possibly for daily davening.

  4. ... and don't forget the controversy about the Prayer for the Royal Family! According to the Authorised Jewish Prayer Book (Singer Siddur) used throughout the Commonwealth, the correct title for Prince Charles is 'Prince of Wales'. However, in Scotland his formal title is 'Duke of Rothsay'.
    When I was in Edinburgh there were some who wanted to change the 'minhag' of the siddur, to give the traditionally correct title to HRH Prince Charles. I vetoed the idea at the time, but I think if you go there now you will hear them say a prayer for the Duke of Rothsay.
    How does one resolve a machloket between two different 'minhag hamakom's?