This article was printed in the Kankan Journal Vol 2. Issue 10 Nissan 5780
שׁוֹטְט֞וּ בְּחוּצ֣וֹת יְרוּשָׁלִַ֗ם וּרְאוּ־נָ֤א וּדְעוּ֙ וּבַקְשׁ֣וּ בִרְחוֹבוֹתֶ֔יהָ
Roam the streets of Jerusalem; search its squares. Look about and take note….
I have always been fascinated by the vast amount of history one can discover by exploring the streets of Jerusalem. For example, located in the main thoroughfare of the new city known as the Downtown Triangle, or Kikar Tzion (Zion Square), lies Shlomtzion HaMalka Street. Originally known as Princess Mary Street, the name was changed in 1948, after the establishment of the modern Medina. She is also the only woman mentioned in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Who was Shlomtzion HaMalka and why did she merit such an auspicious namesake?
Little is known about Shlomtzion’s early life. She was the daughter of Shetach Ben Yossi and the granddaughter of Yossi Ben Yochanan Ish Yerushalayim, from the first Zugos. An interesting and obscure trivia tidbit, is that she is at the top of the list of personalities in Jewish History with the most aliases. (Shel Tzion, Shulamis, Shalminin, Salome Alexandra, etc). Her given name was likely Shulamis, but she was fondly called Shlomtzion by the masses because she brought peace to Zion. A paradigm of moral leadership and virtue in her own right, she was also the sister of the great sage and head of Sanhedrin, R’ Shimon Ben Shetach.
Shlomtzion is first introduced to us during a tumultuous time for K’lal Yisroel, around the year 119 BCE. The fourth ruler of the Chashmonai dynasty, Yochanan Hyrcanos, makes a radical change in policy that has a devastating impact on the political and religious landscape of ancient Jewish life at that time. Seeing as Yochanan Hyrcanos served not only as the provincial leader but the Kohen Gadol as well, his moves were quite far reaching.
At the height of the ongoing Pharissean-Sadducean conflict, Yochanan Hyrcanos establishes domestic policies that initally align with the mandate of the Perushim. Despite his loyalties to them, he strategically maintains cordial relations with the opposing faction, the Tzadukim. When the Perushim express a lack of confidence in his ability to serve as Kohen Gadol, Yochanan Hyrcanos switches his allegiance from the Perushim to the Tzadukim. But, with the Perushim now considered his new enemy, he does not have the same attitude of tolerance and civility towards them. He dispatches orders to have all leaders of the Perushim put to death. Fortunately, at least two escape execution, R’ Yehoshua Ben Perachia, the Nasi at the time, who flees to Egypt, and R’ Shimon Ben Shetach, who is hidden by his sister Shlomtzion, despite the fact that she is also Yochanan Hyrcanos’ daughter-in-law.
It’s clear from all accounts that Shlomtzion truly was a righteous and G-dfearing woman, who was surrounded by a morally and spiritually challenged family and social set. She was married to Yochanan Hyrcanos’s eldest son, Yehuda Aristoblus, who was also a Tzaduki. Yochanan Hyrcanos does not choose Yehuda Aristobulus as his successor, he designates his wife to be next in line. However, upon his death, Yehuda Aristobulus succeeds him as ruler, against his father’s wishes, and in an effort to secure his power, he promptly incarcerates both his brother, Alexander Yannai, and his mother, who dies of starvation while imprisoned. No longer satisfied calling himself Nasi (prince), as the proceeding 4 Chashmonai leaders had, he has himself crowned as Melech (king). Initially, he was allied with his younger brother Antignous, but eventually Yehuda Aristobulus suspects him of sedition and orders his guards to execute him. He had no use for the position of Kohen Gadol which he sells to the highest bidder. Shortly after this, Yehuda Aristobulus, who’s health had been failing, dies without an heir.
In the year 91 BCE, Shlomtzion takes matters into her own hands, and arranges for her deceased husband’s brother, Alexander Yanni, to be released from prison. He performs the ritual of a levirate marriage (Yibum) with her and has himself crowned as King of Judah. He also assumes the position of Kohen Gadol, a consolidation of power and influence that historically lay at the root of the conflict between the Perushim and his predecessors. During the reign of Alexander Yanni, they were even more vocal in their opposition. Subsequently, Alexander Yanni kept the open rebellion with the Perushim alive and at an impasse, until one fateful day, when Shlomtzion turned the tide.
The Gemara recounts the following story: Alexander Yannai and Shlomtzion are sitting at a banquet, when they realize that they have a dilemma. As a result of the execution and exile of the sages, the education system in Judah was in shambles, and scholarship was a disappearing institution. This was apparent when it became clear that there was no one at the table in a position to lead the bentching. The King asked the Queen what to do. Shlomtzion responded by saying ‘if I bring you a man to lead, will you show him no harm?’ Alexander Yannai agreed, and Shlomtzion brought her brother Shimon Ben Shetach out of hiding, and he proceeded to lead the bentching.
Following this incident, Shlomtzion takes advantage of this short reprieve to bolster the position of the Perushim. She convinces her husband that the Rabbis pose no threat to him, his power, or his kingdom. He subsequently agrees to appoint her brother as the head of the Sanhedrin (either as the Nassi or Av Beis Din – machlokes), and Shimon Ben Shetach starts a journey to solicit his fellow sages’ return from exile back to Jerusalem. He succeeds, and they transform the Sanhedrin back into a legislative body governed by both the Written and Oral Law. In an effort to rectify the damage caused by the campaign against Torah leadership and Rabbinic authority that plagued the Land of Israel for more than a generation, nearly extinguishing the light of Torah completely, (as was evident by the story above where no one knew how to bentch), Shimon Ben Shetach, together with Yehoshua Ben Perachia, institute a school system throughout Judah where children would begin their Jewish education at the tender age of 6 or 7.
Unfortunately, around the year 75 BCE, this collaborative enterprise imploded not long after its inception. The two brothers-in-law had a dispute on how to resolve a case of 300 Nezirim who could not afford the proper Korbonos required to absolve themselves from their Nazirite oath. The two agreed to split the financial burden. However, while King Alexander Yanni paid his part in birds for the sacrifices, Shimon Ben Shetach cancelled the Nazirite Vow of his half absolving them of their debt. Needless to say, this “creative accounting” incensed the King, and Shimon Ben Shetach fled for his life. This relatively minor and personal conflict between two family members who happened to be the most powerful leaders in Klal Yisroel at that time, was the catalyst of yet another Judean Civil War that erupted, once again, between the Tzadukim and Perushim. The conflict resulted in the death of at least 50,000 people and the crucifixion of 800 Rabbis. It was at this time that the infamous story of Succos in the Beis HaMikdash took place. The Mishna recounts the story of when Alexander Yanni (not referred to by name in the gemara), while serving in the self-appointed the role of Kohel Gadol, was performing the Water Libation ritual, a tradition that the Tzadukim strongly opposed due to its lack of mention in the Written Torah. While pouring the water, he poured it on his feet instead of on the Mizbayach, as is the halacha handed down in the Oral Tradition states. The people observing were enraged and began pelting him with their Esrogim. The attack was so violent that they chipped off part of the Mizbayach, and the King was critically injured. Alexander Yanni retaliated for this egregious act, calling his mercenaries into the Beis HaMikdash and ordering them to attack the civilians; nearly 6,000 were killed that day in the Beis HaMikdash on Succos!
Sometime later, there were Persian dignitaries visiting Israel and requested an audience with the revered sage, R’ Shimon Ben Shetach, whom they had met on a previous delegation. Alexander Yanni lets go of his animosity towards him, and permits his brother-in-law to return to Jerusalem in peace. The two reconcile and the Civil War finally comes to an end. At the end of his life, Alexander Yanni warns his beloved wife, fear not the Perushim or the Tzadukim, rather beware the threat of the charlatans who front as Perushim, yet act like Zimri and want the reward of Pinchas.
The Talmud paints a colorful and textured portrait of Alexander Yanni and his complex and adversarial relationship with the Rabbis, and it provides insight into the strength and poise his wife, Shlomtzion possessed. It’s quite remarkable that Shlomtzion was able to maintain a magnanimous relationship with her volatile husband. He held her in the highest esteem, recognizing that these impressive character traits made her immensely qualified to manage the kingdom. Before he died in the year 73 BCE, he directed her to serve as the interim monarch, until their two sons became of age to inherit the throne, making her one of two Queen Regents in the history of Judah (the other being the polar opposite wicked Atallah). He also instructed her to align the kingdom’s domestic, political, and religious policies with the Perushim because they would ensure the longevity of the Chashmonai Dynasty. After his passing, she appointed their older son Hyrcanos II, a Perushi, as the Kohen Gadol, and Aristoblus II, a Tzaduki, as the ethnarch of Yerushalayim.
Under Shlomtzion’s rule, Shimon Ben Shetach was finally able to control the Sanhedrin in peace, completely by Torah law, and without fear of the government. He invited Yehuda Ben Tabbai to return from Egypt to lead the Sanhedrin with him. These nine short years that Shlomtzion ruled were marked with calm and blessing. The Gemara teaches us that rain invariably fell for them on Wednesday eves and on Shabbat eves, until wheat grew as big as kidneys, and barley as big as olive pits, and lentils as golden dinars. She built the army so strong that no outside forces dared to threaten the kingdom of Judah, and she brought about economic reform that stabilized a country that had been wrought with war for so long. This decade marked the calmest period of the Second Commonwealth. After a 20 year lapse, the sovereignty of the Torah was restored within, the country was strong, and enemies could not breach its fortitude.
Unfortunately, this would prove to be short lived. Before the queen’s death, Aristoblus had already started yielding power and taking over strongholds. It is likely that it was her death in 65 BCE that saved her from being assassinated by her own son. At that point, a three month Civil War was launched between the two brothers, bringing such travesties as swine brought onto the Har HaBais and the evil Herod, y”s on the throne, paving the way for the inevitable destruction of the Temple.
The poignancy and complexity of these episodes in Jewish History begs the following question: The peaceful years of Shlomtzion HaMalka’s reign were less than a decade, flagged on either end by awful and bloody Civil Wars, the latter of which was the beginning of the end for Jewish Life as we knew it. What was so great about these nine years that they are highlighted as the hallmark of the Judean Kingdom during the Second Commonwealth? Is this just remembering the good times amongst the bad?
I believe the answer is more profound. These 9 years coupled with the intermittent preceding years that the Perushim were in power, solidified the supremacy of the way of Chazal over the Jewish people. It was a stopgap in the downward spiral that the Torah had taken, and it reversed the trajectory and propelled it in the right direction. The Torah leadership during the Civil War of Hyrkanos and Aristoblus was Shamaya and Avtalion and then Hillel and Shammai, the last of the Zugos. These four giants would fortify and prepare the Torah to survive the fires of Galus. They would make the necessary decisions so that the Jewish People could remain a nation in exile for two millennium. A mere 20 years after Hillel’s passing, the Sanhedrin would take leave of the Temple Mount in the year 29, the first step in the Exile that would culminate 40 years later. It was the strategies, battleplans, and preparations made during that time that gave us the titanium armor, which is the reason we are still here today. This quite possibly never would have happened without the wisdom and perspicacity of Shlomtzion HaMalka.
In 1989, a meeting was convened with the Dahli Lama and a group of Jewish Scholars. The exiled Tibeten leader sought to find out the ‘Jewish secret technique’ to survive in Diaspora. His people were losing their connection to their fatherland and culture. Mind you, at this point, his people had only been in exile for 30 years, as opposed to the Jewish nation’s 2,000 year sentence. I wonder if they told him the story of Shlomtzion HaMalka?
So, next time you traverse the streets of downtown Jerusalem, consider the possibility that you would not even be there if it wasn’t for this extraordinary Queen of Israel.
 Yirmiyahu 5:1
 Peres, Judy. “A Trip Down Historical Avenues.” Chicago Tribune, 21 March 1998
 For Shlomtzion’s likely name, see Atkinson, Kenneth Queen Salome, 17-25
 Kiddushin 66a
 Sotah 47a
 Doros HaRishonim vol. 2 pg. 460
 Brachos 48a
 Megillas Taanis 10
 Yerushalmi Kesubos 8:11
 Yerushalmi Brachos 7:2
 Succa 48b
 Yerushalmi Brachos 7:2
 Sota 22b
 Ta’anis 23a
 Josefus, Antiquities of the Jews 13:16:5
 Doros HaRishonim vol. 2 pg. 719