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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Read more at Los Angeles Review of Books

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

Syria’s Downing of a Russian Plane Put Israel in the Crosshairs

Sept. 21 2018

On Monday, Israeli jets fired missiles at an Iranian munitions storehouse in the northwestern Syrian city of Latakia. Shortly thereafter, Syrian personnel shot down a Russian surveillance plane with surface-to-air missiles, in what seems to be a botched and highly incompetent response to the Israeli attack. Moscow first responded by blaming Jerusalem for the incident, but President Putin then offered more conciliatory statements. Yesterday, Russian diplomats again stated that Israel was at fault. Yoav Limor comments:

What was unusual [about the Israeli] strike was the location: Latakia [is] close to Russian forces, in an area where the IDF hasn’t been active for some time. The strike itself was routine; the IDF notified the Russian military about it in advance, the missiles were fired remotely, the Israeli F-16s returned to base unharmed, and as usual, Syrian antiaircraft missiles were fired indiscriminately in every direction, long after the strike itself was over. . . .

Theoretically, this is a matter between Russia and Syria. Russia supplied Syria with the SA-5 [missile] batteries that wound up shooting down its plane, and now it must demand explanations from Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad. That won’t happen; Russia was quick to blame Israel for knocking over the first domino, and as usual, sent conflicting messages that make it hard to parse its future strategy. . . .

From now on, Russia will [almost certainly] demand a higher level of coordination with Israel and limits on the areas in which Israel can attack, and possibly a commitment to refrain from certain actions. Syria, Iran, and Hizballah will try to drag Russia into “handling” Israel and keeping it from continuing to carry out strikes in the region. Israel . . . will blame Iran, Hizballah, and Syria for the incident, and say they are responsible for the mess.

But Israel needs to take rapid action to minimize damage. It is in Israel’s strategic interest to keep up its offensive actions to the north, mainly in Syria. If that action is curtailed, Israel’s national security will be compromised. . . . No one in Israel, and certainly not in the IDF or the Israel Air Force, wants Russia—which until now hasn’t cared much about Israel’s actions—to turn hostile, and Israel needs to do everything to prevent that from happening. Even if that means limiting its actions for the time being. . . . Still, make no mistake: Russia is angry and has to explain its actions to its people. Israel will need to walk a thin line between protecting its own security interests and avoiding a very unwanted clash with Russia.

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Read more at Israel Hayom

More about: Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Russia, Syrian civil war