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Why the Destruction in 70 CE? Rabbinic answers for Churban Ha-Bayit.


The Talmud clearly states that the Second Temple was destroyed because of groundless hatred (שנאת חינם - literally, "hatred for nothing"):

But the second Sanctuary, seeing that in its time they were occupying themselves with Torah, precepts and the practice of charity - why was it destroyed?  Because therein prevailed hatred without cause.  That teaches you that groundless hatred is considered as of equal gravity with the three sins [which destroyed the first Sanctuary] of idolatry, immorality and bloodshed together. - Yoma 9b

Shortly before His crucifixion (and at least 40 years before the above ruling), Yeshua said (referring to Ps. 35:19, 69:4-5):

If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would not have sin; but now they have both seen and hated me and my Father as well. But this is in order that the word may be fulfilled that is written in their Law, 'They hated me without a cause.' - John 15:24-25

The "word written in the Law" that Yeshua saw as being fulfilled here included verses such as:

שנאי חנם יקרצו-עין

They who hate me without cause will blink the eye [ie, will break eye contact]. - Ps. 35:19

רבו משערות ראשי שנאי חנם

Greater [in number] than the hairs of my head are those who hate me without cause. - Ps. 69:5

In both cases, David was speaking of (or as) a righteous man oppressed by איבי שקר (literally "false" or "lying" enemies) appealing to G-d for vindication.

But the Torah community has long argued that there was ample cause for the rejection, conviction and execution of Yeshua. One version in the Talmud states that the Jewish authorities pronounced Him guilty, based on the following charges:

It was taught: On the eve of the Passover Yesh"u (the Nazarene) was hanged. For forty days before the execution took place, a herald went forth and cried, 'He is going forth to be stoned because he has practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy. Anyone who can say anything in his favor, let him come forward and plead on his behalf.' But since nothing was brought forward in his favor, he was hanged on the eve of the Passover. - Sanh. 43a (censored for a time due to Church pressure)

There has been lively dispute about whether this passage actually refers to Yeshua of Nazareth, but the likelihood of another man by this name being put to death on a Passover eve for the same crimes blamed on Yeshua is extremely low. Moreover, the name is spelled in the Talmud not as ישו but as the acronym יש"ו - "may his name and memory be erased" (a word-play on "Yeshua" that endures to this day). Moreover, the New Testament agrees that Yeshua's miracles were attributed by the Pharisees to demons (Matt.9:34, 12:23-24, Mark 3:22, Luke 11:14-15), that He was branded as a "deceiver" and "enticer" (Matt.27:63, Jn.7:12,47).

We are told that Yeshua's claims to be the Son of G-d resulted in several attempts to stone Him (Jn.8:59, 10:31-39, 11:8). This allows for the possibility that the Sanhedrin might have actually issued a sentence of stoning against Him which some attempted to carry out unsuccessfully. Interestingly, the Talmudic passage begins by explaining that halachah requires that "a herald goes forth" immediately before such an execution, but then finds it necessary to make excuses for the 40-day delay between this man's sentencing (death by stoning) and His actual death (by hanging):

Said Ulla: Do you suppose that he was one for whom a defense could be made? Was he not an enticer, about whom the Merciful One says (Deut.13:9), ולא-תחמל ולא-תכסה עליו - 'Neither shall you spare, neither shall you conceal him'? But Yesh"u was different, for he was connected with the kingdom [קרוב למלכות].

This may have been a veiled reference to the Jewish people's acceptance of Yeshua as a herald of the "Kingdom of Heaven" and/or His royal status as "son of David", which made it difficult to carry out the sentence. The New Testament records the Sanhedrin trying unsuccessfully to arrest Him, and both Yeshua and the people being aware of a death sentence against Him (John 7). A special Council was convened to discuss the dilemma of His popularity, specifically mentioning His potential to set up a kingdom (Jn.11:47-53), resulting in a proclamation going out that He was to be arrested and put to death (vv.53-57).

Why were they so determined? It would seem His Messianic claims, backed by miracles, were causing people to turn away from G-d; therefore Yeshua ha-Notzri merited death by stoning (Deut.13:10). This implies that the Sanhedrin had applied the tests given in Torah to expose such false prophets and miracle-workers:

כי-יקום בקרבך נביא או חלם חלום ונתן אליך אות או מופת: ובא האות והמופת אשר-דבר אליך לאמר נלכה אחרי אלהים אחרים אשר לא-ידעתם ונעבדם: לא תשמע אל-דברי הנביא ההוא או אל-חולם החלום ההוא כי מנסה ה' אלהיכם אתכם לדעת הישכם אהבים את-ה' אלהיכם בכל-לבבכם ובכל-נפשכם: אחרי ה' אלהיכם תלכו ואתו תיראו ואת-מצותיו תשמרו ובקלו תשמעו ואתו תעבדו ובו תדבקון: והנביא ההוא או חלם החלום ההוא יומת כי דבר-סרה על-ה' אלהיכם... ובערת הרע מקרבך

When there arises among you a prophet or dreamer of dreams and he gives to you a sign or a wonder, and the sign and the wonder come [to pass], which he spoke to you saying, 'Come, let us go after other gods which you did not know and let us serve them'; you shall not hear the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams, for the L-rd your God is testing you, to know if you love the L-rd your God with all your hearts and with all your souls. You shall go after the L-rd your God, and [only] Him shall you fear, and His commandments you shall keep, and His voice you shall hear, and you shall serve Him and you shall cling to Him. And that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, for he has spoken of turning away from the L-rd your God... and you shall burn the evil from among you. - Deut. 13:1-5 (2-6 in Heb)

The Talmud is curiously mute, however, about anyone whom Yeshua had "enticed" away from G-d. Nor is it stated which foreign god was Yeshua trying to promote through His signs. Which of G-d's laws was He accused of transgressing?  Yeshua asked the same of His critics (John 8:46; 10:32). Since the Talmud fails to elaborate, we have only the New Testament as a possible source for detecting sin on His part against the Torah.

Jewish scholars who have studied Yeshua's life from the gospel records (the first four books of the New Testament) have concluded that he was an observant Jew by the rabbinic standards of his day:

The first three Gospels, however, portray Yeshua as a Jew who was faithful to the current practice of the Law. ...The Gospels provide sufficient evidence to the effect that Yeshua did not oppose any prescription of the Written or Oral Mosaic Law, and that he even performed Jewish religious commandments. - Enc. Jud. Vol. 10, p.13

If Yeshua was not guilty of embracing other gods, then perhaps did the "apostasy" consist in trying to convince the people to see Himself as a new deity? We have already seen that someone calling himself "the Son of G-d," or even calling himself by G-d's holy Name, was not considered a blasphemer by the Jewish sages -- provided he was worthy of the title.

Then maybe Yeshua's "apostasy" was in trying to usurp the role of the Sanhedrin as a ruler of the people, in violation of G-d's commandment?  On the contrary, the New Testament writings show that Yeshua and His disciples submitted to the Jewish authorities in every area delegated to them by Torah, adhering to every ruling which did not transgress G-d's laws.  Moreover, Yeshua actively resisted attempts by others to proclaim Him as any kind of earthly leader (Luke 12:13-14; Jn. 6:15; 18:33-36). He even commented on the irony that in seeking glory for G-d and not for Himself, He was being rejected, while others who were clearly working to create a kingdom for themselves (and for that reason ought to be suspect), had no trouble being accepted:

I have come in My Father's name, and you do not receive Me; if another shall come in his own name, you will receive him. - John 5:43

If Yeshua had been calling the people to seek the G-d of Israel and keep His laws, and if He Himself was obedient to G-d's commandments and to the Torah-ordained authorities, then His condemnation as someone "enticing Israel to apostasy" was groundless.  It also means, according to the Torah, that the miracles He performed were not "sorcery" but represented G-d's approval of Him.

A claim to be the ultimate Prophet - the Anointed One sent from G-d - could not be viewed as false simply because the one claiming it was not a likely-looking candidate. It was a claim to be tested by faithfulness to G-d and faithfulness in delivering G-d's words in G-d's Name. If the test were to be positive, this One would have be heeded, on pain of Divine judgment.

נביא מקרבך מאחיך כמני יקים לך ה' אלהיך אליו תשמעון: ככל אשר-שאלת מעם ה' אלהיך בחרב ביום הקהל לאמר לא אסף לשמע את-קול ה' אלהי ואת-האש הגדלה הזאת לא-אראה עוד ולא אמות: ויאמר ה' אלי היטיבו אשר דברו: נביא אקים להם מקרב אחיהם כמוך ונתתי דברי בפיו ודבר אליהם את כל-אשר אצונו: והיה האיש אשר לא-ישמע אל-דברי אשר ידבר בשמי אנכי :אדרש מעמו

A prophet from among you, from your brethren, like me, the L-rd your God will raise up for you; to him you will listen. According to all that you asked from the L-rd your God at Horev in the day of the assembly, saying, 'I will not listen more to the voice of the L-rd my God, and this great fire I will not see further, and I will not die.' And G-d said to me, 'They have done well in what they said; a prophet I will raise up for them from among their brethren, like you, and I will give My words in his mouth and he shall speak to them all that I will command him. And it shall be, the man who does not listen to the words which he shall speak in My name, I will require it from him.' - Deut. 18:15-19

To utterly reject such an individual, despite His faithfulness, could only be motivated by a groundless hatred of that One, which implies a hatred of G-d Himself.

And yet this groundless hatred toward Yeshua was acknowledged by Him and His apostles to have been a sin of ignorance:

Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing. - Luke 23:34

But you disowned the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, but put to death the Prince of life... And now, brethren, I know that you acted in ignorance, just as your rulers did also. - Acts 3:14, 17

The rabbis, noting that the purpose for the daily sacrifice known as the "Olat Tamid" was never explained in Torah, have concluded that it was to atone for the sins of Jerusalem committed in ignorance, both day and night, in order to validate the description of Jerusalem in Isaiah 1:21:  "קריה נאמנה מלאתי משפט צדק ילין בה - The faithful city full of justice, righteousness will lodge in her" (see Midrash B'Midbar Rabba, Parashat Pinchas:21). 

As seen earlier, the rabbis have also recognized that the Tamid is somehow connected to the Akedah sacrifice.  Messiah was the One hinted at by both sacrifices; and as confirmation, His death on the cross took place at the time of day for the evening Tamid, and also on the date that Jewish tradition originally placed the Akedah: Nisan 14 (Go to the RZ article on Rosh Ha-Hodeshim entitled, "Messiah, Our Passover," for the documentation from Jewish sources.) This is just one more way in which the suffering Messiah established His mission and His authority from G-d to secure forgiveness for Jerusalem's sins.

Nevertheless, both the Jewish Scriptures and rabbinic commentaries acknowledge that there is fallout from sins of ignorance, especially when they are committed by leaders.

7A. Rabbinic Errors Concerning the Messiah, and Their Consequences

This idea of connecting hatred of Yeshua with the Churban gives rise (or should give rise) to two urgent protests:

How could the great rabbis of that day, including the Sanhedrin (the only court with rabbinic authority to pass a death sentence), be ignorant in so important a matter as the identification of King Messiah?  And would a mistake in identifying the Messiah really merit such a harsh punishment from G-d as the destruction of 70 CE?  The second question is especially difficult, in light of the way the historical Church has used this issue to justify their abuse of the Jewish people.

Regarding the first question, the Talmud and Rambam (Maimonides) testify that the rabbis had indeed erred in the case of Simeon Bar Kochba a hundred years after Yeshua (135 CE). No less a sage than Rabbi Akiva believed Bar Kochba to be the Messiah.  Furthermore, the Talmud states that there was a Sanhedrin at Betar, Bar Kochba's capital (Sanh. 17b), indicating that such a court willingly participated in Bar Kochba's rule.

And yet Rambam wrote that Bar Kochba was not simply a messiah who failed in his mission (as is taught today), but a deceiver whose sins brought about his death:

Even Rabbi Akiva, who was the greatest of the sages of the Mishnah, was a supporter [armor-bearer] of King Ben Kozivah, saying of him that he was the King Messiah. He and all the sages of his generation imagined that he was the King Messiah until he was killed for sins [which he had committed]." - Maim. Hilkhot Melachim 11:6

Rambam used a derogatory name here ["son of a lie"], a Hebrew pun on the man's real name, Bar Koseva, which Rabbi Akiva had changed to Bar Kochba ["son of a star"].  As for "the sages of his generation", other sources reported that not all them had agreed with Akiva either:

Said Rabbi Yochanan, R. Hiyya would demand: ' דרך כוכב מיעקב - A star rose from Jacob' (Num 24): Do not read 'a star' but 'a liar'. Rabbi Akiva, when he saw Bar Kozeva, said: 'This is the King Messiah!' Rabbi Johanan ben Torta said to him: 'Akiva! Grass will grow in your cheeks and still He [the son of David] does not come!' - Mid. Lamentations Rabba 2:2, no.4 (also found in Jerusalem Talmud, Ta'anit 4:5)

Lamentations Rabba records some of the sins referred to by Rambam. Bar Kochba required his soldiers to amputate a finger (to prove either bravery or loyalty), causing the Sages to protest, "How long will you continue to make the men of Israel blemished?" The Midrash goes on to say that while trapped in Betar by the Romans, Bar Kochba suspected Rabbi Eleazer of Mode'in of betraying him and killed the revered sage in a fit of temper, upon which a heavenly Voice pronounced him a "worthless shepherd".

Bar Kochba's conduct reportedly caused Rabbi Akiva and others to finally withdraw their support, but they stopped short of declaring him worthy of death.  Instead, the murderer of Rabbi Eleazer inexplicably became a hero to the Torah community, and his memory is honored every year in the Israeli holiday of Lag Ba'Omer.  Apparently Bar Kochba's military success allowed generations of rabbinic leadership to overlook his blatant sins against the Torah.

Remembering the charges against Yeshua as recorded in the Talmud, let us examine how the rabbis responded to a later messiah who clearly led the people into outright apostasy: Sabbatai (or Shabbatai) Zevi.

Shabbatai Zevi was a Jew from Smyrna in the Ottoman Empire, born in 1626 on the 9th of Av, the traditional date set by the rabbis for the Messiah's birth.  Through Zevi's study of Lurianic Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism as formulated by Rabbi Isaac Luria, the "Ari") he became convinced that he was the Messiah. He proclaimed himself as such in 1648, a year predicted in the Zohar for the arrival of the Messiah.  Shabbatai Zevi deliberately broke Torah and rabbinic commands, eating nonkosher food and pronouncing the Tetragrammaton aloud.  He married and divorced twice in quick succession, and took a Jewish nun-turned-prostitute for his third wife.  He sang Psalms and "course Spanish love songs" with equal piety (see Wikipedia for documentation). 

Nevertheless, after he rescued the Jews of Jerusalem from Turkish threats by raising a large sum of money, Zevi's influence spread across Europe and captivated the Jewish community:

Shabbatai Zevi's antinomian [anti-Torah] acts, but even more so his personal beauty and extraordinary charm, made people accept his Messianic pretensions unquestioningly, and the popular enthusiasm he evoked was unprecedented.  By 1665, the whole Diaspora was under his spell. From Poland emissaries were sent to pay him homage, and in Holland entire Jewish communities liquidated their positions and waited for his word in the harbors to set sail for the Holy Land. - Patai, The Messiah Texts, p. xlv

Zevi's prophet, Nathan of Gaza, predicted that the Turkish Sultan would voluntarily hand over the Empire to Shabbatai Zevi.  In 1666, Zevi proclaimed "the year of redemption" and sailed to Constantinople to receive his kingdom. Instead, he converted to Islam in order to save his life, and lived on a comfortable stipend with the title of "Effendi" for the next 10 years in the Sultan's court.  Accepting these acts as part of his messianic mission, a great number of Jews followed Zevi into apostasy, founding a pseudo-Muslim, pseudo-Christian, anti-Torah sect which has survived until today (the "Donmeh", heirs to the Sabbateans and Frankists). 

Here is how historians record the rabbinic response to their huge error:

For the rest of the Jewish world the shock of Shabbatai Zevi's apostasy was profound. Little is known about what the common people felt, but the rabbis in their wisdom decided on a course which, they thought, was most likely to heal the wounds in the nation's psyche: the course of minimizing what had happened, and of covering it with the veils of silence and disregard. - Patai, p. xlvi

Pockets of believers remained in the Turkish Empire, the Balkans, Italy and even in Lithuania. Southern Poland too remained for a long time under Shabbatian influence. But the balance of world Jewry, disappointed now beyond illusion, recoiled... into an exhausted and wary silence. - Abba Eban, My People, p. 237

There is no evidence that the rabbinic community ever declared Shabbatai Zevi worthy of death, in spite of his open apostasy and his profound influence in leading others to do the same.  It was the Turkish sultan who finally banished Zevi to Montenegro, where he died in solitude in 1676.  Yet Yeshua the faithful Jew was denounced as worthy of death, and His sentence was considered appropriate by numerous rabbinic leaders, from Talmudic times until today.

As if the spiritual disaster of having hailed imposters as the Anointed One were not enough, historians write that physical disasters of a notable magnitude befell the Jewish community after the demise of both Bar Kochba and Shabbatai Zevi:

In Jewish tradition, the fall of Bethar (Bar Kochba's last stronghold) was a disaster equal to the destruction of the First and Second Temples. The Jewish population of Judea was largely exterminated in the period of repression which followed the fall of Bethar. The subjugation was associated with massacres and religious persecution, the sale of Jews into slavery, and uprooting of the people from the soil. - Enc. Judaica Vol.4, p.236

The inglorious end of the Frankist movement [led by Jacob Frank, 1726-1791] coincided with the beginning of the darkest period ever visited upon the Jews of Poland. - Abba Eban, My People, p. 238

The troubles of Polish Jewry referred to by Eban were brought on by apostasy with an ironic twist. 

The Frankists were a Shabbatean offshoot that surfaced around 1750; Jacob Frank's own father was a Sabbatean. They were declared heretics in 1756 by the rabbinic leaders of Poland, who were belatedly trying to stamp out the heritage of Shabbatai Zevi due to public scandals. (They took a public stand against the "Shabbatean heresy" only in 1722, a full generation after Zevi's death, and by then the movement was too popular to stop.)

The Frankists retaliated against the Jewish community by seeking refuge in the Catholic church, posing as a quasi-Christian faith.  They misled Catholic leaders, claiming to believe in the Trinity and "redemption through the Messiah", but neglecting to explain that their "messiah" was the Islamic convert Shabbatai Zevi reincarnated as Jacob Frank, and that their "redemption" was achieved by sinning as much as possible, especially sexual immorality. (Their duplicity was later discovered, but after receiving baptism they were absorbed into Catholic society and Polish nobility.) The Catholic authorities embraced the Frankists and persecuted the rabbinic community on their behalf, including fines and an order to burn copies of the Talmud. 

The irony here is that Jacob Frank's heresy was built exclusively on Shabbatean teaching, made possible by the earlier rabbinic leniency toward the false messiah Shabbatai Zevi.  If they had been as quick to condemn Zevi as Torah demands, and "purge the evil from among you" (Deut.13:6), the Frankist movement might never have happened at all, nor their role in fueling persecution of Jews by the Catholic Church.

Besides the community crisis, these mistakes were believed by Jewish sages to also have spiritual repercussions for later generations.  A teaching attributed to Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav (who lived 1772-1811, and probably experienced the disaster caused by the Frankists) warns that each false messiah who is mistakenly accepted makes it that much harder to recognize the true Messiah:

...And the storm wind spread and became strong and caused such confusion that he (the Messiah) lost all the signs which were given to him from the roots of the souls of Israel, until it was totally impossible for them [Israel] to recognize him. For as a result of the many tribulations that have come over him from being oppressed under their hands... some of the mysteries... were given over to them as well.  Until there were found also among them some who imitated (the Messiah) like an ape before a man, calling themselves by the name Messiah.
For this is the whole issue of the false Messiahs who were in the world.  And thereafter, once their lies and wantonness were known, it had become very difficult to believe in the light of the truth of his (the real Messiah's) own selfness when it was revealed to them. - R. Nahman of Tcherin in R. Nachman of Bratzlav, Sippure Ma'asiyyot, quoted in Patai, p.108-109

(Even though the Bratslav Rebbe himself was eventually proclaimed Messiah by his followers, in the context of the above quotation he is only called a great Tsaddik, or righteous one, equal to the Ba'al Shem Tov.)

The implied spiritual damage done by the false messiahs is the disillusionment and abandonment of belief in a true Messiah to come.  And indeed, Jewish history records the secularization of large segments of European Jewry following Shabbatai Zevi. 

But the most remarkable thing about R. Nachman's story is that the true Messiah is described as having come, and having lost His identifying marks as it were, before the pretenders arrived on the scene.  We have here a veiled admission that the Jewish community has failed in identifying both the true Messiah and false messiahs - and due to these failures, might also miss later opportunities to recognize Him "when it was revealed to them".

Yeshua accurately prophesied both the removal of G-d's favor from the Temple (Matt. 23:37-39; Luke 13:34-35) and Jerusalem's destruction (Luke 19:41-44), explicitly linking both disasters to Jerusalem's (i.e. the leaders') rejection of Him.  He also warned of imposters who would arise after Him (Matt. 24:5) and who would precede His return as well (verse 23-25).

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