• April 19, 2024
  • 11 5784, Nisan
  • פרשת מצרע

Rebuilding After Destruction Through Text

Rebuilding After Destruction Through Text

After the destruction of the Second Temple, Judaism was transformed from a nation living freely in its own land to a nation held together by one great book after another. Join Rabbi David Sedley and explore how long before the Jewish People returned to Zion and rebuilt their ancestral homeland, they found a way to survive as a unit through written word. 

June 14, 2022 7:00 pm - 8:00 pm
Rebuilding After Destruction Through Text: Destruction, exile and Bible
Class description

My theory, which I will be exploring in these classes, is that destruction and tragedy ultimately leads to a new era in Jewish history which is represented by a new text. But that text is not accepted immediately. Instead, it is gradually refined and accepted. But eventually, the text creates the boundary between epochs, and later generations are no longer permitted to disagree with earlier eras.

This class begins with the destruction of the First Temple and the Babylonian Exile. Following this tragedy, Ezra and Nehemiah returned to Israel along with the Men of the Great Assembly. They wrote several books of the Bible and canonized the entire text of the Bible, deciding which texts are holy and which are not.

Yet, even hundreds of years later, the Amoraim were arguing the details of which books were included and which not.

However, nowadays, the Bible in its current form is fully accepted and nobody would dare remove or add a book to it.

June 21, 2022 7:00 pm - 8:00 pm
Rebuilding After Destruction Through Text: Second Temple and proto Mishna
Class description

This class looks at the period immediately before and after the destruction of the Temple. Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai introduced political and religious changes to adapt Judaism to the post-Temple time. His student, Rabbi Yehoshua, also enacted rules to help people cope without the Temple.
But the Sadducees were left behind, trapped in their worldview that Judaism needed sacrifices. And the high priests were often taken along with them.

June 28, 2022 7:00 pm - 8:00 pm
Rebuilding After Destruction Through Text: Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai’s students
Class description

The Mishna in Avot speaks of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai’s five students and his praise for them. These would have been the first generation of rabbis after the destruction of the Second Temple. Yet when we delve further, we find that of the five, only two continued to participate in the transmission of Torah, and one of those was ostracised and excommunicated.
Part of the destruction is that not everyone survives the aftermath.

July 5, 2022 7:00 pm - 8:00 pm
Rebuilding After Destruction Through Text: Mishna as a post-destruction text
July 12, 2022 7:00 pm - 8:00 pm
Rebuilding After Destruction Through Text: Allusions to destruction in the Mishna
Class description

The Mishna was compiled some 150 years after the destruction of the Temple, 85 years after the failed Bar Kochba rebellion.

When the Mishna was compiled, there was no longer an imminent threat of destruction from the Romans, but neither was there any realistic political or military hope of rebuilding the Temple (short of a miracle).

This class looks at explicit and implicit mentions of the Temple’s destruction in the Mishna, and sees the message of hope that Rebbi Yehuda HaNasi put within it.

July 19, 2022 7:00 pm - 8:00 pm
Rebuilding After Destruction Through Text: Emperor Julian and the dream of a Third Temple
Class description

Julian was Roman Emperor from 361-363. In 362, he wrote a letter to the Jews telling of his intent to rebuild the Temple.

There is academic dispute about whether construction actually began on the Third Temple or not. But after the failure of this enterprise all hope seemed lost.

There are no explicit references to Julian’s rebuilding in the Talmud. But in this class we will find some allusions. And ask whether this destruction was the catalyst for the compilation of the Talmud.

July 26, 2022 7:00 pm - 8:00 pm
Rebuilding After Destruction Through Text: Jerusalem in the Yerushalmi
Class description

the Yerushalmi, or Talmud of the Land of Israel, was compiled some time in the early to mid fifth century. It was after Theodisius II ended the office of Nasi, and possibly also ending semicha, which pretty much put an end to Israel as a major center of Jewish thought and teaching.

It seems strange that Jerusalem is hardly mentioned at all in the Yerushalmi, though perhaps not all that surprising since the city had by then become a Christian city. Constantine’s mother, Helena, destroyed the temple of Venus and they began building the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Jews were banned from Jerusalem (except for Tisha B’Av when Jews were permitted to enter the city).

August 2, 2022 7:00 pm - 8:00 pm
Rebuilding After Destruction Through Text: Writing the Babylonian Talmud
Class description

Throughout this series, we have looked at how destruction and catastrophe led to the growth of Judaism through text.

To find out if there was a cataclysm that led to the Talmud, we have to first ask when the Talmud was written.

Bava Metzia ways that Rav Ashi and Ravina were “the end of teaching” which is often understood as the compilation of the Talmud.

However, there are many rabbis mentioned in the Talmud who lived later than Ravina.

Rav Saadia Gaon wrote in 987 CE that the mishna and talmud were not written down but remained an oral tradition.

I suggest that the Talmud could only have been written after codices replaced scrolls. In the Jewish world, this happened several centuries after such “books” had been accepted and adopted by Christian and other cultures. It was only after the Muslim conquest of Persia in the 7th century that books becamse widespread in the Jewish world.

So perhaps it was the Muslim conquest that ultimately led to the compiling and wiring of the Talmud.

Rambam says in Laws of Kings, chapter 11, that Christianity and Islam were part of the Divine Plan leading to the Messianic Era. It may also be true that the books that define Judaism today also came from the Christian and Muslim conquests of the world.

Rabbi David Sedley lives in Jerusalem with his wife and six children. He was born and raised in New Zealand before making Aliya in 1992. He left Israel temporarily (for eight years) to serve as a communal Rabbi in Scotland and England and returned to Israel in 2004. He has translated Rabbeinu Yonah's commentary on Pirkei Avos and is the co-author of Sefiros: Spiritual Refinement Through Counting the Omer (both Judaica Press). Over the years Rabbi Sedley has worked as a journalist, a translator, a video director and in online reputation management. He also writes a weekly Torah blog on the Times of Israel.