Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Mourning the Destruction of the Temple

The afternoon is ticking bye and in a few hours it will all be over.
I have a difficult relationship with the fast of Tisha B’Av. We are mourning the destruction of the Temple but what do we wish to accomplish? Are we hoping to rebuild the Temple? I have not bothered to go once the Chofetz Chaim video presentation but it is the same every year. If we work on our smirat ha-lashon and some other flavor of the week issue then this horrible golus will soon be over and we can go back to those good old days. This may sound heretical but I have no particular desire to restore the Temple and those good old days. For one thing, as anyone who has bothered to read the Bible, the book of Maccabees and Josephus knows, the Temple periods were a mess. So we have no good old days to go back to. Of course haredim have the advantage of being able to ignore the Bible, Jewish History along with any other inconvenient body of information.
Its funny how all the talk is focused on the destruction of the Second Temple in the year 70 C.E. We always hear how we have been in golut for two thousand years. But what about the First Temple? As someone who loves the work of Isaac Abarbanel this is particularly disturbing. Abarbanel was constantly arguing that the important destruction was the First Temple and that the Second Temple was of little to no importance. As such we have been in golut for over 2500 years. This was important to Abarbanel because he had to argue against Christians who claimed that the promise to redeem the Jews was fulfilled with the Second Temple. Our focus on the Second Temple makes no theological sense.
Above all that though is the fact that I have no interest in animal sacrifice. I cannot imagine getting any sort of spiritual fulfillment out of it. People in biblical times may have been able to appreciate animal sacrifices and felt closer to God by doing so. I find Tehillim, classical music, and Heschel to be spiritually fulfilling. Killing animals no. Imagine if next Thursday you were to come into shul and after the reading of the Torah they would bring in a bull, slaughter it and sprinkle its blood over the bimah. I would have a much easier time imagining services with strippers dancing around a pole, a mosh pit and kegs of beer making me feel closer to God. Maybe our idol worshipping ancestors back in those “good old days” were on to something.
Truth is as a Maimonidean I am free to believe that sacrifice is a less then ideal way to serve God and that in the future we are going to get rid of it. Of course this Maimonidean side to me makes it all the more difficult for me to stomach speeches about how Moshiach is going to solve all our problems and that everything is going to be wonderful. When Moshiach comes life is going to continue as normal with all the normal human problems. Call me cynical but I have complete faith in today’s Jewry to have all the necessary sinat hinam that made the Second Temple so much fun. If only God would give us a Temple. I just cannot wait.
I suspect that even the most rabid haredim understand this. My proof is that we have not tried to rebuild the Temple. The notion that we need Moshiach to rebuild the Temple as a lie. If we could come to a halachic decision as to where the alter and the kodosh ha’kodoshim are supposed to be, found ourselves a red heifer and a pure kohen then we can rebuild the Temple tomorrow. The fact that the Temple Mount movement has failed to become mainstream within Orthodox Judaism shows us that most Orthodox Jews today have no real interest in bringing back a sacrificial cult. Jewish theology has restructured itself and moved on.
I am going to wake up tomorrow to study and do as many mitzvoth as I can. I am a soldier in Hashem’s army and I will do my duty. Let Hashem worry about Moshiach and the end of days.


Sitting on the Fence said...

A few points, specifically on the subject of sacrifices:

1) I think you're looking at animal sacrifices from a very physical perspective, and that's where a lot of people get turned off, and rightfully so. Take the korban Pesach. Every single lamb had to be slaughtered roughly between the hours of 12 and 4 PM. Let's say there were 100,000 olei regel (a very conservative estimate). Assuming people had groups thats probably 20-40,000 lambs slaughtered in 4 hours. Imagine what that looked like. But that's not my point. Look at it this way. The proper mindset to have when bringing a korban is "that's supposed to be me." Now, when you truly believe that, and you watch the animal die, it's probably a pretty sobering experience. Also note that the animal doesn't suffer, in fact it's not a kosher korban if it does. It's the biggest honor an animal can have, to be part of a mitzvah. I mean, what are the other options? Death by predator? For food? It's not like they have this great potential in life that we're "taking" by offering it up as a sacrifice. We are taught in the gemara (Brachos, first perek, towards the beginning) that the entire world was created for yorei shamayim. Animal life included.

You mention two different issues about building the temple. One is that we don't want to. Two is that we can't. I think you're saying that the fact it isn't built proves that we dont want it (I could be wrong there), but it is equally plausible to say that the fact that it isn't built proves that we're not ready for it. As you said yourself, the level of sinas chinam today is plenty high.

You also say that to say moshiach needs to come in order for us to build the B"H is a lie. I think "lie" is a little harsh. Also, you make it seem like your three prerequisites (location, red heifer, pure cohen) are relatively simple objectives. Seriously, the last time anybody agreed on halacha was in the times of the mishna. Even then, agreement was breaking apart rapidly. Actually getting a unanimous decision from a valid sanhedrin (which itself is a whole issue) on where the B"H should be is an almost impossible feat. We haven't seen a kosher red heiffer in documented modern hostory, and finding a pure cohen in this day and age would also be a debacle. Moshiach would make things a whooole lot simpler.

On a positive note, I like this a lot. I like it when people can think open-mindedly without bashing some movement or another. It's really a breath of fresh air. Thank you.

Izgad said...

My point is not that we have not built the Temple but that mainstream Orthodoxy has not made sort of attempt. Where are the symposiums devoted to discussing the issues involved. Step one to doing anything is talking about how to do something. That is a conversation we have not had.

David said...

There are plenty of people talking about building the temple over here in Israel, which scares me for a lot of reasons. I am worried about enraging a billion Muslims.

Also, a BHM goes along with a halachic state. How would that be run? Heavy handed actions of such a state would be a pretense (say, removing churches) for Anti-Semitism the world over.

Most Jews would not want to go to a BHM, there would endless fighting among the Haredim inside it, I think it would be anti-climatic and end Judaism as we know it.