Why the Talmud Cares So Much about the Rites of a Destroyed Temple

July 18 2018

In the story told in countless works of Jewish history, and countless Jewish-studies classes, Judaism was until the year 70 CE—when the Romans tore down the Second Temple—a religion focused on the sacrificial cult. Thereafter, the rabbis who composed the Talmud transformed it into the religion of law and study that we know today. But this story fails to account for the enormous attention paid to the Temple and its rituals by the rabbis who lived and wrote in the 2nd through the 6th centuries CE. Mira Balberg offers an alternative view in her book Blood for Thought, as Shai Secunda writes in his review:

[In truth], the rabbis cannot be classified as anti- or post-sacrifice. . . . In [Balberg’s] account, the rabbis continued to focus on animal sacrifice long after the Temple’s destruction since, culturally speaking, there never was a complete rupture requiring a reconstruction. Practically, of course, a believer could no longer pick himself up, ascend the Temple Mount, and offer a turtledove on the altar. But even when the Temple stood in all its glory, sacrifice within its precincts was at best experienced sporadically, as many Jews lived at a considerable distance from Jerusalem. Both before and after its destruction, the Temple and animal sacrifice held a commanding presence in Jewish life and imagination, and were ceaselessly invoked in prayer, art, and religious study. . . .

Blood for Thought’s main contribution is to show how despite the rabbis’ preservation of animal sacrifice as an ongoing cultural paradigm, there was also a shift away from the past. The rabbis may not have revived sacrifice, but they did thoroughly reinvent it by excising anything “sacrificial”—that is, giving something up for a higher entity—from Jewish sacrifice. They consistently downplayed the roles of human giver and divine recipient by rendering emotionally charged moments like the laying of hands on the animal and the sacred consumption of the flesh [by the flames] on the altar ritually inconsequential.

Even the violent spectacle of sacred butchery was de-emphasized. What remained was the stark, entirely procedural act, termed “the work [or service] of blood,” consisting of precise movements and the perfect concentration of nameless priests, wherein the chief “drama”—if we can call it that—was the flawless fulfillment of ritual obligations that almost miraculously transformed parts of the slain animal from forbidden to permitted.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Judaism, Religion & Holidays, Sacrifice, Talmud, Temple


Why President Biden Needs Prime Minister Netanyahu as Much as Netanyahu Needs Biden

Sept. 28 2023

Last Wednesday, Joe Biden and Benjamin Netanyahu met for the first time since the former’s inauguration. Since then, Haim Katz, Israel’s tourism minister, became the first Israeli cabinet member to visit Saudi Arabia publicly, and Washington announced that it will include the Jewish state in its visa-waiver program. Richard Kemp, writing shortly after last week’s meeting, comments:

Finally, a full nine months into Benjamin Netanyahu’s latest government, President Joe Biden deigned to allow him into his presence. Historically, American presidents have invited newly installed Israeli prime ministers to the White House shortly after taking office. Even this meeting on Wednesday, however, was not in Washington but in New York, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.

Such pointed lack of respect is not the way to treat one of America’s most valuable allies, and perhaps the staunchest of them all. It is all about petty political point-scoring and interfering in Israel’s internal democratic processes. But despite his short-sighted rebuke to the state of Israel and its prime minister, Biden actually needs at least as much from Netanyahu as Netanyahu needs from him. With the 2024 election looming, Biden is desperate for a foreign-policy success among a sea of abject failures.

In his meeting with Netanyahu, Biden no doubt played the Palestinian issue up as some kind of Saudi red line and the White House has probably been pushing [Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman] in that direction. But while the Saudis would no doubt want some kind of pro-forma undertaking by Israel for the sake of appearances, [a nuclear program and military support] are what they really want. The Saudis’ under-the-table backing for the original Abraham Accords in the face of stiff Palestinian rejection shows us where its priorities lie.

Israel remains alone in countering Iran’s nuclear threat, albeit with Saudi and other Arab countries cheering behind the scenes. This meeting won’t have changed that. We must hope, however, that Netanyahu has been able to persuade Biden of the electoral benefit to him of settling for a historic peace between Israel and Saudi Arabia rather than holding out for the unobtainable jackpot of a two-state solution.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Joseph Biden, Saudi Arabia, U.S.-Israel relationship