Herod the Great Unveiled: Power, Betrayal, Tragedy

“The Rise and Fall of Herod the Great” is a series that explores the life of one of the most influential figures in the history of Israel. This captivating program provides a detailed account of Herod’s reign, including his marriage to the Hasmonean princess Mariamne, ruthless acts of violence, alignment with Marc Antony of Rome, and deep hostility towards Cleopatra. It emphasizes how Herod’s unchecked ambition and envy negatively impacted his public and private life, eventually leading to madness during his long reign.

The series also depicts the destruction of the Second Jewish Temple, which Herod significantly enhanced, following the grand tradition of Roman edifices. The program intriguingly mirrors the well-known “Game of Thrones” TV series but laments the absence of the traditional Jewish perspective found in texts such as the Torah and Talmud.

Lessons from History

In addition to exploring Herod’s life, the series prompts viewers to consider the lessons of history and the importance of incorporating ancient texts such as the Torah and Talmud to provide a more comprehensive understanding of Jewish Kingship and governance and the significance of leadership and legacy. The ancient roadmap for Jewish governance and Kingship, as laid out by Moses in the book of Deuteronomy, still needs to be included in the CNN portrayal. The blueprint for a Jewish king, mentioned in later historical accounts like Samuel 1 and 2, Judges, and Kings, is transparent in canonical Jewish texts.

“If, after you have entered the land that the LORD your God has assigned to you, and taken possession of it and settled in it, you decide, “I will set a king over me, as do all the nations about me,” you shall be free to set a king over yourself, one chosen by the LORD your God. Be sure to put as King over yourself one of your people; you must not set a foreigner over you, one who is not your relative. Moreover, he shall not keep many horses or send people back to Egypt to add to his horses since the LORD has warned you, “You must not go back that way again.

And he shall not have many wives, lest his heart goes astray; nor shall he amass silver and gold to excess.” (Deuteronomy 17:14-17 *1)

Blueprint for Leadership

Rabbi Meir Soloveichik *2 discusses leadership in podcast episode #32, “Kohen vs. King.” He highlights the inevitability of errors by priests and kings, noting a distinction in the biblical text. Leviticus uses “if” for potential transgressions by priests and “when” for kings, reflecting detailed guidelines for priests and acknowledging rulers’ unavoidable mistakes. The contrast suggests that priests follow strict rules in worship, while rulers must independently assess and make decisions.

“Have a copy of this Teaching written for him on a scroll by the Levitical priests. Let it remain with him and let him read in it all his life, so that he may learn to revere the LORD his God, to observe faithfully every word of this Teaching as well as these laws. Thus, he will not act haughtily toward his fellows or deviate from the Instruction to the right or the left, to the end that he and his descendants may reign long amid Israel.” (Deuteronomy 17:14-20 *3)

The Roman colonization and subsequent governance by Roman officials unfolded in the wake of Herod’s reign. This era marked the tragic demise of Herod’s splendid creation—the Second Temple he had meticulously enhanced—crushed and demolished under Roman rule. After the destruction of the Temple, a clandestine exodus of scholars and rabbis from Jerusalem sought refuge in Yavneh, a secluded town in Galilee, securing permission from the Roman Emperor to establish their community. In this remote haven, the Talmud—a detailed discussion by Rabbis on all aspects of the Torah, also known as “the oral biblical law”—took shape and was meticulously transcribed over the ensuing six centuries.

Enduring Legacy

Today, the Torah and Talmud are the cornerstones of Jewish communal life in Israel and the diaspora. These sacred texts endure daily scrutiny in yeshivas worldwide, synagogue classes, and even academic institutions. They have been the enduring pillars of Jewish communal life, guiding people from all walks of life.

The series prompts viewers to consider the lessons of history and the consequences of unchecked power while emphasizing the importance of incorporating ancient texts such as the Torah and Talmud to provide a more comprehensive understanding of Jewish Kingship and governance.



  1. “Deuteronomy Chapter 17, Verses 14-20.” Sefaria, www.sefaria.org/Deuteronomy.17.14-20.
  2. Rabbi Meir Soloveichik. “Bible 365, Episode 32: Kohen (Priest) vs King: Two Models of Leadership.” Podcast.
  3. “Deuteronomy Chapter 17, Verse 18.” Sefaria, www.sefaria.org/Deuteronomy.17.18.

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