Mariano asked:

I'm writing with a question. First, I want to make sure that I understand the following statements of the Talmud correctly. Apparently we are being told that for some reason 40 years before the destruction of the Temple various events occurred that seem to, it seems to me, imply a change in how Judaism will function (since we do not have a priesthood, a Temple or sacrifices). I'm providing the quotes here since this is the edition that I have access to at our local University library (the footnotes are printed in the text which is the Soncino edition).

Rosh Hashanah 31b, "Originally they used to fasten the thread of scarlet on the door of the [Temple] court on the outside.(1) If it turned white the people used to rejoice,(2) and if it did not turn white they were sad. They therefore made a rule that it should be fastened to the door of the court on the inside. People, however, still peeped in and saw, and if it turned white they rejoiced and if it did not turn white they were sad. They therefore made a rule that half of it should be fastened to the rock and half between the horns of the goat that was sent [to the wilderness]...For forty years before the destruction of the Temple the thread of scarlet never turned white but remained red." Footnotes: (1) After the High Priest had performed the service on the Day of Atonement. V. Yoma, 67a. (2) This being a sign that their sins had been forgiven.

Yoma 39b, "Our Rabbis taught: During that last forty years before the destruction of the Temple the lot ['For the Lord'] did not come up in the right hand; nor did the crimson-coloured strap become white; nor did the westernmost light shine; and the doors of the Hekal would open by themselves, until R. Johanan b. Zakkai rebuked them, saying: Hekal, Hekal, why wilt thou be the alarmer thyself?(1) I know about thee that thou wilt be destroyed, for Zechariah ben Ido has already prophesied concerning thee: (2) Open thy doors, O Lebanon, that the fire may devour thy cedars.(3) R. Issac b. Tablai said: Why is its(4) name called Lebanon? Because it makes white the sins of Israel." Footnotes: (1) Predict thy own destruction. (2) I.e., concerning this significant omen of the destruction of the Temple. (3) Zech. XI, 1. Ido was his grandfather, but it occurs occasionally that a man is called 'the son' after a distinguished ancestor. (4) The Sanctuary.

Finally in Yoma 39b, footnote 1, p. 186, Soncino it states, "Men. 109b. Tosaf Sotah 38a suggests that the Ineffable Name could be pronounced only when there was some indication that the Shechinah rested on the Sanctuary. When Simon the Righteous died, with many indications that such glory was no more enjoyed, his brethren no more dared utter the Ineffable Name."

I can't seem to understand what the point is. I mean what is this reference to forty years before the destruction of the Temple what is this a reference to? The text does not seem to state what happened then or why it had such an impact. I suppose I would say that the effect is described (in quotes such as those above) but I cannot seem to find the cause.

I would greatly appreciate any help you could offer me. Thank you in advance and Shalom.

Mariano, Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA

The Kollel replies:

You raise an interesting question, the answer to which I have not yet find discussed explicitly. There certainly were a list of miracles (some which you did not mention) that ceased to occur forty years before the Temple's destruction, as the Gemara (Talmud) in Yoma tells us. (The part about Simon the Righteous, though, is unrelated; his death occured much earlier.)

Judging by the timing, it would seem to be related to an event recorded in Gemara Avodah Zarah 8b: Forty years before the destruction of the Temple the Sanhedrin (High Court) moved from their normal place in the courtyard of the Temple to a place called "Chanuyos." The background to this event is that the courts may kill a person for violating a prohibition which bears the death penalty only as long as the Sanhedrin is in their place alongside the altar, i.e. in the Temle courtyard. Forty years before the destruction of the Temple there were so many killers, and so many false witnesses, that the Sanhedrin saw there was no point in continuing to judge capital cases in court. They moved from their place to make it clear that they were no longer judging capital cases (Rashi Rosh Hashanah 31a; or to make it impossible to do so, Yad Ramah Sanhedrin 41a).

When the body which interprets for us the Word of the Lord is no longer in the vicinity of the Temple, the entire Temple service apparently fell a notch in sanctity (from the perspective of the One Above). The two must be together for the service to be fully effective. The Lord displayed His displeasure in the ways mentioned by the Gemara in Yoma.

Best wishes,

M. Kornfeld

Dafyomi Advancement Forum

P.S. Please ask your University librarian to order the Artscroll Talmud for the library. It has a much more accurate translation and a fuller elucidation of the sources. Was there any particular reason that this Gemara caught your eye?

Mariano asks:

Dear M. Kornfeld,

Thank you so very much for your thoughtful and speedy response, which raises some more questions.

I suppose that one of the reasons that the Gemara caught my eye is that I had supposed that the Priesthood and sacrifices came to an end due to the Temple's destruction in 70 CE. But apparently there was something that happened specifically in 30 CE (which may be as you stated, the moving of the Sanhedrin) that was the catalyst for the subsequent events and final destruction of the Temple.

Realizing this has really made me think that in this particular point in time (30 CE) the religion that was specified to us by G~d Himself ceased to function in the manner in which He had specified it to us. This seems like no small matter for it means that even before the Temple was destroyed our sins were not being forgiven and the Temple ceased to fulfill its function.

I hope that you will not mind some further questions:

(a) Thank you for pointing out that the part about Simon the Righteous occurred much earlier. Does this then mean that even before 70 CE and before 30 CE the Shechinah left the Temple? When then was it that Simon died?

(b) You also mentioned that there were other miracles which I did not mention. I have heard that Josephus recorded some of these occurrences but have not been able to find them as of yet. What others are there? If you can please sent me whatever other information you have on this issue, I would greatly appreciate it.


Mariano, Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA

The Kollel replies:

(a) Shimon ha'Tzadik was still alive in 312 BCE, so lets say he passed away sometime before 250 BCE. (some 320 years before the desctruction of the Temple - or 100 years after it was rebuilt).

(b) I'm sorry, your mention of Yoma 31b threw me off. You indeed caught all of them, as they are recorded in Yoma 39b.

M. Kornfeld