Friday, May 27, 2005

Bringing Sacrifices Today

R. Tzvi Hirsch Kalischer famously proposed bringing sacrifices today (i.e. mid 1800s) even though there was no Temple standing. He brilliantly argued that there is no need for a Temple in order to bring sacrifices. He was roundly critiqued by the greatest scholars of his day, but since he was in their league he continued debating the subject.

R. Ya'akov Ettlinger wrote a response to R. Kalischer, now printed as the first responsum in his Binyan Tziyon. One of his proofs is from a verse in this week's parashah: "I will lay your cities waste and bring your sanctuaries to desolation, and I will not smell the fragrance of your sweet aromas" (Lev. 26:31). After the destruction, God will not "smell the fragrance of your sweet aromas," i.e. accept sacrifices.

A colleague and supporter of R. Kalischer, R. Eliyahu Guttmacher, wrote a response to R. Ettlinger titled Mikhtav Me-Eliyahu. It is published in the 2002 Etzioni edition of Derishas Tziyon. R. Guttmacher (p. 266) responds by pointing to the commentary of R. Bahya ben Asher on that verse. According to R. Bahya (and the Ramban, I'm not sure why he does not quote him), this entire passage is referring to the destruction of the First Temple, while the related passage in Deut. 28 is referring to the destruction of the Second Temple. Therefore, this verse is irrelevant to today's situation.

However, R. Ettlinger has a proof that, at least on an halakhic level if not on a peshat level, this verse is referring to today's situation. The Mishnah in Megillah (28a) states that synagogues that are in ruins retain their holiness, and quotes the above verse: "I will... bring your sanctuaries to desolation" (even in desolation they are still called sanctuaries). Clearly, the verse is also talking about now and the end of the verse can be equally applied to today's situation.

R. Guttmacher (pp. 264-266) struggles with this and offers a number of answers. I think the answer is quite simple. According to the majority of commentators, the halakhah in the Mishnah--that sanctuaries have sanctity today--is only of rabbinic origin. While the Yere'im, and possibly the Rambam, hold that this law is biblical, most others hold that it is at most rabbinic (see the Ramban and the Ran). According to themm, the biblical verse cited is not the source for this law; it is only an asmakhta brought to support the rabbinic law. Therefore, the Mishnah cannot be used as proof that the verse is referring to today's situation.

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