The Talmud: Selections, by H. Polano, , at sacred-texts.com
The Destruction of Jerusalem.
When the guilt of the Israelites grew too great for the forbearance of the Most High, and they refused to listen to the words and warnings of Jeremiah, the prophet left Jerusalem and travelled to the land of Benjamin. While he was in the holy city, and prayed for mercy on it, it was spared; but while he sojourned in the land of Benjamin, Nebuchadnezzar laid waste the land of Israel, plundered the holy Temple, robbed it of its ornaments, and gave it a prey to the devouring flames. By the hands of Nebuzaradan did Nebuchadnezzar send (while he himself remained in Riblah) to destroy Jerusalem.
Before he ordered the expedition he endeavoured by means of signs, in accordance with the superstition of his age, to ascertain the result of the attempt. He shot an arrow from his bow, pointing to the west, and the arrow turned towards Jerusalem. Then he shot again, pointing towards the east, and the arrow sped towards Jerusalem. Then he shot once more, desiring to know in which direction lay the guilty city which should be blotted from the world, and for the third time his arrow pointed towards Jerusalem.
When the city had been captured, he marched with his princes and officers into the Temple, and called out mockingly to the God of Israel, "And art thou the great God before whom the world trembles, and we here in thy city and thy Temple!"
On one of the walls he found the mark of an arrow's head, as though somebody had been killed or hit near by, and he asked, "Who was killed here?"
"Zachariah, the son of Yehoyadah, the high priest, answered the people; "he rebuked us incessantly on account of our transgressions, and we tired of his words, and put him to death."
The followers of Nebuchadnezzar massacred the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the priests and the people, old and young, women, and children who were attending school, even babies in the cradle. The feast of blood at last shocked even the leader of the hostile heathens, who ordered a stay of this wholesale murder. He then removed all the vessels of gold and silver from the Temple, and sent them by his ships, to Babel, after which he set the Temple on fire.
The high priest donned his robe and ephod, and saying, "Now that the Temple is destroyed, no priest is needed to officiate," threw himself into the flames and was consumed. When the other priests who were still alive witnessed this action, they took their harps and musical instruments and followed the example of the high priest. Those of the people whom the soldiers had not killed were bound in iron chains, burdened with the spoils of the victors, and carried into captivity. Jeremiah the prophet returned to Jerusalem and accompanied his unfortunate brethren, who went out almost naked. When they reached a place called Bet Kuro, Jeremiah obtained better clothing for them. And he spoke to Nebuchadnezzar and the Chaldeans, and said, "Think
not that of your own strength you were able to overcome the people chosen of the Lord; ‘tis their iniquities which have condemned them to this sorrow."
Thus the people journeyed on with crying and moaning until they reached the rivers of Babylon. Then Nebuchadnezzar said to them, "Sing, ye people,--play for me,--sing the songs ye were wont to sing before your great Lord in Jerusalem."
In answer to this command, the Levites hung their harps upon the willow trees near the banks of the river, as it is written, "Upon the willows in her midst had we hung up our harps" (Ps. 137: 2). Then they said, "If we had but performed the will of God and sung His praises devoutly, we should not have been delivered into thy hands. Now, how can we sing before thee the prayers and hymns that belong only to the One Eternal God?" as it is said, "How should we sing the song of the Lord on the soil of the stranger?" (Ibid. 4).
Then said the officers of the captors, "These men are men of death; they refuse to obey the order of the king; let them die."
But forth stepped Pelatya, the son of Yehoyadah, and thus he addressed Nebuchadnezzar:
"Behold, if a flock is delivered into the hands of a shepherd, and a wolf steals a lamb from the flock, tell me, who is responsible to the owner of the lost animal?"
"Surely the shepherd," replied Nebuchadnezzar.
"Then listen to thine own words," replied Pelatya. "God has given Israel into thy hands; to Him art thou responsible for those who are slain."
The king ordered the chains to be removed from the captives, and they were not put to death.