Mimetic Rivalry and The Temple’s Destruction

The rabbis teach that the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in 586 BCE and again in 70 CE on Tisha b’Av ( the ninth of Av, Aug 10, 2008 ) because of sinat chinam, or causeless hatred, among the Jewish people.

Faithful Girardians will note the irony — the Temple, with its animal sacrifices performed by the Kohanim, or descendants of Aaron — was a system to channel mimetic rivalry and the scapegoat mechanism. Indeed, Temple ritual is where we derive the term scapegoat itself. While midrash identifies infighting (sinat chinam) as the cause of the Temple’s destruction, it could be argued that such behavior is the result of the Temple system’s growing ineffectiveness. The military defeat simply showed what had already come to pass — the Israelites no longer kept the Covenant.

The destruction of the temple is memorialized by an evening reading of Lamentations while sitting on the floor (sometimes lit only by candles), followed by a day long fast. One study tool recently noted that since sinat chinam led to the Temple’s destruction, we should focus on ahavat chinam, or causeless love. This is a worthy response.

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