First and Second Temple

According to tradition both the First and Second temple were built on
‘Mount Moriah’, the site on which Abraham offered Isaac to G_d. King David
built an altar to G_d on the site and a generation later his son, Solomon
built the First Temple as a permanent resting place for the Ark of the
Covenant. Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, destroyed King Solomon’s Temple
in 586 B.C.E. When Herod became king he decided to rebuild the Temple in 19
B.C.E. It cannot be said that the rebuilding of the Temple was a sign of
any real religious virtue on Herod’s part for he is well known as a cruel
and vicious king who murdered his wife, son and countless others including
High Priests without regard. Despite Herod’s violent reign, and the general
disregard for him felt by the Sanhedrin and High Priests, the second Temple
once again became the centre for Jewish religious life. To understand the
effects that the destruction of the Second Temple had on the Jews of
Palestine we must first understand the role that it had played in Jewish
life up to that point. Many of the developments of religious thought and
practice after the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E, can be seen to
reflect rituals being practiced in Second Temple times. Therefore to
understand why these changes and reinterpretations occurred we must be
informed of some of the preceding traditions.

The Second Temple served many functions for the Jewish community, and
even those living in the Diaspora would pray in the direction of the Temple
as a sign of their engagement and awareness of it’s importance. It was both
the centre for sacrificial rituals, the meeting place of the Sanhedrin, and
the destination of pilgrims during festival times. Ancient authors indicate
that most of the Jewish people supported all aspects of Temple worship.

Philo wrote that throughout the empire Jews ‘collect(ed( money for sacred
purposes’1 and sent it to Jerusalem. According to Josephus the Jews in
Mesopotamia made ‘dedicatory offerings’2 to the Temple in addition to the
temple tax of one- half shekel.

Inside the wall of the Herod’s Temple, which was more than 400 metres
long, was an enclosed area where the business of the Temple-sacrifice was
carried out. In the open air there was a large altar, a basin, a shambles
(where the animals were butchered) and cooking facilities. These were
directly in front of the roofed sanctuary, which was not much used. It was
divided into two chambers. The outer one contained another altar and a
candelabrum, the inner was empty. Only the High Priest entered this inner
sanctum , and he only once a year, on the Day of Atonement. Thus the Temple
area consisted of areas of increasing sanctity and admission was
progressively restricted. Purity was so strictly observed that priests had
built the inner area of the Temple complex. This reveals that purity laws
had been developed. The ideas of holiness and separation, which allowed
only the most pure to come near, informed the entire arrangement of the
Temple and it’s rites. The Temple was not only holy because G_d was
worshipped there, but also because G_d was there. Jews did not think that
G_d was there and no where else, nor that the Temple confined him. Since he
was the creator of the universe, he could be approached in prayer at any
place. Nevertheless, he was in some special sense present in the Temple. As
the author of II Maccabees expressed it, ‘He who has his dwelling in heaven
watches over that place (the Temple( itself and brings it aid’.

Every day, without exception, the community as a whole provided two male
yearling lambs that were offered to G_d as burnt sacrifices, along with
flour, oil and wine3, one in the morning, to open the temple service, and
one in the evening, just before it’s conclusion. On the Sabbath these
sacrifices were doubled. The community offered additional sacrifices to
mark each new moon, and on the major festivals and the annual fast (Yom
Kippur) there were still further community sacrifices. The Torah does not
specify the precise purpose of most of the community sacrifices. It would
have been simple to interpret the daily burnt offerings as atoning, since
the temple tax was called ‘atonement money’, and its purpose was ‘to make
atonement’4. These terms, however were not applied specifically to the
two lambs. Philo regarded thanksgiving as the purpose of the daily

Festivals were very much a part of ancient life, and Jewish pilgrims were
prepared to endure crowds of between 300,000 to 500,000 people, especially
during Pesach. Josephus gives some fantastic figures for the number of
people present at two different Pesachs’. Cestius, he says, ordered the
chief priests to estimate the population, so that he could impress Nero.

The priests counted 255,600 Pesach lambs as being slain. Josephus estimates
that ten people shared each lamb, and, rounding the total up, concluded
that there were 2,700,000 people at that Pesach5. Although these figures
are most certainly an exaggeration, it does provide an example of how
central the temple was to worship at the time, both for Jews living in
Jerusalem and those making pilgrimages from the diaspora. Large caravans
came overland from Babylonia and caravans and ships brought other groups of
pilgrims from Syria, Asia Minor and North Africa. There were three pilgrim
festivals : Pesach, Shavu’ot, and Succot. The Torah requires all Israelite
males to attend each of these festivals6. Josephus put it this way:
Let them assemble in that city in which they shall establish the
Temple, three times in the year,
from the ends of the land which Hebrews shall conquer, in order to
render thanks to G_d for
benefits received, to intercede for future mercies, and to promote by
thus meeting and feasting
Josephus’ summary of the Mosaic legislation reveals the obvious
interpretation that Jews who resided abroad were exempt from the biblical
requirement to attend three festivals each year (pilgrimage was required
only from the land the Israelites conquered.) many Diaspora Jews did make
the pilgrimage, but it is doubtful that many came more than once in their

During Second Temple times we know of three main parties: Sadducees,
Pharisees and Essenes. As High Priests, appointed by Roman legates or
kings, the Sadducees controlled the Sanhedrin . The Sadducees represented
the aristocracy and were in support of Rome. When the temple was destroyed
the aristocracy began to decline, the priestly aristocracy soon
disappeared, and the Sadducees dropped from sight. Their entire existence
had been based around temple worship, and with the destruction of the
temple their role became redundant.

The Jews’ Great Revolt against Rome in 66 C.E proved to have a
catastrophic effect on Jewish life. At the beginning of the Common Era, a
new group arose among the Jews: the Zealots. These anti-Roman rebels
believed that all means were justified to attain political and religious
liberty. So when the insane emperor Caligula, declared himself to be a
deity, and ordered that his statue be erected in every temple in the Roman
Empire, the Jews with their firm disgust for idolatry, refused. This
refusal led to a war with Rome and after a brief success the Zealots and
thousands of other Jerusalem Jews were killed, and their precious and most
sacred of sites destroyed in an orgy of violence on the ninth of Av in the
summer of 70 C.E. It is estimated that as many as one million Jews died in
the Great Revolt against Rome.

The impact of the destruction of the temple was nothing short of
devastating, with thousands killed, many of their towns in ruins, their
trees and crops laid to waste, and a higher tax burden imposed by Rome to
compensate for the war, there was a great sense of despair and desolation.

The Talmud speaks of Jews who went into a permanent state of depression,
Became ascetics, binding themselves neither to eat meat nor to drink
wine. Rabbi Joshua got into
a conversation with them and said to them: ‘my sons, why do you not
eat meat nor drink wine?’
They replied: ‘Shall we eat meat which used to be brought as an
offering on the altar, now that the
altar is no more? Shall we drink wine which used to be poured as
libation on the altar, but now no
longer?’ He said to them: ‘If that is so, we should not eat bread
either, because the meal offerings
have ceased.’ They said: ‘(That is correct, and( we will manage with
fruit.’ ‘We should not eat
fruit either, (he said( because there is no longer an offering of
firstfruits.’ The ascetics responded
that they would manage with other fruits. Rabbi Joshua said, ‘But we
should not drink water
because there is no longer any ceremony of the water libation.’ To
this they had no answer,
whereupon the pragmatic Rabbi Joshua advised them: “My sons, come and
listen to me. Not
to mourn at all is impossible, because the blow has fallen. To mourn
overmuch is also impossible,
because we do not impose on the community a hardship which the
majority cannot endure.” He
therefore suggested three ways Jews should mourn for the Temple’s
destruction. ‘ A man may
stucco his house, but he should leave a little bare… A man can
prepare a full- course banquet, but
he should leave out an item or two… A woman can put on all her
ornaments, but leave off one or
This quote from Bava Batra (see footnote also) accurately portrays two of
the outstanding modes of thought after the destruction, one of sheer
desperation and one of hope. Rabbi Joshua provides us with an image of the
new direction that Judaism was beginning to take. The previous dependence
on the temple could have meant an end to Jewish religious practice had it
not been for the Pharisaic tradition and more directly Rabbi Yochanan ben
Zakkai. Yochanan ben Zakkai was a leader of normative Judaism for many
years before and after the destruction of the Temple. Rabbi Yochanan lived
in Jerusalem in 70 C.E when the city was under siege. Rabbi Yochanan did
not approve of the uprising against Rome, and when the Zealots refused to
let anyone leave the city, on threat of death, Rabbi Yochanan devised a
cunning plan of escape. Upon leaving the city he went to the camp of the
Roman general, Vespasian and surrendered. Vespasian was so pleased by the
surrender of one of Israel’s greatest religious leaders that he granted him
one request. ‘Give me Yavneh and it’s sages’ he asked, the granting of this
request was to be the salvation of Judaism.

The loss of the Temple resulted in a sudden termination of pilgrimage and
sacrificial cult, which created a vacuum in the religious life of the
people. The need for a substitute that would replace the old cult with new
forms of religious expression was keenly felt. Yochanan objected to the
most obvious step in this direction, the continuation of the sacrificial
cult in places outside Jerusalem. His antagonism for the priestly caste may
have lead at least partially to his concept of establishing a new centre
for Jewish religious thought at Yavneh. Rabbi Yochanan was to succeed in
transforming a territorially centred nation and a central Temple theology,
dominated by a hereditary priesthood, into a universal faith. Yochanan
realised that the Temple centric nature of Jewish worship had left the
Jewish people in a state of religious disillusionment, to save the faith of
the Jews and Judaism itself, Rabbi Yochanan decided that massive reform was
needed. This reform or reinterpretation if you like, was to develop out of
Yavneh, near the Judean seacoast, with it’s assembled group of Pharisaic
sages and scribes, a rabbinic blueprint for Jewish survival was

One of the major contributions Rabbi Yochanan made to Judaism was his
introduction of formal ordination. This was a new form of semikah, the
laying-on of hands which symbolized the transference of the Holy Spirit
from master to disciple. This was the ultimate challenge to the hereditary
priestly aristocracy of the Sadducees and brought its authority to a close.

Yochanan created what is called the “rabbinite”, a new authoritative body
which possessed the democratic virtue of being a meritocracy in which a
person did not hold authority by virtue of his birth to a priestly father,
but by virtue of his knowledge and competence.

A second important contribution was Rabbi Yochanan’s insistence that
certain rites previously practiced only in Jerusalem should be legitimate
at Yavneh. He did not seek this prerogative for the sacrificial system.

More important was his replacement of Jerusalem as the centre of authority
by the academy of Yavneh, with the implication that wherever there was an
academy with recognized and ordained scholars there was authority.

Consequently, a multiplicity of equally legitimate authorities arose,
resulting in a worldwide proliferation of Judaic intellectual existence and
the preservation of the diversity and heterogeneity of Judaic religious
life. The scholars who presided over these schools and synagogues were
ordained and given the title “rabbi”, and this ordination signalled the
birth of Rabbinic Judaism.

Yochanan ben Zakkai and his Yavnean associates did nothing less than
restate the theology of Judaism with Hosea 6:6 as their motto: ‘It is love
I desire not sacrifice’. The sacrificial system and the priesthood were
superseded, sins were to be expiated by loving deeds and prayer. Prayer
worship was referred to as abodah8 , the term normally used for the
sacrificial system. Prayer was no longer a concession to the Diaspora, but
a G_d ordained form of worship. Hence Yavneh was the centre for great
liturgical development. Prayers of old were brought together, recast and
joined with newly composed prayers.

Some of the more important measures that Yochanan took to adjust the
previously Temple-centred worship to suit the new conditions are as
When Rosh Ha-Shanah fell on a Sabbath, the shofar was blown in the
Sanctuary but not in the provinces. After the Temple was destroyed
Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai ordained that it be blown any place where
there is a court.9
Midrash on Rosh Ha-Shanah also records that after the destruction of the
Temple, Yochanan ben Zakkai ordained that the Lulav be carried in the
provinces seven days, as was the custom in the Temple, whereas in the
provinces they formerly carried it for one day only. The reason given for
this is ‘in memory of the Temple.’ Other practices such as bringing the
fruits of the fourth year to Jerusalem, was also suspended, under the
understanding that it be resumed upon restoration of the Temple. In Temple
times witnesses to the new moon were permitted to transgress the Sabbath
(by travelling on that day to report their observation of the new moon) for
all months. After the destruction of the Second Temple, Yochanan ben Zakkai
restricted this permission to the months of Nisan and Tishri. The reason
given for this measure was that since there was no longer a sacrificial
cult, the permission regarding the other months lost its justification.

The new rabbis that came out of Yavneh had already been functioning as
‘proto-rabbis’10 for over two centuries, and during this period they had
developed a set of principals which they then applied at Yavneh These
principals allowed them to affirm the divine revelation of Scripture, and
simultaneously to legislate new halakah, interpret and transform old
halakah, dispose of obsolete practices, and innovate new ones.

The real revolution that occurred at Yavneh was to require obligatory
communal worship with a group of ten. It is not clear how much of this
reform was achieved by Yochanan and how much was actually carried forward
by his successor Gamaliel II. It is clear however that Yochanan ben Zakkai
set in motion the mechanism of consolidation and the reinstatement of
Jewish theology. The replacement of Judaism’s central worship point at the
Temple in Jerusalem , with synagogues all over Judea, was essential to a
society whose most sacred of sites had been destroyed, and around which,
as we have seen, daily life revolved. Yavneh was to provide a model for
synagogues which soon spread throughout Judea, and were not restricted any
more, in usefulness, to the diaspora. This new movement was as much about
placing religious truth and exaltation within the reaches of the common
citizen as it was about reconstructing a method for practicing worship
within the confines of the new situation.

The Rabbinic tradition is generally believed to have grown out of the
Pharisaic sect. The long-term conflict between the Sadducees and the
Pharisees came mainly from the Pharisaic distaste with the hierarchical and
hereditary line of the priestly class. They saw the position of the High
Priests as being compromised by Roman influence. This was not their only
objection though, the Pharisees did not agree with a class system which put
divine knowledge in the realm of only the privileged. When the Rabbinic
tradition led by Yochanan ben Zakkai, established a new understanding of
significant concepts within Judaism, it was of utmost importance to place
this knowledge within reach through the processes of study and observance.

This new scholarly focus was also to change and shape the nature of Jewish
civilisation. No longer was the importance of daily life placed on tending
the crops and working the farms to provide all the appropriate sacrifices
for G_d. For during the Second Temple period farmers could not have hoped
to ever lead a service in their most holy of sites. With the spread of
synagogues they could study at centres such as Yavneh and eventually become
rabbis themselves.

By presenting and thus comparing Second Temple religious practice with the
radical theological reforms instigated by Yochanan ben Zakkai it can be
seen that the Jews of Palestine responded to the challenge of survival
after 70 C.E with such innovative zeal as to save them from the fate of
assimilation. The question of the survival for the Jews after the
destruction of the Second Temple seemed to be answered by Yochanan ben
Zakkai and his group of sages at Yavneh. The Rabbinic tradition ensured
that the previously Temple dependant faith could be reinterpreted to fit
the new situation. All of the methods of survival; the legislation of new
Halakah, the adjoining of old prayers with new, the reassignment of the
religious centre from Temple to Synagogue, the abolition of the priestly
caste and replacement with a meritocracy and thus the ordination of rabbis,
and probably the most important development, the replacement of Temple
sacrifice with loving deeds and prayer, can be said to have redesigned
Judaism. Without the direction so boldly taken by Rabbi Yochanan ben
Zakkai, it is impossible to say whether Judaism would have survived as a
separate faith to Christianity or even Islam. The steps that were taken
almost certainly heralded a new age for the Jews of Palestine, if not their
Roman rulers as well. The Jews of Palestine developed such a rich
interpretive and questioning culture and scholarship as to always provide
them with a multitude of answers to any future questions of survival.

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Analyse how the Jews of Palestine responded to the challenge of survival
following their defeat at the hands of the Romans and the destruction of
the Second Temple. How did the observance change after 70 CE?

1 Philo, Works, ed and tr F.H Colson (vols 1-10) and G.H Whitaker (vols 1-
2 Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, 4.208
3 Ex. 29.40
4 Ex. 30.16
5 Josephus, The Jewish War, 6.420-427
6 Ex. 23.17; 34.23; Deut. 16.16
7 Telushkin, Joseph Jewish Literacy, p137-138
8 Sifre Deut. 41
9 Mishnah, Rosh Ha-Shanah IV, 1, Guttman Alexander, Rabbinic Judaism in
the Making, p191
10 Sigal Phillip Judaism: The Evolution of a Faith, p108