Lecture 33: The History of the Resting of the Shekhina (Part XVII) - The Prohibition of Bamot ֠Its History and Significance (Part I)
Now that we have clarified the meaning of the words, "In all places where I pronounce My name, I will come to you and I will bless you" (Shemot 20:20), I wish to return to the Rambam's position – which, in my opinion, accords with the plain sense of Scripture - according to which the command, "An altar of earth you shall make to Me" (ibid.), relates to the allowance of bamot, that is, the periods of time during which any person could offer a sacrifice wherever he pleased.
In practice, the allowance to offer sacrifices outside of the Mishkan was limited to very specific periods, as is explained in detail in the following mishna:
Until the Mishkan was erected, bamot were permitted…
When the Mishkan was erected, bamot were forbidden…
They came to Gilgal and bamot were permitted…
They came to Shilo and bamot were forbidden. There was no ceiling there, but rather a stone structure at the bottom and curtains on top. This was the "rest" (Devarim 12:9)…
They came to Nov and to Giv'on and bamot were permitted…
They came to
The mishna distinguishes between various periods: prior to the building of the Mishkan; the building of the Mishkan and its wanderings in the wilderness; the Mishkan in Gilgal when
In this lecture, I will try to present the various periods in the history of the prohibition. As we shall see, the division recorded in the mishna is proven by Scripture and faithfully reflects what is described in the Torah and the books of the Prophets.
I. Prior to the Building of the Mishkan
According to the mishna, "until the Mishkan was erected, bamot were permitted." Indeed, after God reveals Himself to Moshe at the burning bush and informs him, "When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God upon this mountain" (Shemot 3:12), Moshe asks Pharaoh time after time for permission to sacrifice to God (ibid. v. 18), to serve Him and hold a feast to Him (ibid. 4:23; 5:1; 7:16, 26; 8:5, 16, 21-25; 9:1, 13; 10:3, 8-9, 24-26). Following the exodus from
And Moshe built an altar, and called the name of it Adonai Nissi. (Shemot 17:15)
Note that the Torah does not mention the offering of sacrifices; the altar was built as an expression of thanksgiving and as a memorial for later generations, and thus it was similar to the altars built by the patriarchs (see lecture no. 14 in last year's series).
A second altar was built by Moshe at the foot of
And Moshe wrote all the words of the Lord, and rose up early in the morning, and built an altar under the hill, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of
The revelation at
These two altars exemplify the situation in which bamot are permitted and the service is performed by firstborns, and constitute a continuation of the building of altars and offering of sacrifices by the patriarchs as described in the book of Bereishit.
II. When the Mishkan was Erected – the Mishkan in the Wilderness
Much can be learned about nature of Divine worship during the period that the Mishkan and the Israelite camp were in the wilderness from a particular passage in chapter 17 in the book of Vayikra. The passage is divided into two parts. The second part, which will not be discussed here, deals primarily with the prohibition of eating blood. The first part is itself divided into two sections:
(1) Whatever man there be of the house of Israel who kills an ox, or lamb, or goat, in the camp, or that kills it outside the camp, and brings it not to the door of the Tent of Meeting to offer an offering to the Lord before the tabernacle of the Lord - blood shall be imputed to that man; he has shed blood, and that man shall be cut off from among his people. To the end that the children of Israel may bring their sacrifices, which they offer in the open field, and that they may bring them to the Lord, to the door of the Tent of Meeting, to the priest, and offer them for peace offerings to the Lord. And the priest shall sprinkle the blood upon the altar of the Lord at the door of the Tent of Meeting, and burn the fat for a sweet savor to the Lord. And they will no more offer their sacrifices to the demons (se'irim), after whom they have gone astray. This shall be a statute for ever to them throughout their generations.
(2) And you shall say to them - Whatever man there be of the house of
On the level of the plain sense of Scripture, the Ramban offers a convincing explanation according to which these verses are dealing with two different prohibitions. One prohibition (verses 8-9) is the prohibition to offer sacrifices outside of the Mishkan, referred to in halakhic literature as the prohibition of "shechutei chutz." This, in fact, is the first source for the prohibition of bamot. The first part of this passage (verses 3-7) deals with a second prohibition, which forbids the slaughtering of an animal outside of the Mishkan for the purpose of eating. The eating of meat is permitted in only one way - bringing the animal to the Mishkan as a peace offering. Here is part of the Ramban's comment (Vayikra 17:2):
At first, it imposes [the punishment of] karet on anyone who slaughters outside [the Mishkan] even non-consecrated animals. This is the prohibition of "meat eaten to satisfy the appetite." And it gives the reason so that he should consecrate them to God and the priest should sprinkle the blood on the altar of God and burn the fat on it. Afterwards, it warns that one should not make an altar for God outside and offer upon it the aforementioned peace offerings or burnt offerings, as is done with consecrated animals during the period when bamot are permitted. Only at the door of the Tent of Meeting may one offer them to God.
We see, then, that Scripture forbids all slaughter outside the Mishkan. When, however, the people of
That which it says, "Nonetheless, you may slaughter animals and eat their flesh to your heart's desire, etc." (Devarim 12:15), comes to teach that in the Land you need not observe the prohibition stated here not to slaughter non-consecrated animals whatsoever and that everything should be made into peace offerings on God's altar. And it explains there (v. 20) the reason: "When the Lord your God shall enlarge your border, etc." That is to say, that the prohibition applied at first when they were in the wilderness, where it was easy for them to bring all their sacrifices to the door of the Tent of Meeting. But after He will enlarge their borders, they will eat meat to satisfy the appetite and slaughter [the animals] in their gates, but not the consecrated animals… This is the position of Rabbi Yishmael in these sections. And from here he said that at first meat eaten to satisfy the appetite was forbidden. This is the most seemly understanding of Scripture according to the plain sense of the text.
As the Ramban alludes, the existence of the prohibition of meat eaten to satisfy the appetite, and thus the understanding of the entire passage, are subject to a controversy between Rabbi Yishmael and Rabbi Akiva. We have seen Rabbi Yishmael's position, which the Ramban (and we in his wake) sees as the plain understanding of the biblical text. The controversy is brought in the Gemara in Chullin (16b-17a), and it is summarized by Rav Samson R. Hirsch in his commentary to Vayikra 17:3:
In Chullin 16b and 17a there is a difference of opinion between Rabbi Yishmael and Rabbi Akiva. According to the former during the whole period of the sojourn in the wilderness, meat eaten to satisfy the appetite, i.e. killing an ox, or a lamb, or a goat solely for the purpose of eating the meat, was forbidden. Only that which had been consecrated as peace offerings, and, as such, brought as an offering in the Mishkan could afterward be eaten by the owners. It was only after the entry into the Land that meat eaten to satisfy the appetite was permitted to them, and the permitting order in Devarim 12:20-21 would refer to this. Then, as Rashi says there in Chullin, the prohibition of meat eaten to satisfy the appetite in the wilderness would be contained here in verses 3-7.
But according to Rabbi Akiva, the killing and eating of a non-consecrated animal was not prohibited in the wilderness; even in the wilderness it was permitted to slaughter and eat a non-consecrated animal. The law in Devarim 12:20-21 would only give the command for ritual slaughter which, before the entry in the Land, was only required of consecrated animals, whereas the character of nevela was removed from non-consecrated animals by simple killing (see notes there in Devarim). In accordance with that conception, our verses here, as well as the laws which follow in verses 8-9, would only refer to the consecrated animals outside the Mishkan.
According to Rabbi Akiva, then, the entire passage deals with consecrated animals, specifically the prohibition of slaughtering consecrated animals outside of the Mishkan (the prohibition of bamot). This understanding of the passage, whose advocate among the biblical commentators is Rashi, is brought in tractate Zevachim (106b-107a). According to this understanding, the first part of the selection from Vayikra (verses 3-7) deals with the slaughter of consecrated animals outside the Mishkan, and the second part with their sacrifice outside the Mishkan.
Whether we follow the position of Rabbi Yishmael or we accept the understanding of Rabbi Akiva, the passage in Vayikra has a clear objective - to concentrate the people of
Rabbi Pinchas said in the name of Rabbi Levi: This may be likened to a prince who was gluttonous and accustomed to eat meat of animals that were not properly slaughtered. The king said: This one shall always dine at my table, and he will become restrained on his own. So, too, because Israel had eagerly worshipped idols in Egypt and offered their sacrifices to demons, as it is stated: "And they no more offer their sacrifices to the se'irim" (Vayikra 17:7), and se'irim are demons, as it is stated: "And they sacrificed to the shedim (demons)" (Devarim 32:17), and these shedim are se'irim, as it is stated: "And se'irim will dance there" (Yeshayahu 13:21), and they offered sacrifices violating the prohibition of bamot and calamities fell upon them, the Holy One, blessed be He, said: Let them offer their sacrifices before Me at all times in the Tent of Meeting, and they will be separated from idol worship and they will be saved. This is what is written: "Whatever man there be of the house of
The people of
For our purposes, it is important to note that the distancing from worshipping se'irim is the exclusive reason for the prohibition of slaughtering animals outside the Mishkan during the period of
Since the wording of the prohibition of bamot makes it dependent upon the camp, i.e., "who kills an ox, or lamb, or goat, in the camp," and sets as the reason, "to the end that the children of
In other words, it is possible that the reason for the prohibition of bamot in the wilderness is different than the reason for the prohibition of bamot in Eretz Ysrael.
Before concluding this section, I wish to discuss the meaning of the allowance of meat eaten to satisfy the appetite, which went into effect with
In Eretz Yisrael the entire situation changed. First and foremost, the geographical reality changed. The tribes settled in their various territories, some of which were located far away from the Mishkan (and later, from the Mikdash). Under these circumstances, it was no longer possible to obligate people to appear in the Mishkan in order to eat meat, and therefore meat eaten to satisfy the appetite was permitted. The second change related to the spiritual solidification around the Mishkan; the Israelite camp was closed down, and each tribe occupied itself in settling its own territory and dealing with its own affairs. The settlement of the Land and establishment of a hold on and rule over it reached their climax with the resting of the Shekhina in the Mishkan in Shilo, and later in the Mikdash on
III. Arvot Mo'av – the Fortieth Year to the Exodus from Egypt
Precisely until when did the prohibition of bamot during
You shall not do after all the things that we do here this day, every man whatever is right in his own eyes. 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… (Devarim 12:8-11)
The commentators disagree about how to understand the words, "after all the things that we do here this day, every man whatever is right in his own eyes," and propose various explanations. It seems, however, that according to the plain sense of the biblical text, the verse is referring to the prohibition of sacrificing "in every place that you see" appearing later in the passage: "Take heed to yourself that you offer not your burnt offerings in every place that you see, but only in the place which the Lord shall choose in one of your tribes, there you shall offer your burnt offerings" (ibid. vv. 13-14). In other words, after you enter into the Land, when the time comes to build the Mikdash (see Rashi, ibid. v. 11), you will no longer be able to sacrifice "every man whatever is right in his own eyes," wherever you please, i.e., on bamot – but rather only in the Mikdash.
What, then, is the meaning of the words, "here this day?" Surely it would seem that the bamot were only permitted after
IV. From the Entry Into the Land and Until the Building of the Mikdash
440 years elapsed between the entry into Eretz Yisrael and the building of the Mikdash (based on I Melakhim 6:1); this period is divided, according to Chazal (Zevachim 118b), into four periods: 14 years during which the Mishkan was in Gilgal; 369 years in Shilo; and 57 years in Nov and Giv'on (13 in Nov and 44 in Giv'on). The basis for this division is chapter 12 of the book of Devarim in the passage that establishes the prohibition of bamot for future generations, one verse of which we dealt with above:
You shall not do after all the things that we do here this day, every man whatever is right in his own eyes. 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…
Take heed to yourself that you offer not your burnt offerings in every place that you see; but only in the place which the Lord shall choose in one of your tribes, there you shall offer your burnt offerings, and there you shall do all that I command you…
You may not eat within your gates the tithe of your corn, or of your wine, or of your oil, or the firstlings of your herds or of your flock, or any of your vows which you vow, or your freewill offerings, or offering of your hand; but you must eat them before the Lord your God in the place which the Lord your God shall choose…" (Devarim 12:8-11; 13-14; 17-18)
Scripture connects the prohibition of bamot on the arrival "to the rest and to the inheritance," and the mishna in Zevachim explains that "the rest" is Shilo and "the inheritance" is
"For you are not as yet come to the rest and to the inheritance." "To the rest" – this is Shilo; "the inheritance" – this is
In other words, Chazal saw this verse as the source for the prohibition of bamot during the period of Shilo and from the time of coming to
Only the people sacrificed in high places (ba-bamot), because there was no house built to the name of the Lord, until those days. And Shlomo loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of David his father; only he sacrificed and burnt incense in high places (bamot). And the king went to Giv'on to sacrifice there; for that was the great high place (ha-bama ha-gedola)… (I Melakhim 3:2-4)
An explanation for the allowance of bamot during these periods appears in the Yerushalmi:
Rabbi Yasa in the name of Rabbi Yochanan: This is the sign: Whenever the ark is inside, bamot are forbidden; when it goes out, bamot are permitted. (Yerushalmi, Megila 1:12)
We already discussed at length the Meshekh Chokhma's explanation that bamot are only permitted when the ark is separated from the Mishkan or great bama (e.g., when
V. "They Came to Jerusalem and Bamot were Forbidden, and Never Again Permitted"
After the Mikdash was built, bamot were forbidden forevermore: "They came to
Indeed, offering sacrifices on bamot is one of the main sins consistently mentioned throughout the first
In this context, it is important to distinguish between service performed at bamot that were built to serve God, the prohibition lying in their construction and in the service performed on them outside the Mikdash, and idol worship. Despite the superficial similarity (an altar, a pillar, and multiple ritual sites), the service at the bamot was directed exclusively to God. While in the kingdom of Israel, idol worship continued in a regular manner from the days of Achav and on, in the kingdom of Yehuda, idol worship was only practiced in particular periods – in the days of Rechav'am, Yehoram the son of Yehoshafat, Achazyahu the son of Yehoram, Atalya, Achaz, Menashe, Amon, Yehoyakim and Tzidkiyahu (see I Melakhim 14:23-24; 15:12-13; 22:47; II Melakhim 8:18, 27; 11:18; 16:10-15; 21:3-7, 21-22; Yirmiyahu 25:6-7; 32:29-35). Regarding bamot, however, Scripture repeats with respect to almost every king of Yehuda more or less the same fixed judgment - "Nevertheless, the high places were not taken away; for the people still offered and burnt incense in the high places" (thus or with slight variations in I Melakhim 15:14; 22:44; II Melakhim 12:4; 14:4; 15:4, 35) – with the exception of the days of Chizkiyahu and Yoshiyahu, during which time a concerted effort was made to eradicate worship at bamot (see II Melakhim 18:4, 22 and 23).
Despite the clear distinction between the service of God at the bamot and idol worship, the two phenomena seem to have a common root. Indeed, as opposed to the important role that they both played during the first
(Translated by David Strauss)
 In the continuation, Rav Hirsch asserts that the plain sense of the verses supports, as was argued by the Ramban, the understanding of Rabbi Yishmael, and he brings proofs to this assertion: "The Rambam, Hilkhot Shechita 4:17, accepts the position of Rabbi Akiva, but the Ramban notes here that the statements of Chazal tend mostly toward the position of Rabbi Yishmael, and the plain sense of the verses also supports this position. If we compare the wording of verses 3-4 to that of verses 8-9, it seems that the first set of verses is dealing with unconsecrated animals, whereas the second set is dealing with consecrated animals. The objects in verse 3 are an ox, a lamb and a goat, whereas in verse 8 the objects are a burnt offering and a sacrifice. It seems, then, that what is forbidden here is to slaughter an ox, a lamb or a goat outside the courtyard of the Mishkan to be eaten as an unconsecrated animal, for these animals are fit to serve as sacrifices; they must be slaughtered and offered in the courtyard of the Tent of Meeting as peace offerings. Therefore, Devarim 12:20 adds: 'When the Lord your God shall enlarge your border… you may eat meat, to your heart's desire;' with these words, the prohibition of meat eaten to satisfy one's appetite was limited to the period of Israel's stay in the wilderness – and cancelled with their entry into the Land."
 We shall not expand here on the nature of this idol worship. See Ibn Ezra and Ramban on Vayikra 17:7 (and so also on Vayikra 16:8), and the Rambam's Guide for the Perplexed, III, chapter 46.
 Regarding the worship of se'irim in the wilderness, see the sources noted in the previous note. For example, Guide for the Perplexed (ibid.): "For it was one of the generally accepted opinions that the jinn lived in deserts and held converse and appeared there, but did not appear in cities and cultivated places; so that whenever a townsman wished to do something in the ways of this insanity, he had to go from the city to the desert and to isolated places."
It should be noted that the Rambam's interpretation of the passage is not consistent. In Hilkhot Shechita (4:17-18; see Rav. S.R. Hirsch, cited in note 1), the Rambam rules in accordance with Rabbi Akiva; in keeping with that ruling, he writes in his commentary to the mishna that the reason for offering sacrifices to the se'irim is connected to the prohibition of bamot. On the other hand, in Moreh Nevukhim, the Rambam accepts the position of Rabbi Yishmael that meat eaten to satisfy the appetite was forbidden in the wilderness, and assigns the aforementioned reason to this prohibition.
 Without a doubt, this is a significant halakhic change, which Chazal saw as an example of the principle that "the Holy One, blessed be He, forbade many things, but elsewhere He permitted them" (Devarim Rabba 4, 6).
 Rashi explains (based on the Sifrei, Devarim, sec. 65) that the verse is referring to the allowance of bamot after Israel crosses the Jordan, and that "You shall not do… every man whatever is right in his own eyes" means that not all sacrifices can be offered on bamot, as in the Mishkan, but only freewill offerings. According to the Rashbam, the reference is to sacrifices in the Mishkan, which moves from place to place. The Ibn Ezra and the Ramban explain that in the wilderness the people of
 He adds that even if, formally speaking, the prohibition was not yet cancelled, the rebuke implicit in the words, "every man whatever is right in his own eyes," is not severe, because the reason for the prohibition was no longer valid.
 As proof for his contention that the words, "this day," does not necessarily mean "today" in the literal sense, R. Hoffman cites two other verses in the book of Devarim: "Hear, O Israel, you are to pass over the Jordan this day" (9:1); "That He may establish His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day" (8:18).
 The Gemara (Zevachim 119a) records a Tannaitic dispute on the matter: "Our Rabbis taught: 'Rest' – this is Shilo; 'inheritance' – this is
 During the days of Gilgal, an altar was built on
 This is the source of the term "prohibition of bamot" – a term that is not found in the two places in the Torah that deal with this prohibition. It should be noted that the word "bamot" appears in the sense of altars used for idol worship already in Bamidbar 22:41 in the phrase "bamot ba'al;" in connection with the service of God it appears first in I Shmuel 9:12.
 The allowance of bamot as an expression of the independent status of the altar was discussed in lecture no. 5 in last year's series. The Meshekh Chokhma's understanding was discussed at length in lecture no. 6 of that series.
 This is not the forum to expand on the relationship between the golden calves in Dan and Bet-El, worship at the bamot, and idol worship in the
 The references cited here are limited to the books of Melakhim and Yirmiyahu. Divrei Ha-yamim expands on this matter with respect to some of the kings.
 This is not explicitly stated with respect to Yoshiyahu, but in light of the absence of the aforementioned formula, together with the extensive description of his work and the assertion that "And like him was there no king before him, that 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 there any like him" (II Melakhim 23:25), it stands to reason that this was the case. See also the words of Yehuda Kil in the Da'at Mikra commentary to II Melakhim 23:5. In the excavations at Tel Ara, a structure was uncovered that dates to the end of the first
 In this framework we will not discuss the