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.

Read more at Los Angeles Review of Books

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

The Danger of Hollow Fixes to the Iran Deal

March 20 2018

In January, the Trump administration announced a 120-day deadline for the so-called “E3”—Britain, France, and Germany—to agree to solutions for certain specific flaws in the 2015 agreement to limit the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program. Omri Ceren explains why it’s necessary to get these fixes right:

[Already in October], the administration made clear that it considered the deal fatally flawed for at least three reasons: a weak inspections regime in which the UN’s nuclear watchdog can’t access Iranian military facilities, an unacceptable arrangement whereby the U.S. had to give up its most powerful sanctions against ballistic missiles even as Iran was allowed to develop ballistic missiles, and the fact that the deal’s eventual expiration dates mean Iran will legally be allowed to get within a hair’s breadth of a nuclear weapon. . . .

A team of American negotiators has been working on getting the E3 to agree to a range of fixes, and is testing whether there is overlap between the maximum that the Europeans can give and the minimum that President Trump will accept. The Europeans in turn are testing the Iranians to gauge their reactions and will likely not accept any fixes that would cause Iran to bolt.

The negotiations are problematic. The New York Times reported that, as far as the Europeans are concerned, the exercise requires convincing Trump they’ve “changed the deal without actually changing it.” Public reports about the inspection fix suggest that the Europeans are loath to go beyond urging the International Atomic Energy Commission to request inspections, which the agency may be too intimidated to do. The ballistic-missile fix is shaping up to be a political disaster, with the Europeans refusing to incorporate anything but long-range missiles in the deal. That would leave us with inadequate tools to counter Iran’s development of ballistic missiles that could be used to wipe Israel, the Saudis, and U.S. regional bases off the map. . . .

There is a [significant] risk the Trump administration may be pushed to accept the hollow fixes acceptable to the Europeans. Fixing the deal in this way would be the worst of all worlds. It would functionally enshrine the deal under a Republican administration. Iran would be open for business, and this time there would be certainty that a future president will not act to reverse the inevitable gold rush. Just as no deal would have been better than a bad deal, so no fix would be better than a bad fix.

Read more at Commentary

More about: Donald Trump, Europe, Iran, Politics & Current Affairs, U.S. Foreign policy