Lesser-Known Reasons for Jerusalem’s Destruction

As we approach Tisha B’Av, arguably the most tragic day in Jewish history, it is common for Jews to explore the religious causes for the destruction of Jerusalem and the Holy Temple. After all, the hurban, was cataclysmic for the Jewish people politically and religiously as we lost both our sovereignty in becoming exiles and our Temple through which we connected with God. And if such a cataclysm was the result of transgressing particular sins, then these sins must be among the most grievous, and thus the most urgent in need of correcting.

According to the Talmud in B. Yoma 9b, the sins which caused the destruction of the First Temple were idolatry, forbidden sexual relations, and murder. The severity of these sins is well documented in Jewish law as all of them are not only capital offenses, but they are known as יהרג ואל יעבור/yeihareig v’al ya’avor – sins for which one ought to let oneself be killed rather than violate.1

Regarding the destruction of the Second Temple, the Talmud in Yoma continues that even though the Jews were engaged in Torah study, fulfilling the commandments, and performing acts of kindness, the Second Temple was destroyed because of a שנאת חינם/sin’at hinam or “baseless hatred” throughout the nation.2 This demonstrates that the sin of baseless hatred is just as severe as the sins of idolatry, sexual transgressions, and murder since all of these transgressions were responsible for the destruction of the Temple and the exile of the Jewish people.

In my experience, most Jews are familiar with the reasons for the destruction given in B. Yoma 9b, and why it’s common to find much discussion over the harms of “baseless hatred”3 around this time of year.4

But the Talmud records additional reasons given for the destruction of Jerusalem which are rarely discussed. Here is a sample of some of them from B. Shabbat 119b:

  • Abaye: שחללו בה את השבת – Desecrating the Shabbat (B. Shabbat 119b)
  • R. Abbahu: שביטלו קריאת שמע שחרית וערבית – Not reciting the Shema in the morning and night (B. Shabbat 119b)
  • R. Hamnuna: שביטלו בה תינוקות של בית רבן – Schoolchildren were no longer learning Torah (B. Shabbat 119b)
  • Ulla: שלא היה להם בושת פנים זה מזה – People had no sense of shame between each other (B. Shabbat 119b)
  • R. Yitzchak: שהושוו קטן וגדול – They equated the great and the small (B. Shabbat 119b)
  • R. Amram b R. Shimon b Abba citing R. Shimon b Abba: שלא הוכיחו זה את זה – They did not rebuke each other (B. Shabbat 119b)
  • R. Yehuda: שביזו בה תלמידי חכמים – They disgraced Torah scholars (B. Shabbat 119b)
  • Rava: שפסקו ממנה אנשי אמנה – There ceased to be trustworthy people. The gemara qualifies that it refers to people being trustworthy in business (B. Shabbat 119b)

Most of these opinions are supported by Biblical verses, which could imply that these would be referring to the first destruction of Jerusalem, not the second. Still, regardless of which destruction these statements refer, the severity would still not be mitigated since they were still responsible for a destruction.5

I’m presenting these opinions without further comment,6 other than to note that these reasons for the destruction exist and are generally not as well-known as baseless hatred.

Notes

  1. B. Sanhedrin 74a
  2. Without citing the gemara in Yoma, the narrative of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza on B. Gittin 55b elaborates on how baseless hatred caused the destruction. Note the equivalence between the destruction of the Temple and the destruction of Jerusalem.
  3. Of course, people often wind up justifying their hatred for “good reasons,” which rarely helps matters.
  4. The sins of murder and idolatry are not as prevalent in the Jewish community as they might have been in the past, but I have not seen sexual transgressions discussed in the context of the destruction nearly as much as baseless hatred, despite it being no less relevant today.
  5. The gemara includes an aside on the continuing importance of not disparaging Torah scholars and of the education of schoolchildren.
  6. Of the opinions mentioned here, R. Yitzchak’s might be the most jarring to whose for whom equality is sacred. Further research into this and all other opinions is strongly encouraged.

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