Talmudic pages

Gittin 8

Why David wasn't allowed to rebuild the Temple.

King David was perhaps the most famous king of Israel and arguably its idealized king, especially as described in 1 and 2 Chronicles. Among his many accomplishments, David secured Jerusalem and established a lasting dynasty, the subject of a popular Jewish folk song. The final Jewish king, the messiah, is predicted to come from his line. Yet, for all his accomplishments and contributions, David wasn’t allowed to build God’s abode on earth — the Temple. Today’s daf hints at why.

Today, the rabbis continue to explore the boundaries of the land of Israel as part of an ongoing discussion about the details of delivering a bill of divorce properly. We learn that Syria, in the north, is considered a middle ground: In some ways it is halakhically like the land of Israel and in others it is like the rest of the world. 

The sages taught: In three ways Syria is equal to the land of Israel, and in three ways it is similar to outside the land of Israel … First, its soil is ritually impure like outside of the land. Second, one who sells his slave to a master in Syria is like one who sells him to a master outside of the land. Third, one who brings a bill of divorce from Syria is like one who brings it from outside the land.

And in three ways Syria is similar to the land of Israel: Produce from Syria is obligated in tithes and the laws of the sabbatical year. And one who wishes to enter it while remaining in a state of ritual purity may enter. And one who acquires a field in Syria is like one who purchases a field in the outskirts of Jerusalem. And one who acquires a field in Syria — (the tanna who holds this position) holds that the conquest of an individual is called a conquest. 

Syria is like the land of Israel in that, for instance, its produce is subject to tithing. It is unlike Israel in that one who brings a bill of divorce must verbally assert that it was written and signed in their presence.

Today, we’re going to focus on the last part of this teaching, that the conquest of an individual is called a conquest. Though he is not named, Rashi and Tosafot both note that this is a reference to King David.

After conquering but not securing Jerusalem, David captured Aram-Naharaim and Aram-Tzovah, two places in Syria. Elsewhere, the rabbis are explicitly critical of this decision:

“David acted against the Torah. The Torah said that once the land is conquered, it is permitted to conquer other lands; he did not do this, but rather he conquered Aram-Naharaim and Aram-Tzovah — and he did not drive out the Jebusites who were close to Jerusalem. God said to him: If you did not drive out those next to your palace, how could you conquer Aram-Naharaim and Aram- Tzovah?” (Sifrei Deuteronomy 51:2)

Because David presumably captured these cities for his own benefit, before securing the land promised in the Torah, his conquest is not considered a national conquest that gives the land equal status to that of Israel. 

Chronicles tells us that King David was not allowed to build the Temple because, as God told him, “You have shed much blood and waged great wars; you shall not build a house in My Name, because you have shed much blood on the ground before Me” (1 Chronicles 22:8).

But which wars? Which blood? The rabbis connect this to the conquest of Aram-Nahariam and Aram-Tzovah: Among the blood King David is responsible for are the deaths of his soldiers in the war to capture these two Syrian locations, who died not for God but for him. Rav Shlomo Goren, the first chief rabbi of the Israeli military, argued explicitly that this campaign is the reason King David was not allowed to build the Temple. 

King David’s job was to ensure the sanctity of the land promised in the Torah. This land, and particularly the site of the Temple, had to be free of idolatry if God were to dwell there, which is why idolatrous peoples were driven out. Yet King David wanted to expand his military victories to a broader area of land. It is this overzealous expansion, looking outward before solidifying what he already had, that cost King David the building of the Temple. This same disregard caused more bloodshed than necessary, antithetical to what a dwelling place for God’s Presence represents.

Read all of Gittin 8 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on May 24th, 2023. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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