Leaving Jerusalem on the 14th of Nissan

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by R. Gidon Rothstein

18 Adar: Tzitz Eliezer on Whether We Have to Leave Jerusalem on the 14th of Nissan

To those who see Jerusalem with the eyes to the past and to the future, the recapture of all of Jerusalem in 1967 raised many questions that had not been entertained as practical possibilities since the destruction of the Second Temple. One of those, to which Tzitz Eliezer 12;47 responded on the 18th of Adar 5735 (1975), wondered about being in the Old City in the afternoon of the 14th of Nissan.

The premise of the question is the halachic truth that the Korban Pesach, the Paschal sacrifice, can be offered even just on a mizbeach, an altar, in its right place on the Temple Mount, even without a standing Temple. Based on that, the questioner wondered whether Jews shouldn’t stay away from the Old City at that time, so as to be be-derech rechoka, out of the place where the sacrifice could be offered, and therefore exempt?

Tzitz Eliezer’s answer goes beyond the technical details of this issue, and raises broader issues that will come up repeatedly in the future.

Possibility Does Not Mean Obligation

His first and fundamental answer is that there’s no obligation to offer sacrifices in our times, even were it possible. To him, Vayikra 26;31’s phrasing of the destruction of the Temple (ve-hashimoti et mikdesheichem ve-lo ariach be-reach nichochachem, I will lay desolate your Sanctuary, and will not smell the smell of  your offerings)  meant that the state of desolation of the Mikdash is a sign that our sacrifices are unwanted. [He has to mean “not obligated,” since the halachicpossibility of sacrifice implies there could be some value to it.]

Sefer HaChinuch 440 says as much. While discussing the continuing prohibition of slaughtering sacrifices outside the Temple grounds, he adds that this prohibition does not imply any current obligation to offer sacrifices at the place where the Temple once stood. Tzitz Eliezer reads Rambam as having said that as well, since he wrote, in Sefer HaMitzvot, Obligation 153, that without a Temple, sacrifices have been suspended. He cannot mean it’s impossible to bring them, since Rambam (and Sefer HaChinuch) held we can bring sacrifices even without a standing Temple. It must mean any obligation to bring those has fallen away; for Rambam, lack of obligation qualifies as suspension.

With no obligation, there is no reason to leave the Old City in the afternoon of the 14th of Nisan.

How Much Effort Do We Need to Make?

Taking it a step further, Tzitz Eliezer cites approvingly R. Shlomo Eliezer Alfandari’s view that there is no reason to attempt to rebuild the altar. He held, first, that it’s having been destroyed implies that there is no obligation to try to reverse that situation.

[Tzitz Eliezer cites this in 5735/1975; R. Alfandari passed away in 5730/1930, before there was a serious hope of having a State, let alone Jewish control of the Temple Mount. Tzitz Eliezer does not discuss the possibility that changes in the political situation might imply that we should answer R. Alfandari’s question differently. He does not entertain the possibility that the political events of his lifetime were in fact the implicit message R. Alfandari said we haven’t had, that Hashem was ready for us to return.

Each time he cites predecessors who felt we had to wait for Mashiach for any of this to proceed, we can note that it’s not been how the remarkable events of the past century have unfolded, and wonder whether the examples of the past are necessarily the ones to follow on this question.]

R. Alfandari also noted that even when the Temple was standing, Torah scholars did not make a determined effort to be in Jerusalem for Pesach (R. Yehuda b. Beteira, for example, lived outside of Israel and seems not to have gone to Jerusalem, certainly not regularly). All the more so when it’s destroyed, we should understand that it’s Hashem’s Will that we not offer such sacrifices. [Aside from the rebuilding question, R. Alfandari raises the also interesting issue of how much of an effort one should make to be at the Mikdash for Pesach even once it’s rebuilt. What is the lesson of R. Yehuda b. Beteira’s not having gone– how hard would it have been for him, and how does that translate into our times?]

Waiting for and the Sequence of the Redemption

The rabbis of the Mishnah who lived after the Destruction, even though they could have rebuilt the altar and offered sacrifices did not do so [it’s not clear to me how he knows this; it seems to me that the Romans were very leery of the Jews reestablishing their worship, seeing how that was part of what fueled their rebellions], and did not give evidence that they longed to do so [again, it’s not clear what evidence that provides—maybe they feared offending the authorities].

In R. Alfandari’s view, that was because they knew that it was not Hashem’s Will that we offer sacrifices, not until we repent enough for Mashiach to come. R. Alfandari, too, closed with the quote from Vayikra about Hashem laying waste to our Mikdash and not being interested in the aromas of our sacrifices.

Nachal Eshkol, a commentary on the Sefer HaEshkol, came to the same conclusion from a different approach. He noted that Yeshayahu 1;26 speaks of Hashem restoring our judges and then Jerusalem’s again being called the City of Justice. Rambam in his Mishnah Commentary to Sanhedrin inferred from this that the restoration of full Jewish courts (including the classical semichah, qualifying judges to rule on all topics of Jewish law) had to precede the rebuilding of the Beit HaMikdash.

Note that this doesn’t infer an obligatory passivity from previous generations’ passivity. It says, instead, that we havehalachic evidence of the order in which the redemption has to proceed, and according to that evidence, we need courts and judges before we can rebuild the Mikdash.

Gedolim Stories—The Vilna Gaon

In seeming contradiction to his view, Tzitz Eliezer knew stories of Torah giants reported to have expressed a longing for sacrifice. First, the Vilna Gaon was reliably reputed to have said that if we only secured the Temple Mount to offer one daily sacrifice, that would be a remarkable achievement.

Tzitz Eliezer says the story’s missing many needed details, that it likely expresses the longing all great Jews have for observing any mitzvah they can, especially those that have been denied for a long time. But the Gra’s phrase “secure the Temple Mount” could easily mean overcome all the problems with renewing sacrifices, including that we have not yet had a sign from Heaven that it’s time [once again, I wonder what Tzitz Eliezer would accept as such a sign, since he did not see the events of 1967 as that sign].

Clearer proof that the Gaon did not mean his statement in its plainest sense comes from his reading of the repeated verse inShir haShirim (2;7, 3;5, 5;8, 8;4) where the female voice of the book administers an oath to the “daughters of Jerusalem” against awakening love too soon. The Gaon interpreted that as forswearing us from rebuilding the Mikdash before the time has come. If so, he clearly would not have been in favor of offering sacrifices without the rebuilding.

Gedolim Stories—The Netziv, Divrei Chaim, and Chafetz Chaim

That story of the Gaon was also reported to have been retold by the Netziv, which Tzitz Eliezer can’t accept if the Gaon meant it literally, since Netziv (in his Torah commentary, Ha’amek Davar) had taken Vayikra 26;31 (ve-lo ariach be-reiach nichochachem) to mean that we cannot today offer any sacrifices whose purpose is to be a reiach nichoach, a pleasing smell, including the daily sacrifice that Gra mentioned as being a great accomplishment. (He explicitly excluded the Pesach, since that’s not offered as a reiach nichoach; Tzitz Eliezer doesn’t note that that implies that the Netziv might have been in favor of offering the Pesach sacrifice today, counter Tzitz Eliezer’s basic claim in this responsum).

Netziv couldn’t have reported a story about the Gaon that runs against his own halachic opinion, Tzitz Eliezer writes, unless it’s not to be taken in its plainest sense. He also notes that Netziv, too, spoke of waiting for enlightenment from above as to when it’s time to rebuild.

Tzitz Eliezer similarly quotes and rejects stories about the first Sanzer Rebbe and the Chafetz Chayim, each of them in reaction to the publication of R. Tzvi Hirsch Kalischer’s Derishat Tziyon (discussed recently by R. Gil Student).

Substantive Objections

Shu”t Sha’arei Tsedek pointed to another problem, that we would be offering sacrifices on the Temple Mount while others are worshipping in their non-Jewish way. The existence of those other forms of worship is the best proof, he said, that Hashem’s Hand, as it were, is still in opposition to our service there.

Another problem, raised by the Sanzer Rebbe in his Divrei Chayim, was that the move to reinstate sacrifices would not be accepted by all observant Jews, leading to a split in the Jewish people. Similarly, R. Yehoshua of Kutna, in his letter agreeing to the publication of R. Kalischer’s Derishat Tziyyon, noted that the dispersal of Jews across the world would make it almost impossible to secure worldwide Jewish agreement. Tzitz Eliezer reads an implication that the issue isn’t only physical dispersal, but the ideological disagreements that come in its wake.

[This ignores comments in the Gemara that only the Jews of Israel count for these kinds of issues. Leaving that aside, it raises important general questions of how obligated we are to avoid splits in the Jewish community, whose dissenting opinions we have to take into account and whose we can ignore. Does one group’s current intransigence, on any issue, always obligate those militating for change to refrain? The answer is obviously no, but defining when to yield to a minority’s objections and when to ignore them is a complicated, case-by-case, endeavor, easily prone to being too extreme in either direction.]

Others Would Get Involved

Tzitz Eliezer’s final concerns are who would be involved in any project to restore sacrifice. Since the government is in the hands of nonobservant Jews (and, more, who at the time announced frequently their sense that Jewish law does not obligate them). It doesn’t take a genius to see that were sacrifices to be reinstated, they would want to be involved [since it would be a big national event], and this would lead to various transgressions [he doesn’t specify, but I think he is referring to issues of whether they would really render themselves ritually pure, and/or would observe the many detailed laws around the offering of sacrifices].

Better to avoid the whole mess by being clear that this is not a possibility at this time; part of asserting that is not doing anything to imply otherwise, such as leaving the Old City at the time the Pesach might have been offered.

The second, bigger, issue is the outside world. This whole discussion has assumed it might be possible to offer a Pesach, but the reality is that if Jews started constructing an altar on the Temple Mount, millions of people would rise up and declare a holy war against us [I think he means Muslims]. We have no way to know the outcome of such a war [another interesting question: in the absence of prophecy, when can Jews do what they think is right and rely on Hashem to protect them? In this case, Tzitz Eliezer is saying that the “rightness” of offering sacrifices is not enough to bear the likelihood of a Muslim invasion. Would he have said the same about declaring a State? It’s a repeat question to consider, in many Israel-related contexts.]

All of that leads him to close by saying that not only should one not make a point of leaving the Old City, there’s room to call for making an effort to be in the Old City (at the Kotel) at that time, to show that it’s not currently possibile to offer a sacrifice, and to pray that we soon see the time when it is possible, when all the objections he has raised are surmounted, and we see the full restoration of all for which we long.

About Gidon Rothstein

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