Why God Permitted the Destruction of the First and the Second Temple

by Petr Chylek (September 2023)

Destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, Francesco Hayez, 1867


According to Jewish tradition, the First (957-587 BC) and Second Temple (516 BC-70 CE) were destroyed by the Babylonian army and by Romans on the same day of the lunar year, on the 9th day of the month of Av (Tisha b’Av in Hebrew). This year, the 9th of Av happened to be July 26, 2023. On this day, people are supposed to fast and to restrain themselves from expressing their joy.

If God is all-powerful, he could prevent the destruction of Temples, but He decided not to. Why did God let the temples to be destroyed? Some Rabbis even write that God planned to have the Temples destroyed. The destruction of Temple was no accident, it was God’s plan.

The Talmud, the written version of Oral Torah, tells us that the reason for destruction of the First temple were three matters in which Jews participated at that time, namely idol worship, forbidden sexual relations, and bloodshed. Because of the sins of people, God decided that He cannot dwell among them anymore.

During the destruction the second Temple the reasons were quite different. Most Jews were engaged in performing commandments (mitzvot), in Torah study and leading a generally ethical life. That is at least what they thought. Why did God then let the Temple to be destroyed?  The Talmud tells us that the second Temple was destroyed because of hatred among the Jewish people.

A civil war between the Sadducees and Pharisees started during the second century BC. Sadducees were a sect of the Jewish population connected to priesthood and to the Temple duties. They represented the upper political and economic layers of society. The membership was determined by the birth: only descendants from Moses’s brother Aaron could become members. Sadducees rejected the validity of Oral Torah (which later became the Talmud) and they did not believe in resurrection of physical bodies. The conflict between Sadducees and Pharisees extended to all aspects of life. It included cultural, religious, and economic components. Unfortunately, no writing produced by Sadducees survived to our time. The only source of knowledge about them and their beliefs comes from writings of their opponents. Thus, we have to assume that out knowledge about them and their beliefs is tainted by a negative bias.

Pharisees were more liberal. Anyone who was willing to learn, to study the Torah, to study oral traditions and other scriptures, could become a Pharisee. While Sadducees emphasized Temple rites and services, the Pharisees emphasized the Jewish law and their interpretation of it. Most of the population sympathized with the Pharisees. The fight between Sadducees and Pharisees sometimes became violent. That is the hate among Jewish people that the Talmud is talking about.

The Talmud also provides additional reasons why God might have let the second Temple to be destroyed. These included:


  • not making a blessing before study of the Torah
  • not reciting the Shema (the most important Jewish prayer)
  • establishing judicial rulings on the basis of literal interpretation of Torah
  • not keeping the Shabbat
  • neglecting the education of children
  • not having shame before each other
  • making small and the great equal
  • not rebuking one another
  • not respecting the Torah scholars


I think all the above reasons for destruction of Jerusalem and Temple given in Talmud are plausible, but they are not the true reason. Why? Because the destruction did not stop people from doing these same things even after the destruction.

There is, however, one thing that destruction of Temple made the people to stop doing it. What is this one thing? Animal sacrifices – killing innocent animals and thinking that it takes away their sins. This is the only thing that people were forced to stop after the destruction of the Temple.

Maimonides (1238-1304), one of great Jewish philosophers and mystics, said that Jewish people were killing the animals as sacrifices because all pagan nations around were doing the same. God permitted Jews to continue with animal sacrifices only because they were not mature enough to quit doing so.

This was supposed to be a temporary arrangement. Since God did not see any effort on the part of Jewish people to grow up and to stop this baseless cruelty, he had no choice, but to destroy the place where this took place, to destroy their Temple. Then people rebuilt the Temple and God had to do it again. Still, it looks like, that people did not learn.

With the destruction of the Temple in year 70 CE, the Sadducees lost the fight—there was no more any Temple. Pharisees became the only interpreters of Torah and Jewish law. Historically, the current Rabbinic Judaism developed from Pharisaic background.

In the New Testament Jesus (Jeshua) frequently argues with Pharisees. However, he himself was a Jewish Rabbi, very likely a Pharisee. So, why he did argue predominantly with Pharisees and not with Sadducees? As you surely know, Jesus was from the High Country, from Galilee. If you read the New Testament carefully, you might notice that Jesus was not arguing against Judaism in general. He was arguing mostly against the innovations introduced by Pharisees, which were not part of Torah. As an example we can see it here: “Why do you transgress commandments of God by your tradition?” (Matthew 16:3), or “But in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15: 9).

Some Rabbis and some Jews have been dreaming about  building the Third Temple and re-starting the animal sacrifices. Not realizing that the Eternal Temple has to be built in each person’s heart and mind—it is not a building of stones and bricks. Only then will the Divine dwell among us.


Table of Contents


Petr Chylek is a theoretical physicist. He was a professor of physics and atmospheric science at several US and Canadian universities. He is an author of over 150 publications in scientific journals. For his scientific contributions he was elected a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union and a Fellow of the Optical Society of America. He thanks to his daughter, Lily A. Chylek, for her comments and suggestions concerning the early version of this article.

Follow NER on Twitter @NERIconoclast


9 Responses

  1. Opposition to animal sacrifice by the Jews: This is really strange (and hypocritical?) The Jews sacrificed a few hundred animals each year in their Temple. Some were burnt in their entirety. The Jews interpreted these as 1) acknowledgement of God’s total control of the universe or 2) God allowing the sacrificed animals to serve as replacements for the sinful humans, so that the humans could repent and thereby ensure a lesser punishment. In other instances, the animal sacrifices provided food for the priests, and a celebratory feast for the common people. In contrast, let’s look at the everyday practices of most people on earth. Each year, they slaughter billions of helpless animals in order to consume their flesh. And they are also in the process of stripping every fish from the oceans, and destroying the habitat of the few remaining large wild animals. How is it possible that the Jews sacrificing a few hundred animals in their Temple is “repugnant”, while slaughtering billions of animals in order to eat their flesh is “no big deal’?

    1. Two choices , sunshine.

      1) You are a Christian or Jew and The Good Lord gave us dominion over the earth so we eat meat.

      2) You are an atheist and believe that we evolved from monkeys, apes, primates or whatever – they eat living creatures also.

      So which is it, amigo?

      I am a Catholic. We used to have meatless Friday’s as a penance. That is why Cheese Pizza was invented (joke.) We also have alcohol (wine) as a a sacrament so the Mormons and Muslims can piss off and so can you idiot fruitarians and vego’s.

      We are barbecuing a ham steak right now in your honor.

      Now be a good lad and go eat your spinach and seeds.

    2. Many religious traditions have taken the view that when something that is done for secular purposes is wrong, if it is wrong, then it is merely wrong. If it is done for sacrificial purposes and it is not what the deity requires for those purposes, then it is wrong in different senses- it is heresy, perhaps even blasphemy, an insult to God [or gods]. You don’t have to have a religious tradition yourself to notice some conceptual distinctions here. Even secular people likely have them in their own ways- the same act of different moral significance depending on context.

      That would be applicable here. If it is wrong to eat animals, which I don’t believe but could consider possible for argument, that doesn’t necessarily make it an insult to God. If he commanded us not to eat them, which he did not, and we ate them anyway, he might be cheesed off. But if we went ahead and also burnt one on his altar in his name and expected him to be pleased about it and reward us, he’d be much angrier than that.

      Humans do this all the time. Countless civilizations have killed enemies in battle, including women and children, or executed criminals, and still been appalled by human sacrifice. This may be all of a peace if one abhors all killing of humans and considers them equal, which I don’t, but at least intellectually it should be comprehensible that all do not see that and many would consider the differing contexts significant. Some might even consider the sacrifice of a volunteer to an Aztec god [as some of them were] wildly less abhorrent than the execution of a criminal, solely on the grounds of voluntarism. For my part, I’d go the reverse on the grounds that execution of a criminal involves guilt and judgment, where killing for sacrifice to what I would consider a non-existent deity is appalling. Even to an existing one.

  2. Seems to me that this discourse is completely in error.

    The Temple was required because G-d dwelt there and because G-d commanded it to be built and to be the center of Jewish religious practices. It is essential to Jewish practice because Judaism is a religion of community and community requires a central location and place in which to meet, gather, worship, etc.

    G-d commanded animal sacrifices as part of religious practice. An element of these sacrifices was to instill appreciation of the animals that were consumed for food as well as G-d’s prominence in providing same.

    This idea that the Temple is “in the mind” is a misunderstanding of the physicality and central purpose of the actual structure itself. The Temple was not meant to be a metaphor but what it was, the center of Jewish life. The destruction of the first and second Temples by enemies of Israel was a political act to destroy the central structure of the Jewish people which would completely disrupt the Jewish nation which it did do, until 1948.

    Suggestion to author: stick with the theoretical physics.

  3. Dear Friends: Thank you for your comments, for both nice and not so nice. It is our right to have and to express our different opinions. Our opinion at the same time provides a window to our true self – some may call it to our Soul. By re-reading your own writing you may learn something about yourself.
    Each article related to the Old Testament that I published I sent to a few Jewish Rabbis – real Rabbis taking cares of sizable congregations. Their response also vary from very nice to not so nice. The excerpts from two Rabbis’ opinions, concerning earlier publication, forming the boundary of nice and not so nice are below:
    “Two much of idol worship. So I delete….”
    “Wow unbelievable research and depth. I love your findings. Unfortunately there are so many hidden messages that translators have totally skipped over. Very interesting and enjoyable, thank you for sharing. Please continue to share….All the best.”

    According to Kabbalah, the understanding to Old Testament (Torah) has four different levels. In Hebrew they are called PSHAT, REMEZ, DRASH, and SOD. In English translation they are usually called a literal understanding, homiletic, inquisitive, and secret. According to our understanding we move from PSHAT up towards SOD. In Talmud there is a nice story about four scholars visiting the orchard. In Hebrew, the word orchard is PaRDeS. You can recognize the capital letters (consonants) as first letters of the four level of understanding of Torah. Shalom.

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