Destruction As Punishment

Tradition gives a separate reason for the fall of each Temple.

Reprinted with permission of the author from The Jewish Way: Living the Holidays.

All during Tisha B’Av, the only portions of the Torah studied are those that deal with destruction, tragedy, and mourning. All other Torah learning is so pleasurable, it is inappropriate for this day of grief. The classic text for Torah study on Tisha B’Av became the story of Jewish internecine fighting and divided counsels portrayed in the Babylonian Talmud Tractate Gittin. The reason for this is instructive.

The first Destruction was interpreted by the prophets as punishment for Israel’s sins, especially those of idolatry, sexual immorality, and murder. The revolt, which brought on the first Destruction, was opposed by Jeremiah, who warned that no good would come of it. In a way, that Destruction was easier to take because it made sense in the context of covenantal responsibility. As the prophets saw it, God had willed the Destruction as rebuke to Jewish infidelity; therefore, the destruction "proved" God’s might. As Ezekiel proclaimed (in the famous vision of the chariot of chapter 1), the Divine Presence had left the Temple long before the enemy had entered its courtyard.

The second Destruction, however, was the end result of a major national religious revival. The "crime" of the Jews was excessive enthusiasm and determination that only God would rule over them. The crushing defeat was all the more devastating. How could it be rationalized? The Rabbis sought to assert that Israel’s sins were responsible for the Destruction-again. But what were the sins? Interestingly, the Rabbis focused on Jewish divisiveness. Unjustified hatred among the people had invited the tragedy; indeed, the catastrophe was hastened by the civil war between the guerrilla groups. Instead of uniting to oppose the Romans, they spent much time and energy assaulting one another.

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