Early Rabbinic Judaism: Historical Studies in Religion, Literature and Art

By Jacob Neusner | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWO
EMERGENT RABBINIC JUDAISM IN A TIME OF CRISIS Four Responses to the Destruction of the Second Temple

{ Judaism, XXI, 3, 1972, pp. 313-327}

The destruction of the second temple marked a major turning in the history of Judaism in late antiquity. The end of the cult of animal sacrifice, which from remote times had supplied a chief means of service of God, placed the worldly modes of divine worship upon a quite new foundation. The loss of the building itself was of considerable consequence, for the return to Zion and the rebuilding of the Temple in the sixth and fifth centuries B.C.E. had long been taken to mean that Israel and God, supposed by prophecy to have been estranged from one another because of idolatry in first-temple-times, had been reconciled. Finally, the devastation of Jerusalem, the locus of cult and Temple piety, intensified the perplexity of the day, for, from ancient times, the city, as much as what took place in its Temple, was holy. The cultic altar, the Temple and the holy city, by August, 70, lay in ruins--a considerable calamity.

My purpose is to survey some of the several ways in which individuals and groups of Jews of that day responded to the calamity. I do not propose new interpretations of individual texts or promise to present previously unknown facts, but, rather, hope, by putting together a number of hitherto unconnected data, to facilitate the comparison of the different forms of Judaism of the period.


The Political Problem

What kind of issue faced the Jews after the destruction of the Temple? It was, I contend, a fundamentally social and religious issue, not a matter of government or politics.

For most historians of the Jews, it is axiomatic that the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple in 70 C.E. marked a decisive political turning-point. For example, current rhetoric uses the year 70 as the date for the end of "Jewish self-government." Precisely what is meant

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