Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Interruption of the Tamid Sacrifice

One of the tragic events of the 17th of Tamuz was the interruption of the korban tamid (the daily offering of two sheep in the Temple). There is some disagreement in the sources as to when this happened (or, more accurately, which interruption of the Tamid service is commemorated on the 17th of Tammuz). Maimonides writes that this occurred prior to the  destruction of the first Temple, when Jerusalem was under siege and they were unable to get the necessary sheep. Others say that it occurred prior to the the destruction of the second Temple. And some say that this refers to an interruption of the Tamid service that took place at an earlier part of the second Temple period, under Hasmonean rule.

In order to understand what happened at that time, we will first need to quickly review some history. At the beginning of the second Temple period, when the Jewish people returned to the land of Israel and rebuilt the Temple, they did so under Persian rule. When the Greeks, led by Alexander the Great, conquered the Persian empire, the Jewish commonwealth also came under Greek rule. After some time, the Greeks began to oppress the Jews and attempted to outlaw the observance of Judaism. The Jewish people, under the leadership of the priestly Hasmonean family, revolted against the Greeks. After their miraculous victory (celebrated on Chanukah), the Hasmonean family became the kings of the Jewish commonwealth in the land of Israel. The Hasmonean family ruled for a little more than a century, until they were displaced by Herod (with the support of the Romans). 

Although the early Hasmonean leaders were truly righteous and great men, over time their descendants were not always so good. Towards the end of the Hasmonean period, there was a struggle between two Hasmonean brothers, Hyrcanus and Aristobulus (the sons of the previous king, Alexander Jannaeus), over who should be king which eventually led to war. Hyrcanus allied himself with a non-Jewish king and made a siege on Jerusalem. (It was during this siege that the Tamid service was interrupted.) Eventually the famous Roman general, Pompey, got involved, and when all was done, the Romans had become the ruling power in Jerusalem. Thus, the struggle between Hyrcanus and Aristobulus was what first enabled the Romans to assume control over the land of Israel, which ultimately led to the destruction of the Jewish commonwealth and the second Temple.

It is is significant that the initiating event that ultimately led to the destruction of the Temple and the exile of the Jewish people was a struggle between two jealous brothers, for the Talmud (Yoma 9b) tells us that the second Temple was destroyed because of the sin of sinas chinam - unjustified hatred.  As Jews, we believe that God directs the events of history, and nothing simply happens on its own. This event was a sign, both to the people of that time and for all generations, of the inseparable connection between our relationship with God - symbolized by the Temple - and our relationship with our fellow men.

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