I didn’t have any classes with Jonathan Zasloff this past year, though I may in the fall. Regardless, I got a quick education on the destruction of the Second Temple, and why Zasloff thinks it was good for the Jews, in his cover story for this week’s Jewish Journal.
We mourn the Temple’s destruction on Tisha B’Av, but had the Temple actually survived, it would have meant the destruction of the Jewish religion. Our religious and spriritual practices would have centered not on Torah, but rather on bloody sacrifices of bulls, lambs, and goats on the Temple altar. Can anyone seriously argue that such practices represent the way of uplifting the soul and approaching God?
Perhaps more importantly, survival of the Temple would have deprived us of the extraordinary achievement of rabbinic Judaism—a religion vastly superior to the Priestly cult that preceded it.
Judah Ha-Nasi only decided to compile the Mishnah when it became clear that the Temple would never be rebuilt. So had the Temple survived, there would have been no Mishnah. No great tradition of scholarship and learning. No Pirkei Avot. No Tosefta. No Talmud. No Rashi. No Maimonides. No Ramban. Only a lot of dead, bleeding animals.
Rabbinic Judaism, and the texts, institutions, philosophies, and traditions accompanying it, constitute not only one of the greatest achievements in the history of human civilization, but also one of the greatest paths for connecting with God. The triumph of the rabbis represented nothing less than the divine spirit entering the minds, hearts, and souls of the Jewish people. In this light, mourning the Temple’s destruction is entirely misplaced: the event represents the Jewish people’s maturation into a closer, more adult relationship with the Holy One. It is not a tragedy, but more akin to our people’s Bar Mitzvah.
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