The Talmud is not only the largest book ever published. It’s arguably also the greatest.
Many points can be made for the greatness of this masterpiece of Oral Law. A major part of it is not dry legislation but rather consist of lengthy intricate discussions whereby time and again the questions just stands, for us to contemplate and often is not solved. Frequently, the questions seem more important than any of the answers.
Life is too complicated to be properly covered by simple lines (the Torah). The Talmud’s network of questions is therefore essential to teach life’s nuances and wisdom. A substantial part of the Talmud teaches through stories — among males a largely overlooked method because men in the West get taught through rules and most men don’t read novels.
Another great point of the Talmud is the brutal total honesty of the Sages. This especially shows in not hiding ever, when they made a mistake. The story of the destruction of the Second Temple is no exception.
The Talmud only shares one story about the cause of the destruction of the Second Temple. Understanding its root is of paramount importance because when we collectively (together now and over generations) succeed to undo this, redemption will come for the whole of humankind. What is this sole story?
The Story of the Destruction
There was a misunderstanding through which two Jewish sworn enemies at a party got into a verbal fight, now 2000 years ago. Yet, none of the bystanders did a thing to defuse the tensions. As it says in our Portion of the Week: “And Aaron … died there” (Numbers 33:38; he always promoted peace between people). This failure to act includes all the top rabbis of Jerusalem. We’re talking about religious leaders on the highest level — not just a couple of smart guys who once upon a time passed an exam.
The one who was embarrassed was so incensed that he took the boat to Rome to snitch on the Jews to the Emperor. (When in our prayerbooks it says of G^d: King of kings of kings, it is often translated into English as King of kings but that incorrect. A worldly emperor is a king of kings. G^d is the King of the Emperors.) He was not going to go down on his own — he wanted all Jews to go with him. That’s how stupid anger can make us. The whole long journey apparently did not calm him down. To the contrary — he had time to device a nefarious plan. And he did.
He told the supreme ruler that the Jews no longer respected him. You don’t believe me? Send your finest offering with me to the Temple and you’ll see that they’ll refuse to sacrifice it. The Emperor agreed to the test. On the way, the revengeful snitcher stealthily made a tiny blemish in the animal that would invalidate it for Jewish Law but not from the Gentile perspective.
The rabbis and the priests of Jerusalem immediately understood what the guy was up to when he appeared with the “offering of the Emperor.” They gathered. What to do? Sacrificing the animal would offend G^d. Not sacrificing it would offend the Emperor. They couldn’t decide either way.
(For me as a simple Jew, the choice is easy. G^d can take it. The sacrifices don’t keep Him alive — Heaven forbid. They are meant for our elevation. The Emperor obviously would not be able to take it. Disgracing G^d’s Name is the worst sin. Endangering all the Jews is not an option.)
Endangering the Jews by maligning them to a hostile ruler is punishable by death. Maybe kill the guy before he can return to Rome and malign and endanger us all? The greatest rabbis couldn’t decide either way.
The “humility” of the top rabbi there is “credited” with nailing the last spike into the coffin of the destruction of the Second Temple. The guy went back and incensed the Emperor who send Titus to destruct the Temple. He besieged Jerusalem and after three years succeeded in destructing the Temple and exiling the Jews.
Understanding the Baseless Hatred
The destruction is so explained as caused by baseless hatred between Jews. Jews slandering other Jews is a prime symptom of that. The length of the destruction and our exile are unknown because we hide that our hatred is baseless. We always rationalize: But I don’t like him for this or that reason. While on a deeper level it’s all not connected to any reason. (The length of the ruin of the First Temple and exile were prophesized.)
A pure expression of baseless hatred is antisemitism. People who never met Jews or even admit that all the Jews they know are great people, they can hate Jews with a vengeance. You can’t argue them out of it because they went into it without real reasoning. They need to admit that all that animosity is baseless, only based on lies and pretexts. Once that is clear, someone is ready to abandon it.
In the Jewish outlook, hatred doesn’t just mean seething anger. It’s often, any lack of full love. When the Torah writes that Leah was unloved (Genesis 29:31), don’t think that Jacob didn’t love her — Heaven forbid. He just loved her less than he loved Rachel. His love for her was less than full. So Leah was relatively unloved, even felt hated (Ramban, Radak).
Another misunderstanding about hatred is that it would be the opposite of love. It is not. Hatred and love still have a lot in common. They both show emotional involvement with what or whom one loves/hates. Rather, the ultimate expression of hatred is indifference. So, the worst manifestation of hatred is when we show that we don’t care.
Quotes About Permitting Evil
Here are seven quotes that show that history is not shaped by violent extremists but by the majority of us all. When the majority stays passive, is only busy with themselves, doesn’t care, only then, extremists rule.
“A lack of caring enables all evil, including the Holocaust.” (Eli Wiesel)
“The world is in greater peril from those who tolerate or encourage evil than from those who actually commit it.” (Albert Einstein)
“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: G-d will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” (Pastor Dietrich Bonhöffer, a rare German church leader who kept speaking out against the Nazi regime.)
“The road to Auschwitz was not built by hate, but paved with indifference.” (Renowned Holocaust Scholar Sir Ian Kershaw)
“History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transformation was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.” (Rev. Martin Luther King Jr)
“First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.” (Martin Niemöller)
“First they looked down poor people, and I did not speak out — because I was not poor. Then they made fun of feminists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a feminist. Then they despised gays, and I did not speak out — because I was not gay. Then they hated Jews, and I did not speak out — because I was not a Jew. Then they rejected foreigners, and I did not speak out — because I was not a foreigner. Then they came after me — and there was no one left to stand up for me except for the silent majority I came from, and they stayed silent.” (My variation on the previous quote.)
Nothing New Under the Sun or is There?
Unfortunately, it seems that Ecclesiastes is still right, that there is nothing new under the sun.
We should repair our failure at the time of the destruction of the Temple, but we don’t. Then we stood by and did nothing, either because we didn’t care or we were too “humble,” and now still. Take the case of Gay men.
The Torah says very clearly that men should not have intercourse with men. It’s a major Torah prohibition — also to Gentiles, the rabbis rule. They explain that the only proper way for a man to be sexual is with a woman. (There are more details but they don’t matter for our case.)
Then, fifty years ago, Gay men emerged en masse. Rabbis understandably assumed that they were an expression of the new licentiousness. “Make love, not war.” Contraception had broken the “unbreakable” connection between procreation and sexual pleasure. All was allowed and hip now and men even started having sex with men.
Yet, although no doubt heterosexual men also started having sex with men in greater numbers, the vast majority of men having sex with men seemed different. They felt different. They were called names and murdered for being unnatural or for being beastly. (Oppressions can use any blame that is handy. Antisemitism is rationalized with, all Jews are worthless Marxist masses and with, all are rich leeching bankers. Such contradictions have never stopped hatred because it’s really baseless.)
Fifty years on, most of us now know that there is such a thing as sexual preference. That some men need a man and some women need a woman be unite with sexually. (To make things easy, let’s leave out lesbians and trans people. When one understands Gay men, the rest follows easily.)
From the Torah text and (more importantly for Jewish Law) the Talmud and later Commentators it is very clear that only Straight men are forbidden to be intimate with men. If this would be applied to Gay men, they would be left without any sexual options — which is a no-no in Jewish Law (Babylonian Talmud, Gitin 43b).
The Rabbis Still Don’t Care
Now, there is no ancient proclamation in Judaism that rules about Gay men. All ideas about them come from the last half century. So one doesn’t need to be the rabbinic leader of the generation to set aside for Gay men all that modern rabbis have said about them since no one at the time knew that there was such a thing as sexual orientation.
There are three groups of Orthodox-Jewish bystanders. (No offense but I left out here those who say that all sex is a matter between man and man and doesn’t need any sanction from anyOne. Their permissiveness means as much as a thief who opines that small thefts are allowed.)
1. The common Jew and simple rabbis. They’re not going to stand up to embrace Gay men including their natural sexual needs. (There we have it again, this passive “humility” that destroyed the Temple.)
2. The rabbis specialized in Gay men. They may have designed or defend “cures” or lead workshops or seminars or wrote books about Gay men. They are not going to admit their mistake and endanger their good name and profits from their stature but they may cry crocodile tears for “their suffering.” But they will not take the firm and real and true position that all Gay men should (not just can) leave their parents and cling to a man.
3. The leading rabbis. They’re not going to stand up to embrace Gay men including their natural sexual needs. (Yet again, this passive “humility” that destroyed the Temple.)
However, the real reason that none of them speak up for Gay men every day is (again) much more basic: they don’t care. Even if they say they care, they don’t. They might go to funerals, commemorations and even pride marches showing off their solidarity with the victims of homophobia but really, they don’t lie awake about any of it. They’re busy. They’re not such big rabbis. They can’t decide either way. The old baseless hatred rationalized with the old pretexts to cover up its groundlessness.
The worst form of baseless hatred, a total lack of any deep and real (not just token) empathy or interest for one’s fellow Jew, is clear for all to observe when one sees how Gays are ignored. There is some recognition for chained women, those who cannot remarry because their former husband refuses to release them. But there is no sympathy for half a million (!) Gay Jewish chained men. They too can’t marry. Not because of a sporadic recalcitrant husband but because of the insensitivity of all the Orthodox rabbis combined. As long as the rabbis do not speak out en mass in solidarity with all Gay men and their natural sexuality, not only is Orthodox Judaism disgraced (the greatest sin) but also redemption won’t come.
I also don’t understand what takes other simple Orthodox Jews so long to scream (nicety does not move them here) at the rabbis every day who are collectively responsible for the greatest scandal of Jewish Orthodoxy in 2000 years, resulting in a million Jews treated as untouchables or pariahs and half a billion Gentiles. You don’t have to do it for love of Gay men and women. Just protecting G^d’s Name in this world would be a splendid reason. And for bringing Redemption to all. What’s keeping you?