The Temple & its Destruction

A look into the psyche of ancient Judaism.

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In this article, the author explores the horrors associated with the destruction of the Second Temple. In distinction to Greenberg, some have argued that the Temple, although its loss was a great tragedy for Judaism, had outlived its usefulness for the Jewish community, hence the seamless transition to a synagogue based religion. Reprinted with permission of the author from The Jewish Way: Living the Holidays.

On the ninth and 10th of the month of Av in the year 70, the Roman legions in Jerusalem smashed through the fortress tower of Antonia into the Holy Temple and set it afire. In the blackened remains of the sanctuary lay more than the ruins of the great Jewish revolt for political independence. To many Jews, it appeared that Judaism itself was shattered beyond repair.Model of the Second Temple

Out of approximately four to five million Jews in the world, over a million died in that abortive war for independence. Many died of starvation, others by fire and crucifixion. So many Jews were sold into slavery and given over to the gladiatorial arenas and circuses that the price of slaves dropped precipitously, fulfilling the ancient curse: "There you will be offered for sale as slaves, and there will be no one willing to buy" (Deuteronomy 28:68). The destruction was preceded by events so devastating that they read like scenes out of the Holocaust.

Hear the words of the ancient Jewish historian, Josephus:

Famine: "Famine overcomes all other passions and is destructive of modesty… Wives pulled the morsels that their husbands were eating out of their very mouths and children did the same to their fathers and so did mothers to their infants, and when those that were most dear to them were perishing in their hands, they were not ashamed to take from them the very last drops of food that might have preserved their lives…"

Carnage: On the ninth day of Av: "One would have thought that the hill itself, on which the Temple stood, was seething hot from its base, it was so full of fire on every side; and yet the blood was larger in quantity than the fire, and those that were slain were more in number than those that slew them. For the ground was nowhere visible for the dead bodies that lay on it."

Civil war between Jews: "The shouts of those [Jews] who were fighting [one another] were incessant both by day and night, but the continual lamentations of those who mourned were even more dreadful. Nor was any regard paid by relatives for those who were still alive. Nor was any care taken for the burial of those who were dead. The reason was that everyone despaired about himself."

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Rabbi Irving Greenberg

Rabbi Irving (Yitz) Greenberg was the president of Jewish Life Network/Steinhardt Foundation and founding president of CLAL, the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership. He also is the author of For the Sake of Heaven and Earth: The New Encounter Between Judaism and Christianity (2004, Jewish Publication Society).