Three Revolutions of July

Lessons of Fall of Second Temple, Bastille Day and July Fourth

Seeds of Freedom: The triumph of the human spirit embodied in the American and French revolutions has its roots, ironically, in the tragedy of the fall of the Second Temple.
getty images
Seeds of Freedom: The triumph of the human spirit embodied in the American and French revolutions has its roots, ironically, in the tragedy of the fall of the Second Temple.

By J.J. Goldberg

Published July 04, 2012, issue of July 13, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

It’s not for nothing that the Chinese communist leader Chou En-lai, asked by Richard Nixon in 1972 what he thought of the French Revolution, answered, “It’s too early to tell.” (Some witnesses say Chou thought he was discussing the students’ uprising of 1968).

The destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem isn’t usually discussed as a revolution, much less a triumph of the human spirit. A seminal, defining moment in Jewish collective memory, looming nearly as large as the Exodus from Egypt, it was above all a blood-soaked defeat. It spelled the end of Jewish national sovereignty in the Land of Israel and the beginning of two millennia of homelessness and powerlessness. The anniversary on the Ninth of Av is observed each year as a day of fasting and mourning for what was lost.

What’s often forgotten is that the tragedy of the destruction of the Temple contained the seeds of a blessing. It allowed the transformation of Judaism from a priestly sacrificial cult, tied to a specific hilltop in Jerusalem, into a religious culture rooted in the ethical interaction of the individual and the community. Generations of scholars, responding to the destruction, sat together to reimagine the legal code of an agrarian kingdom as a moral code that could be lived in many places and times.

The reimagining began with a received document, the Torah. But it was handed on, in the Talmud and afterward, as a series of debates, arguments and counterarguments that has continued through the centuries. And because the debate never ended, Judaism was able to survive, a living, evolving system of ideas and actions, ultimately resting not on a hilltop altar but within each individual. In a sense, God lost his home atop Mount Moriah and came to dwell within the human soul.

Through its daughter-faiths, Christianity and Islam, Judaism spread its spirit around the globe to embrace half of humanity. Ultimately, one could argue, they planted the seeds of the modern ethic of individual responsibility, individual sovereignty and human dignity. But Judaism itself survived intact because of the living code of law.

The revolutions of July have been pored over endlessly, each in its own way, and yielded up countless lessons. This year, though, the most important lesson may be this: Ideas, even the most sublime of them, thrive best when they are embodied in law. And law survives only when it is allowed to live, grow and evolve.

Contact J.J. Goldberg at goldberg@forward.com


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • BREAKING: Smirking killer singled out Jews for death in suburban Kansas City rampage. 3 die in bloody rampage at JCC and retirement home.
  • Real exodus? For Mimi Minsky, it's screaming kids and demanding hubby on way down to Miami, not matzo in the desert.
  • The real heroines of Passover prep aren't even Jewish. But the holiday couldn't happen without them.
  • Is Handel’s ‘Messiah’ an anti-Semitic screed?
  • Meet the Master of the Matzo Ball.
  • Pierre Dulaine wants to do in his hometown of Jaffa what he did for kids in Manhattan: teach them to dance.
  • "The first time I met Mick Jagger, I said, 'Those are the tackiest shoes I’ve ever seen.'” Jewish music journalist Lisa Robinson remembers the glory days of rock in her new book, "There Goes Gravity."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.