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Wednesday, 10 August 2011

The Temple was Destroyed because ...

After a discussion I had with my brother about the nature of Torah study (is it merely an intellectual exercise or something more?) I started wondering about the following issue after he quoted a relevant point related to Tisha be’Av, which was yesterday and is the day commemorating the destruction of both temples, among other events. Many are aware of the famous statement in B. Nedarim 81a that the first temple was destroyed because the people did not recite the blessing required before studying Torah. This point was taken up and featured heavily in the work of many commentators on the Talmud and legal scholars, e.g. Rabbeinu Yonah, Ran and Shulchan Aruch.

To be more precise, in the above text the famous dictum is stated by Rabbi Yehudah in Rav’s name with respect to the verses in Jeremiah 9: 11-13.
9. I will take up weeping and wailing for the mountains, and a lamentation for the dwellings of the wilderness, because they are withered and without any one passing through, and the lowing of the cattle is not heard; both the fowl of the heavens and the beast have fled and are gone.
10. And I will make Jerusalem heaps (of ruin), a lair of jackals; and I will make the cities of Judah a desolation, without inhabitant.
11. Who is the man so wise that he can understand this? And who is he to whom the mouth of the Lord has spoken, that he may declare it? Why is the land ruined (and) withered like a wilderness, without anyone passing through?
12. And the Lord said: (It is) because they have forsaken My Law, which I set before them, and have not hearkened to My voice, nor walked by it.
This made me think of a discussion Sam, Aaron, and I had recently on the nature of claims made by certain scholars about historical events. The question I put to them regarding claims made by Ran and Ritva elsewhere (see below), can be repeated in this context as well:
Is Rav stating an empirical fact about actual events that took place in history? If he is making an empirical claim, what would his evidence have been for this claim? And if he is not making an empirical claim, what kind of claim is he making?