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Tuesday Discussion: Heresy – Is There Any Light on Tisha B’Av?

July 16, 2013 – 8:02 am17 Comments

From the editor:

tisha b'av2Today we commemorate Tisha B’Av and if you fast, we hope you fast well.

In honour of the date, we pose a potentially heretical question: even though mourning the temples’ destruction is central to our cannon and liturgy, might destruction and subsequent exile not contain the seeds of something positive?

Is it acceptable to be glad that animal sacrifice is no longer integral to worship – that we now connect to God through communal prayer?

Can we see ourselves as being born of exile – of our true Jewish nature being fired in the foundry of exilic oppression?

Or is such a positive view only possible in the privileged time and place in which we now find ourselves, so unlike so the very many times and places in our history?

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  • R B says:

    The prayers; the culture of persistent learning and excellence; the high rate of literacy and numeracy among Jews along the history, even when in the most remote civilizations – all are positive results of the change in Jewish worship and rituals, enforced by the destruction of the Second Temple.

    Is there anyone around who, sincerely, would be glad to substitute our prayers with satisfaction of cows, lambs and doves?

  • frosh says:

    Good points RB.

    However, isn’t it likely that Judaism would have evolved away from Temple animal sacrifice even without 1 the destruction of the Temple and the exile?

    This is not a rhetorical question. Perhaps it’s because I haven’t consumed any nutrients in 24 hours, but I can’t think if it would have been likely or not.

  • Yaron says:

    Another aspect of this idea:
    On the one hand it is positive that Judaism was no longer controlled by a central authority and allowed the variations in Judaism we see today (a movement such as the Hasidim could never have flourished in Temple Judaism), and we now have something for everyone.

    On the other hand we had to entomb the halacha for it to survive the exile, thus we lost the dynamic nature of the Jewish law

  • R B says:


    There were different sects, conflicting each other, in Judaism during the decades prior to the Temple’s destruction – actually, these conflicts were among the reasons to the Great Revolt, and to its failure.

    I agree with your comment regarding the decision to entomb the Halacha, but this is because we have no Sanhedrin – an institution which existed even after the Temple was destroyed. It is impossible to re-establish it now even if we want, look what happens in Israel when they try to nominate a chief Rabbi…

  • Perry Zamek says:

    Indeed, the destruction of the Temple carried with it the seeds of survival and rebirth (Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai and the Yeshiva ay Yavne), through a shift from a Temple-centered to a synagogue-centered Jewish society.
    That does not mean that a central place of worship (whether in the form of prayer or sacrifice – I’ll get to that later) is not a desideratum. The idea of the Machtzit Hashekel, used to fund the communal sacrifices, and the Ma’amadot – the rotation of Kohanim and community representatives who served/attended for one week in twenty-four at the Temple, the Kohanim carrying out the Temple service and the Yisraelim representing all of Klal Yisrael as the sacrifices were offered – implies a positive side to a central location. Furthermore, “My House shall be a House of Prayer for all the nations” – we are not exclusive: non-Jews may also worship, and offer sacrifices, in the Temple.
    As to the sacrificial service itself, whether or not one believes that it will be reinstated in the form described in the Torah, with animal sacrifices, or if the sacrifices will be limited to meal-offerings (korban mincha), ketoret (incense), etc., it is clear that some form of “sacrificial” service will exist – because of a human need for it, not because G-d requires anything physical from us.
    And so, as we reach the end of Tisha B’Av, perhaps we can consider what we need to achieve in order to once again have that central place of service for G-d…

  • Yaron says:

    Sorry should have clarified, I meant the number of sects that are seen as mutually acceptable (Sefardim, Temanim, Ashkenazim, Hasidim etc).

    The splinter groups at the time of the Temple did not accept each other’s authority (Sadducees and Pharisees etc)

    As to your second point I think that the need to cease halachic innovation was due to the tyranny of distance. While there was a central authority (or two) the decision makers could be brought together around one table.

    With the dispersion the discussion could not happen with communities from England to Persia and beyond. The only way was to create a rigid structure.

    So today even if we do not have a Sanhedrin and a central authority to make final decisions, we can still use technology and the centrality of Israel to Jews in order to create a more dynamic halacha.

  • TheSadducee says:


    I have to disagree with some of your assertions –

    I don’t think it would be correct to suggest that Ashkenazim/Sephardim/Temanim are “sects” in the same way that Hasidim could be classified as such.

    The former are understood as geographical/ethnic designations with their own minhags, the latter is a religious faction within Judaism not defined by historical geography and/or ethnicity.

    The destruction of the Temple did not necessarily contribute to the variations within Judaism we see today. 2nd Temple Judaism (and post-2nd Temple Judaism) was extremely diverse and certainly not monolithic (which is what I think your portraying from your posts – please correct me if I am wrong?).

    There was a wide variety of sectarian and cultural movements (eg. Sadducees, Pharisees, Zealots, 4th Philosophy noted by Josephus, Essenes, Therapeutae, Samaritans, Christians, Messianic pretender followers, Jews who were defined as “Greeks” rather than Judaeans, Jews in Alexandria who read the Torah in services/synagogues in Greek translation rather than Hebrew, Jews in Egypt who had their own Temple and priesthood, synagogue associations based on profession/wealth status, Jews who cultivated “God-fearers”, assimilated Jews eg. Philo’s nephew, etc).

    I think it is odd that you think that something similar to Hasidism would not have flourished in such a diverse situation when all of these groups were able to do so?

    I would also suggest that you overestimate the tyranny of distance on Jewish thought and halakhah.

    Groups adapted to their local circumstances (eg. polygamy was banned in Ashkenaz despite being permitted under halakha, the Jews of Constantinople practiced their synagogue liturgy and read the Torah in Greek rather than Hebrew during Late Antiquity which was in opposition to the Babylonian and Palestinian academies)

    and certainly interacted with each other (eg. Maimonides’ letters to Yemen, the Radhanites travelled extensively just about everywhere, the Geonim responded to queries from all over the Islamic and Christian world.).

  • R B says:

    I think that Ashkenazis and Sephardis have developed into some kind of two sects.

    When it comes to the Halacha, one follows Rabbi Moshe Iserlish while the other one follows Rabbi Yosef Karo; this is a very sectarian element.

    Even today, among Haredim, Ashkenazi and Sephardi will rarely like each other and even study in the same school.

    In Israel, every town has two Rabbis, Ashkenazi and Sephardi, and the less religious the family is, the more it is likely to ignore these differences and accept intermarriage (in the meaning of an Ashkenazi marries a Sephardi).

  • TheSadducee says:

    R B

    I’m not a specialist on the Shulchan but I was under the impression that the Rema’s commentary on it concerned Ashkenazim minhag as opposed to Karo’s Sephardim minhag in the Shulchan.

    I’m not sure if I would classify this as sectarian because both recognise the Shulchan as the authoritative halakhah – they just differ in customs/practices.

    Nonetheless, when does one become a sect or the mainstream? Ashkenazim far outnumber Sephardim numerically and this would suggest that their minhag are normative while Sephardim are a sect? (I personally don’t think that is correct btw).

    I go back to my original point which is that these are merely geographical/ethnic groups with different customs rather than significant halakhic differences.

    Reform/Conservative/Reconstructionism/Hasidism would be sects which separated from Orthodoxy in different ways/degrees.

  • Yaron says:

    1. I would argue that Hasidim to Litvish would be similar to the difference between the Baladim and other Yemenite group (whose name has escaped me for the minute).

    2. I agree with you that there were many sects, but they were not ‘in the same tent’ as today’s Orthodox sects are. Perhaps we need a different word to describe the two types of the relationship.

    I am suggesting that the modern groups are clearly different groups, but all exist under the banner of the Pharisee tradition.

    Because of the centralizing presence of the Sanhedrin, groups like the Hasidim would have splintered off and could not have had their differing views of Halacha.

    3. Nor did the tyranny distance stop Shabbtai Tzvi, but it would have impacted on the ability to have long term regular contact necessary to keep the dynamic nature of the pre-exile halacha alive.

  • R B says:


    By “sect” I mean a group with different customs and aspects of separation from the rest, nothing about numbers.

    And even when we consider numbers – In Israel and in France, the largest and third-largest Jewish communities in the world, the Sephardim are a majority – at least among traditional and religious Jews.

  • TheSadducee says:


    Thanks for the clarification – I’ve now got a better understanding of where you are coming from.

    With regards to the various sects – I would suggest that the 2nd Temple sects/movements were in fact under the same tent – all of them were permitted to worship in the Temple (excepting those who chose not to eg. Samaritans, Essenes).

    They certainly didn’t agree with each other or were defined by a particular ideology, (but that has happened with Orthodoxy today precisely because the Temple was destroyed and the academies used their authority to incorporate and/or exclude their rivals) but I would be curious to see instances where you think they were excluded from official worship with the Temple’s rituals?

    As to the Sanhedrin – how effective was it as an institution in developing authoritative halakhah in the 2nd Temple period? There were an enormous variety of interpretations and practices – I can’t buy that it was particularly dynamic, as opposed to individual behaviours leading to consensus positions.

    Can you provide some examples of where the Sanhedrin made dynamic halakhic changes?

  • Yaron says:

    1. The various sects may have been able to use the same space, but if you look at Succa 4:9 and Parah 3:3&7 we see that there was a major struggle between the groups for ascendency.

    From the above sources (and others) they would set up the rituals to exclude people with a particular world view.

    2. The Sanhedrin would have been effective amongst their own sect. Of course they would have no control over others.

    As to the dynamic nature of halahca there is logic to suggest that it is the case. The Gemara is a record of the spoken word, and discussions amongst rabbis, while the later codifications are exactly that, presenting the final word in the debate.

    As more gets codified, the discussion will necessarily become narrower.

    As a simple example: the rabbis of the Temple time were willing to introduce a new festival (Hanuka) with its own ritual, while the rabbis of today are unwilling to bestow the same significance on Yom HaAtzmaut.

    The siddur was more varied and dynamic, with people able to add piyutim (liturgical poems) freely (as can be seen from the Cairo Geniza), this would never be permitted today.

  • meir rabi says:

    When our Sages declare, “All who learn the laws of sacrifice, it is deemed as though they brought a sacrifice”, I believe the universal consensus amongst Talmudists is that the sacrifice is the supreme. Learning is limited to those occasions when the actual is unavailable.

    I don’t think it is possible from our present perspective, to project the impact of such services upon the society and its individual members. In Madagascar, they exhume the body on the anniversary and dance with it. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/from_our_own_correspondent/7562898.stm

    What would/will be the impact upon our community and its individual members when the media headline trumpets the justified revenge killing of an unintentional murderer who did not seek refuge in one of the designated cities?

    Is it not possible to contemplate that we today live in a handicapped society where we are too isolated from reality, where we live in a sanitised world where justice is dealt with by experts but is not a functioning part of our lives?

    We might be like the kids who don’t see milk as the product of a live cow, and when we do see it – we are revolted.

    New and invigorating perspectives of life and allegiance may be liberated when we engage in our authentic Torah practices.

  • TheSadducee says:


    Thanks for the response.

    1. I hope the irony doesn’t escape you of referring to sources (eg. Mishnah, Talmud etc) which were codified by 1 group who dominated the religious scene after the Temple was destroyed.

    Really, there is no guarantee that the representations of opposing groups eg. Sadducees, is either accurate and/or correct, true?

    Irrespective, assume that it is true (much disputed in reality), yes, there were rituals constructed which excluded sectarians, but only adherents to those sectarian practices – the vast majority of Jews probably weren’t fussed, and I suspect that even sectarians really did their own thing – we read about Christians in the Temple and they were openly opposed only in a limited number of circumstances, despite having vastly different beliefs/practices.

    2. I would suggest that the (Great) Sanhedrin was not a sect per se – it was made up of the social religious elite and it did actually have power over others – it could rule on capital criminal cases and arbitrations of the Law.

    It is debated on what level of authority it had during the Roman occupation – i.e. could it enact death penalties for crimes from its own authority? (apparently not according to Josephus who was living with/after it).

    Nonetheless, we known that the Romans certainly enacted its rulings when required (eg. death penalty for intrusion into the Inner Courtyard of the Temple – I think the sign from the Temple about this has been found, death penalty for certain religious/social crimes eg. blasphemy/heresy/provocation/rebellion).

    As to Hannukah – it is unclear whether it was formally approved during the time of the 2nd Temple and who approved it? It appears that it was a minhag of the Jerusalem community which then spread more widely through the diaspora community – as you are aware, there is little in the Mishnah relating to this ritual which is odd, if it was clearly approved over a century before it was codified.

    Nonetheless, the comparison between a significant event in the history of the Temple itself, and the establishment of a secular state in historical Judaea 2000 years later is not one that I would rely on to suggest halakhic development is stymied between the ages.

    Additionally, there is nothing preventing people from adopting new practices/minhags in the siddur and/or synagogues other than the frowning of their peers.

    As long as nothing in the practices is contrary to the Law then it is really your own communities’ choice what they do i.e. the Late Antique Jewish community of Constantinople performed their synagogue worship in Greek and this was acceptable. The Jews of Eura Duropos covered their synagogue with biblical pictures and this was acceptable. As you note, certain poems were included in different communities.

  • Yaron says:

    1. I am aware of the irony, but those are the sources that I am familiar with.

    But these sources do demonstrate the relationship the rabbis had with the Sadducee sect, and the extent they would go to de-legitimise them.

    2. The gemara also tells us that the death penalty was suspended, but there the claim is that the rabbis took the initiative to suspend it (due to the rising crime rate and an unwillingness to overuse the death penalty). Perhaps this is a reason given after the fact.

    3. Regarding Hanuka, R’Daniel Sperber has an interesting article on the history of the festival in his book Minhagei Yisrael. From memory he suggests that the festival began soon after the victory over the Greeks but took a number of years (even generations) to arrive at the form we have today.

    4. While there are many changes that we can enact, the facts are that halacha has become more one size fits all with the passage of time.

    Over time more ‘definitive works’ have appeared, narrowing the legitimate debate.

    Prior to the Shulchan Aruch there were disputes on many areas of halacha, yet today the debates are about what the Shulchan Aruch meant, rather than daring to suggest an opinion that disagrees with it.

  • TheSadducee says:

    Rabbi Yaron

    Thanks for the response (and its a pleasure to have a good discussion without the acrimony!)

    1. The rabbis were only a sect themselves (considering also that they weren’t monolithic and opposed each other in several notable instances) during the 2nd Temple period and they certainly opposed a whole range of different groups (and were opposed in turn).

    Anything written in the gemara, mishnah etc about opposing groups has to be viewed with extreme scepticism and needs additional proof before acceptance in my opinion.

    Considering that Josephus suggests that the Temple Priesthood was heavily influenced by Sadduceeism, I suspect that the rabbis weren’t especially effective at delegitimising them.

    2. Have you considered that perhaps the gemara is wrong on the issue of the death penalty?

    We know for a fact that the Sanhedrin and the Temple authorities could execute people for certain crimes (and did so) under Roman supervision (and in some cases without their permission which led to trouble). The Romans themselves executed people (non-Jews and Jews) who disturbed Jewish religious sensitivities – and not only in Judaea.

    Anything written following the destruction of the 2nd Temple (prior to the Babylonian Talmud’s relative completion) should be examined through the lens of a totally disempowered community who were keen to avoid offending the Romans after the failed revolt. This was magnified after the Bar Koziba revolt as well.

    3. I am indebted to you for the reference and will try to chase it up.

    4. Agree with you – but it doesn’t have to be that way. Your a rabbi, go and write your own works and publish your own rulings and get a following. Don’t let yourself be confined!

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