Judaism after the Temple’s Destruction

Feb. 28 2018

In 70 CE, Roman centurions—in the midst of quashing a Jewish revolt against the emperor’s authority—sacked Jerusalem and destroyed the Second Temple. This event, writes Martin Goodman, “demanded a religious explanation” in the eyes of most Jews. In an excerpt from his new book on the history of Judaism, he explains how they reacted to this trauma:

For ordinary Jews, such as [the historian] Josephus, the obvious explanation for disaster was already predicted in biblical texts about the curses that awaited Israel for failing to keep to the covenant with God, and in the numerous promises of redemption when Israel repents of its sins. . . . By implication, a reformed Israel was guaranteed divine aid, and exile from the holy city of Jerusalem would in due course come to an end. . . . Josephus, writing in the mid-90s CE, took it for granted that Jews were expected still to worship in the Temple, boasting in Against Apion about its excellence. . . .

It is however probable that Josephus was not alone among Jews in expecting the rebuilding of the Temple. A hundred years after him, the compiler of the Mishnah in ca. 200 CE included discussion of the detailed practice of Temple worship—not just the set feasts (Sabbath, the pilgrim festivals, the Day of Atonement) but the general treatment of “hallowed things” (animal offerings, meal offerings, sacrilege) and the dimensions of the Temple building and its constituent parts. . . . In due course Jews were to develop new expressions of Judaism that came to terms with the loss of the Temple, but it is not clear how long it took for the yearning for a rebuilt Temple to subside. . . .

Temple imagery and reference to the priestly “courses” in many mosaic inscriptions on synagogue floors of the 5th and 6th centuries CE have encouraged speculation that Jews in this period harbored hopes for an imminent rebuilding, but this may be an over-interpretation. In any case, [by the 5th century] rebuilding was not a practical possibility under Christian rulers intent on turning Palestine into a Christian holy land in which Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of the Temple could be witnessed as fulfilled.

It would not be until the 12th century, in an Islamic world where sacrifice was no longer part of the wider culture, that Moses Maimonides would assert that God had encouraged sacrificial cult in the first place only in order to wean Jews away from the human sacrifice to be found among surrounding peoples. Even Maimonides, [however], believed that in the last days the Temple would be restored by God, as assumed in the daily prayer that had been in regular use, at least among rabbinic Jews, since soon after 70 CE.

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More about: ancient Judaism, History & Ideas, Josephus, Mishnah, Second Temple

Zionists Can, and Do, Criticize Israel. Are Anti-Zionists Capable of Criticizing Anti-Semitism?

Dec. 12 2018

Last week, the New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg defended the newly elected anti-Israel congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, ostensibly arguing that anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism aren’t identical. Abe Greenwald comments:

Tlaib . . . has tweeted and retweeted her enthusiasm for terrorists such as Rasmea Odeh, who murdered two American students in a Jerusalem supermarket in 1969. If Tlaib’s anti-Zionism is of the Jew-loving kind, she has a funny way of showing it.

Ilhan Omar, for her part, once tweeted, “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.” And wouldn’t you know it, just because she believes that Zionist hypnotists have cast global spells masking Israeli evil, some people think she’s anti-Semitic! Go figure! . . .

Goldberg spends the bulk of her column trying very hard to uncouple American Jewishness from Israel. To do that, she enumerates Israel’s sins, as she sees them. . . . [But] her basic premise is at odds with reality. Zionists aren’t afraid of finding fault with Israel and don’t need to embrace anti-Zionism in order to [do so]. A poll conducted in October by the Jewish Electorate Institute found that a majority of Americans Jews have no problem both supporting Israel and criticizing it. And unlike Goldberg, they have no problem criticizing anti-Semitism, either.

Goldberg gives the game away entirely when she discusses the discomfort that liberal American Jews have felt in “defending multi-ethnic pluralism here, where they’re in the minority, while treating it as unspeakable in Israel, where Jews are the majority.” She adds: “American white nationalists, some of whom liken their project to Zionism, love to poke at this contradiction.” Read that again. She thinks the white nationalists have a point. Because, really, what anti-Semite doesn’t?

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More about: Anti-Semitism, Israel & Zionism, New York Times