Lecture #217: The History of the Divine Service at Altars (XXVII) – The Prohibition of Bamot (IV)

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy

            In the previous shiur, we saw the division into different stages and periods with regard to the allowance and prohibition of bamot, as per the mishna in Zevachim. The final station mentioned in the mishna is the arrival in Jerusalem and the permanent prohibition of bamot thereafter.

“When They Came to Jerusalem, Bamot Were Forbidden and Were Never Again Permitted”

            After the Temple was built, bamot were permanently forbidden: "When they came to Jerusalem, bamot were forbidden and were never again permitted, and that was the 'inheritance.'" The selection of Jerusalem made it impossible to offer sacrifices outside the Temple from that time on. Thus, we understand why the offering of sacrifices at bamot is one of the primary sins that are consistently mentioned throughout almost the entire First Temple period.

            In this context, it is important to distinguish between the bamot that were built to serve the God of Israel - the prohibition of which lies in their very construction and in the service performed there outside the Temple - and idol worship, the worship of alien gods. Despite the superficial similarity (altar and pillar; multiple sites of worship), the service performed at the bamot was directed exclusively toward the God of Israel. While in the kingdom of Israel there was systematic worship of idols from the days of Achav and thereafter,[1] in the kingdom of Judah, idolatry was only practiced during specific periods – in the days of Rechavam, Yehoram ben Yehoshafat, Achazyahu ben Yehoram, Ataliya, Achaz, Menashe, Amon, Yehoyakim, and Tzidkiyahu.[2] In contrast, Scripture refers to worship at bamot in connection with almost all of the kings of Judah, using almost the same judgmental formulation for each one: "But the bamot were not taken away; the people still sacrificed and burnt incense at the bamot."[3]

Despite the distinction between the service of God at the bamot and idol worship, the two phenomena seem to have a common root. In contrast to the important place that bamot occupied in the days of the First Temple, from the time of the return to Zion and onward, we do not hear of a single bama; there is no historical evidence of bamot during the Second Temple period.[4] We will deal with this matter in the coming shiur, which will address the essence and significance of the prohibition of bamot.

The Reason for the Permanent Prohibition of Bamot Following the Mishkan’s Arrival in Jersalem

            In this shiur, we will examine the significance of the assertion that bamot were permanently forbidden after the Mishkan arrived in Jerusalem and the reason for the prohibition.[5]

        

One of the explanations of the distinction between the time that bamot were permitted and the time that they were prohibited is based on the words of the Meiri, based on the Yerushalmi and the Tosefta, and on the words of the Meshekh Chokhma concerning the relationship between the ark and the Mishkan – whenever the ark was in the Mishkan, bamot were forbidden, but when the ark was not in the Mishkan, for whatever reason, bamot were permitted.
 

This explanation clarifies why bamot were forbidden with the construction of the Mishkan in Shilo and in Jerusalem and why bamot were permitted prior to the building of the Temple, when the Mishkan was in Gilgal, Nov, and Givon.

The mishna describes the final stage as follows: "When they came to Jerusalem, bamot were forbidden and were never again permitted." If the presence of the ark is the rationale for the prohibition of bamot, the question may be raised: Why were bamot forbidden from the days of Yoshiyahu and on, following the destruction of the First Temple, and throughout the Second Temple period – times during which the ark was not found in its appointed place in the Temple?

1. The ark was hidden away in its place, and that suffices for the prohibition of bamot

            One answer depends on the question of where the ark was hidden. The Yerushalmi (Shekalim 6:1) records a Tannaitic dispute regarding the location of the ark following the destruction of the Temple. According to R. Eliezer, it was exiled to Babylonia, whereas according to R. Yehuda ben Lakish, it was stored away in its place, and according to the Rabbis, it was hidden away in the chamber used to store wood.[6]

            Earlier in the tractate (4:2), we find a Tannaitic dispute in which one side maintains that when the Temple vessels are not found in their proper places, the sacrificial service cannot be performed. Accordingly, the Acharonim ask how sacrifices were offered in the Second Temple, when the ark was not found in its appointed place.

            The Keli Chemda in Parashat Pekudei proves from this that the ark is different from the rest of the Temple vessels; its presence is not indispensable for the sacrificial service.

            Other Acharonim propose that even though the ark is not actually in its place, according to R. Yehuda ben Lakish, it is considered to be in its place for the purpose of offering sacrifices.[7] During the period of the Second Temple, the ark was not in its place in the Holy of Holies, but it was found on Mount Moriya deep in the ground (“in its place,” according to R. Yehuda ben Lakish, or in the chamber used to store wood, according to the Rabbis). The ark was therefore considered "present" and the sacrificial service could be performed.

            It may be possible to make a similar argument regarding our issue. The mishna asserts that after the Mishkan arrived in Jerusalem, bamot were never again permitted. According to R. Yehuda ben Lakish and the Rabbis, it may be suggested that there can be no further allowance of bamot because even after the destruction, the ark is found “in its place” and has not disappeared. From the end of the First Temple period (from the time of Yoshiyahu and on), during the time of the destruction, and throughout the Second Temple period, bamot were forbidden because the ark is hidden away deep down in Mount Moriya. Even though it is not found on the surface of the earth, its physical presence in the depths of the mountain prohibits the offering of sacrifices anywhere else; for this purpose, it is considered "present."[8]

            Support for this understanding can be found in the words of Rabbi J.B. Soloveitchik:

At the time when the ark was hidden away, also hidden were the anointing oil, the jar of manna, Aharon's rod with its almonds and blossoms… And who hid them? It was Yoshiya, king of Judah, who hid them. As it is stated: "And the king said to the priests: Put the holy ark…"

This proves that even though the Mishkan is called the Mishkan of Testimony because of the tablets in the ark, the sanctity of the Temple does not depend on the ark of the covenant. For were the ark indispensable for the sanctity of the Temple, how could Yoshiyahu have hidden away the ark, thereby nullifying the sanctity of the Temple? This seems obvious, for during the Second Temple period there was no ark at all.

But there is room to consider the matter, for the Rambam writes: "When Shlomo built the Temple, he was aware that it would ultimately be destroyed. Therefore, he constructed a chamber in which the ark could be entombed below the Temple building in deep, maze-like vaults. King Yoshiyahu commanded that the ark be entombed in the chamber built by Shlomo, as it is stated (II Divrei Ha-Yamim 35:3): "And he said to the Levites who would teach wisdom to all of Israel: Place the holy ark in the chamber built by Shlomo, the son of David, king of Israel. You will no longer carry it on your shoulders. Now, serve the Lord, your God" (Hilkhot Beit Ha-Bechira 4:1).

The Rambam learned from what is stated, "In the chamber built by Shlomo," in the verse which is the source for the hiding away of the ark, that Shlomo himself built the vaults in which to hide the ark. We are forced to say that these vaults were part of the structural plan of the Temple, based on the verse: "All this, said he, is put in writing by the hand of the Lord who instructed me, all the works of this pattern" (I Divrei Ha-Yamim 28:19).

According to this, it is possible that the vaults were considered the place of the ark and that they have the sanctity of the Holy of Holies. See Yoma 52b, where we learned: "Until he reaches the ark." And in the passage there, we learned: "To what are we referring here? If to the First Temple, was there then a curtain? Rather to the Second Temple. Again, if it is to the Second Temple, was there then an ark?… In truth, we refer to the Second Temple, and what does "reaches the ark" mean? The place of the ark.

According to the plain sense, the place of the ark means the place appointed for the ark, as it is subject to the law concerning the sanctity of the place of the ark, even if the ark is not found there in actuality. But according to our proposal, it may be suggested that the place of the ark was subject to the law concerning the sanctity of the ark because the ark was hidden away in a vault in the Temple. According to this, the ark was always in the Temple, and you cannot prove from the fact that the ark was hidden away in a vault built by Shlomo that there is Temple sanctity without the ark, for Yoshiyahu hid the ark away in a vault that was part of the structural plan of the Temple. (Chiddushei Ha-Grid, Keritut 5b)

According to R. Soloveitchik, the vault in which Shlomo hid the ark was part of the structural plan of the Temple built by Shlomo. It is considered the place of the ark and it is endowed with the sanctity of the Holy of Holies.

According to this understanding, "the place of the ark" refers to the place designated for the ark, which maintains its sanctity because the ark was hidden away in a vault in the Temple. The ark was always in the Temple, during the period of the Temple's destruction as well as during the Second Temple period, even when in actuality the ark was hidden away in the depths of the earth and not in the Holy of Holies above the surface of the earth.

Accordingly, the ark is found in the Temple, and any offering of sacrifices outside the Temple is therefore forbidden, for whenever the ark is in the Temple, bamot are forbidden. Even though the ark is hidden away in a vault in the depths of the ground below the site of the Temple itself, it is considered as being in its place.

2. Bamot are indeed permitted if the sanctity of Jerusalem was conferred only temporarily, but not for all time

As is well known, the Tannaim disagree regarding whether the “first sanctity” was conferred only for the time being or for all time (Zevachim 107b). The gemara in Megilla (10a) states explicitly:

R. Yitzchak said: I have heard that sacrifices may be offered in the Temple of Onias at the present day. He was of opinion that the Temple of Onias is not an idolatrous shrine and that the first sanctity [of Jerusalem] was conferred on it for the time being but not for all time, as it is written: "For you are not as yet come to the rest and to the inheritance" (Devarim 12:9). "Rest" here means Shilo and "inheritance" means Jerusalem, and "inheritance" is put on the same footing as "rest," to show that just as after the [destruction of the] "rest," the bamot were again permitted, so after the [destruction of the] "inheritance" they will be permitted.

Rashi writes in Zevachim:[9]

"And it was conferred for all time" – And Jerusalem is the chosen sanctuary, and it is a period when bamot are forbidden.

Those who maintain that the sanctity of Jerusalem was conferred upon it for all time understand that the prohibition of bamot is permanent, while those who maintain that the sanctity of Jerusalem was not conferred upon it for all time may conclude that with the destruction of Jerusalem the sanctity of the Temple ceased. Accordingly, after the destruction, it was permitted to offer sacrifices on bamot.

According to this view, the various stages in the mishna are not connected to the ark, but rather to the sanctity of the place. The sanctity of the place prohibits the offering of sacrifices anywhere else. If the sanctity of the place is nullified, there is no prohibition, for the place of the Temple is in no way impaired.

3. After the destruction of the Temple, one is permitted to offer sacrifices on the site of the altar itself, but nowhere else

Rabbeinu Chayyim (Tosafot, Megilla 10a, s.v. u-mai) states:  

All agree that from the time that they came to Jerusalem bamot were forbidden and never permitted again. And these Tannaim disagree about the following: The one who says that the first sanctity was not conferred [for all time] maintains that today one cannot offer sacrifices even at the site of the altar. And the one who says that the first sanctity was conferred [for all time] maintains that at the site of the altar one is permitted to offer sacrifices, but not on bamot.

The mishna's assertion that "When they came to Jerusalem, bamot were forbidden and were never again permitted" is accepted by all. The Tannaitic dispute relates to the question of whether one is permitted to offer sacrifices after the destruction of the Temple on the site of the altar itself. According to the view that the first sanctity was conferred only for the time being and not for all time, it is forbidden to offer sacrifices even at the site of the altar, while according to the view that the first sanctity was conferred for all time, offering sacrifices at the site of the original altar on Mount Moriya is permitted.

4. God's choice of Jerusalem is forever and it prohibits the offering of sacrifices on bamot outside of it

The verses in Tehillim state:

For the Lord has chosen Zion: He has desired it for His habitation. This is My resting place forever; here will I swell, for I have desired it. (Tehillim 132:13-14)

R. Shimon's exposition in the gemara in Zevachim that "'the rest' is Jerusalem, and 'the inheritance' is Shilo" establishes the essence of Jerusalem as the place where the ark's wanderings and goings out for war and journeys ended. "Then David the king stood up upon his feet, and said: Hear me, my brothers, and my people: As for me, I had it in my heart to build a house of rest for the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and for the footstool of our God, and I had made ready for building" (I Divrei Ha-Yamim 28:2). The house of God is the ark's resting stop. These words reflect the essence, permanence, and eternity of the Temple. “Rest” describes the final destination where the Shekhina will come to rest.

In order to build a house of peace, a man of peace is needed. Thus, God says to David:

Behold, a son shall be born to you who shall be a man of tranquility; and I will give him rest from all his enemies round about, for his name shall be Shlomo, and I will give peace and quietness to Israel in his days. He shall build a house for My name, and he shall be My son, and I will be his father; and I will establish the throne of his kingdom over Israel forever.

            The man of peace will build the house of peace after God gives him rest from all his enemies, as the Torah promises in Parashat Re'eh:

For you are not as yet come to the rest and to the inheritance, which the Lord your God gives you. But when you traverse the Jordan and dwell in the land which the Lord your God gives you to inherit, and when He gives you rest from all your enemies round about, so that you dwell in safety; then there shall be a place which the Lord your God shall choose to cause His name to dwell there; there shall you bring all that I command you; your burnt-offerings, and your sacrifices, your tithes, and the offering of your hand, and all your choice vows which you vow to the Lord. (Devarim 12:9-11)

            God's selection of Jerusalem is for eternity. The Rambam writes (Hilkhot Beit Ha-Bechira 6:16):

Why do I say that the original consecration sanctified the Temple and Jerusalem for all time, while in regard to the consecration of the remainder of Eretz Yisrael, in the context of the Sabbatical year, tithes, and other similar [agricultural] laws, [the original consecration] did not sanctify it for all time? Because the sanctity of the Temple and Jerusalem stems from the Shekhina, and the Shekhina can never be nullified. Therefore, the verse states (Vayikra 26:31): "I will lay waste to your sanctuaries." And the Sages declared: Even though they have been devastated, their sanctity remains.

Based on these words, R. Soloveitchik writes:

The Rambam distinguishes between the sanctity of the Temple, the original consecration of which sanctified it for all time, and the consecration of Eretz Yisrael, the original consecration of which was nullified, and only the second consecration remains for all time…

The sanctity of the Temple stems from the resting of the Shekhina, and this can never be nullified. The sanctity of Eretz Yisrael of Yehoshua stems from conquest. Another conquering power came and nullified it. Eternal sanctity stems from God's choosing… Sanctity of choice means sanctity of the resting of the Shekhina. (Al Ha-Teshuva, pp. 300-305)

R. Soloveitchik draws a direct connection between eternal sanctity and Divine choice. Scripture states:

Since the day that I brought My people out of the land of Egypt, I chose no city among all the tribes of Israel to build a house in, that My name might be there; nor did I choose any man to be a ruler over My people Israel: but I have chosen Jerusalem, that My name might be there; and have chosen David to be over My people Israel. (II Divrei Ha-Yamim 6:5-6)

The Rambam writes (Hilkhot Yesodei Ha-Torah 9:3):

The Sages of the early generations taught as part of the oral tradition: If a prophet tells you to violate the precepts of the Torah as Eliyahu did on Mount Carmel, listen to him with regard to all things except the worship of false gods. This applies when his command is temporary in nature. For example, on Mount Carmel, Eliyahu offered a sacrifice outside [the Temple's premises], even though Jerusalem was chosen for such [service], and one who offers a sacrifice outside [the Temple's premises] is liable for karet. 

According to the Rambam, offering sacrifices outside the Temple's premises contradicts the selection of Jerusalem as the place where sacrifices are offered.

R. Re'em Hakohen attempts to combine these various explanations – the sanctity of Jerusalem, the sanctity of the Temple, and the presence of the ark. The sanctity of the Temple stems from God's choosing of the place. The fundamental place is the Even Ha-Shetiya, the place from which the world was created and where the ark of the covenant rests.

We have seen that there are three different explanations of the various stages listed in the mishna in Zevachim:

The first explanation is based on the presence of the ark in its appointed place in the Holy of Holies. The ark is the most important vessel in the Mishkan and it reflects the resting of the Shekhina. The testimony is placed in the ark, and God meets and speaks with Moshe from above the kaporet from between the two keruvim.

The Ramban in his commentary (Shemot 25:2), as may be recalled, sees the ark as "the most desired aspect of the Mishkan, that is, the site of the resting of the Shekhina, which is the ark, as it is stated: 'And there I will meet with you, and I will speak with you from above the kaporet' (25:22).

The Ramban compares the verses at the end of Parashat Pekudei, which describe the glory of the Lord that filled the Mishkan, to the verses at the end of Parashat Mishpatim, which describe the glory of the Lord on Mount Sinai. From this he concludes that the Divine revelation at Mount Sinai continues in a more hidden manner in the Mishkan: "The mystery of the Mishkan is that the glory that had dwelt on Mount Sinai should rest upon it in a hidden manner."

As we noted previously, beyond the content of the Torah and the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai, there is a one-time revelation of God in the sight of all of Israel, and both have a continuation in the Mishkan. The content of the Torah is found in the broken tablets, the tablets, and the Torah scroll that are a found in and alongside the ark,[10] while the revelation continues above the kaporet from between the two keruvim where God meets with Moshe.

The ark together with the rest of the vessels of the Mishkan (the vessels in the Heikhal: the table, the candelabrum and the incense altar; and the burnt-offering altar in the courtyard) comprise a whole, and the ark is the vessel in which the resting of the Shekhina actually reveals itself. The presence of the Shekhina makes any service outside the Mishkan impossible. Through the very presence of the ark, God chooses the place where He sets His name, and therefore there is no other place to serve God but in the place where He reveals Himself. The worship of God at bamot, in a place that was not chosen by God, denies and disregards God's appearance in a particular place. This is the way to understand the principle that it is the ark that determines the relationship between the allowance and the prohibition of bamot. As may be recalled, this principle is found in the Tosefta, in the Yerushalmi, in the Meiri, and in the words of the Meshekh Chokhma.

The second possibility is that the principle which determines the division of the stages in the mishna in Zevachim between allowance and prohibition of bamot is the sanctity of the place of the Temple. It is not the presence if the ark, but rather the sanctity of the place which determines whether or not it is forbidden to serve God in another place.

According to those who maintain that the sanctity of the place is eternal, from the moment that the place was consecrated, no other place can be consecrated parallel to the sanctity of the one place on Mount Moriya, because that sanctity exists at all times. That sanctity exists until today and will not cease. It does not depend on a structure, and it therefore remains in force even when the Temple is in ruins.

According to this view, offering sacrifices on bamot when there is a place whose sanctity is in force denies the sanctity of the place. This is the position of Rashi in Zevachim (107b, 119a) and Tosafot in Megilla (10a).

We saw that R. Soloveitchik sees an essential connection between sanctity and God's selection of the place. The third possibility is that the reason for the prohibition of bamot is God's choosing of the place. This selection reflects a special attitude toward the place.

It is clear that the first choosing of the place took place when God created the world from that place. The choosing of the place continues, according to the Rambam, in the creation of man and the offering of his sacrifice, in the sacrifices of Kayin and Hevel, in the sacrifice of Noah, in the Akeida of Yitzchak, in David's building of an altar in the threshing floor of Aravna the Jebusite, and in Shlomo's building of the house of God. God's choosing of the place means a continuation of God's constant relationship with the place. The clearest expression of this choosing is found in Tehillim: "This is My resting place forever." We saw the various dimensions of this rest.

The Divine selection of the place turns every offering of a sacrifice outside of the place selected by God into a denial of that selection, and it is therefore prohibited.

(Translated by David Strauss) 

 


[1] This is not the formu to elaborate on the relationship between the golden calves in Dan and Bet-El, service at bamot, and idol worship in the kingdom of Israel.

[2] Here are several references in the books of Melakhim and Yirmeyahu: I Melakhim 14:22-24; 15:12-13; 22:47; II Melakhim 8:18, ,27; 11:18; 16:10-15; 21:3-7, 21-22; Yirmeyahu 25:6-7; 32:29-35. Divrei Ha-Yamim expands further upon this issue with respect to some of the kings.

[3] Thus or with slight variations in I Melakhim 15:14; 22:44; II Melakhim 12:4; 14:4; 15:4, 35). In contrast, in the days of Chizkeyahu and Yoshiyahu, a great effort was made to eradicate sacrificial service at bamot and the formulation is different. See II Melakhim 18:4, 22; 23.

This is not stated explicitly with respect to Yoshiyahu, but in light of the absence of the aforementioned formulation - together with the broad description of his work and the assertion that "Like him there was no king before him, who turned to the Lord with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the Torah of Moshe; neither after him arose therere any like him" (II Melakhim 23:25) - it stands to reason that this indeed was the case. See also Yehuda Kil's Da'at Mikra commentary, II Melakhim 23:5. In the excavations at Tel Arad, a structure was found from the end of the First Temple period that appears to have served as some sort of temple and to have been intentionally destroyed in the days of Yoshiyahu. See Ha-Entzyklopedia Ha-Chadasha Le-Chafirot Arkhiologiyot Be-Eretz Yisrael, ed. A. Stern (Jerusalem, 1992), vol. 4, s.v. Arad, pp. 1268-1269.

[4] This is not the forum in which to discuss the Temple of Onias, which was built and operated during the Second Temple period. See Megilla 10a and Menachot 109b.

[5] In this we follow the fundamental approach of Re'em Hakohen in his book, "Derekh Sha'ar Ha-Elyon Etzel Mizbach Ha-Nechoshet," pp. 136ff., to which we will add our opinion on the issue.

[6] Each of the Tannaim adduces textual proof to his position regarding what happened to the ark. We will not expand here on these proofs.

[7] The editor of the Schottenstein edition of the Talmud (Shekalim 15b, note 22) cites many references to this position.

[8] Clearly, this explanation does not apply according to the position of R. Eliezer that the ark was exiled to Babylonia.

[9] This is also his position in Zevachim 119a (s.v. zo ve-zo Shilo): "And regarding the sanctity of Jerusalem itself he maintains that there is an allowance after it."

[10] The Sages disagree as to whether the Torah scroll was found inside the ark or on a shelf on the side of the ark (Bava Batra 14b).