Judaism after the Temple’s Destruction

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 ICJ’s Vice-President Explains What’s Wrong with Its Recent Ruling against Israel

It should be obvious to anyone with even rudimentary knowledge of the Gaza war that Israel is not committing genocide there, or anything even remotely akin to it. In response to such spurious accusations, it’s often best to focus on the mockery they make of international law itself, or on how Israel can most effectively combat them. Still, it is also worth stopping to consider the legal case on its own terms. No one has done this quite so effectively, to my knowledge, as the Ugandan jurist Julia Sebutinde, who is the vice-president of the ICJ and the only one of its judges to rule unequivocally in Israel’s favor both in this case and in the previous one where it found accusations of genocide “plausible.”

Sebutinde begins by questioning the appropriateness of the court ruling on this issue at all:

Once again, South Africa has invited the Court to micromanage the conduct of hostilities between Israel and Hamas. Such hostilities are exclusively governed by the laws of war (international humanitarian law) and international human-rights law, areas where the Court lacks jurisdiction in this case.

The Court should also avoid trying to enforce its own orders. . . . Is the Court going to reaffirm its earlier provisional measures every time a party runs to it with allegations of a breach of its provisional measures? I should think not.

Sebutinde also emphasizes the absurdity of hearing this case after Israel has taken “multiple concrete actions” to alleviate the suffering of Gazan civilians since the ICJ’s last ruling. In fact, she points out, “the evidence actually shows a gradual improvement in the humanitarian situation in Gaza since the Court’s order.” She brings much evidence in support of these points.

She concludes her dissent by highlighting the procedural irregularities of the case, including a complete failure to respect the basic rights of the accused:

I find it necessary to note my serious concerns regarding the manner in which South Africa’s request and incidental oral hearings were managed by the Court, resulting in Israel not having sufficient time to file its written observations on the request. In my view, the Court should have consented to Israel’s request to postpone the oral hearings to the following week to allow for Israel to have sufficient time to fully respond to South Africa’s request and engage counsel. Regrettably, as a result of the exceptionally abbreviated timeframe for the hearings, Israel could not be represented by its chosen counsel, who were unavailable on the dates scheduled by the Court.

It is also regrettable that Israel was required to respond to a question posed by a member of the Court over the Jewish Sabbath. The Court’s decisions in this respect bear upon the procedural equality between the parties and the good administration of justice by the Court.

Read more at International Court of Justice

More about: Gaza War 2023, ICC, International Law