Thursday, December 27, 2018

The Holy Land, the Holy City and the Holy Temple



The Land of Israel is known as the Holy Land, Jerusalem is the Holy City, and the Temple Mount is the holiest place of all. But what does that actually mean?

Do these places possess an intrinsic, metaphysical sanctity, embedded in them since Creation? That is the mystical view presented by R. Yehudah HaLevi in the Kuzari (V:23). It is the view taken as a given by countless rabbinic authorities over the ages, and popularly assumed today to be the only conceivable approach.

Rambam, on the other hand, was of the view that the sanctity of these places is not a metaphysical quality. Rather, it is a status that stems from their historical role. When Rambam stresses that the site of the altar must never be moved, the reason that he gives is not that it possesses inherent metaphysical significance. Rather, it is because of the history of the site, in terms of the events that took place there—the placement of the altar there by David and Solomon, the usage of that site by Avraham, and so on (Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Beit HaBechirah 2:1-2).

And the original selection of these sites could have been for relatively mundane reasons. Rambam's explanation for the selection of the Temple Mount will no doubt come as a shock to many:
"It is known that idolaters sought to build their temples and to set up their idols in the highest places they could find there, on the highest mountains. Therefore Avraham Avinu selected Mount Moriah, because of its being the highest mountain there, and proclaimed on it the unity of God." (Guide for the Perplexed 3:45)

Within Mount Moriah, Avraham decided that any divine worship would take place facing the west, and the the Temple itself was eventually situated there. The reason for this was again not connected to any special metaphysical properties of the westernmost part, but for a different reason entirely:
"Avraham designated the western part of it, that the Holy of Holies would be in the west… And it appears to me that the reason for this was that the popular view in the world at that time was to worship the sun as a god, and so people undoubtedly turned in prayer to the east. Therefore, Avraham Avinu turned to the west on Har HaMoriah—that is to say, in the Sanctuary—in order to have his back to the sun." (ibid.)

The consequence of Rambam's view, that the sanctity of the Land is a function of its usage rather than due to any intrinsic metaphysical qualities, is that this sanctity can disappear:
"All territories held by those who came up from Egypt, and consecrated with the first consecration, subsequently lost their sanctity when the people were exiled from there, since it was consecrated at the time due to the conquest alone and was not consecrated for all time. When the exiles returned and seized part of the land, they consecrated it a second time with a permanent consecration, both for that time and the future. " (Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Terumot 1:5)

This view on the nature of the sanctity of the Land of Israel is not unique to Rambam, nor to the medieval philosophers. The same view is to be found in the writings of Rav Soloveitchik:
"With all my respect to the [views of certain] Rishonim, I must disagree that kedusha is an objective metaphysical quality inherent in the land. Kedusha… is man-made; more accurately, it is a historical category. Soil is sanctified by historical deeds performed by a sacred people, never by a primordial superiority. Kedushat Ha’aretz denotes the consequence of a human act." (Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, The Emergence of Ethical Man, p. 150)

It is crucial to stress that this does not mean that according to the rationalist approach, the Land of Israel or Jerusalem or the Temple Mount are any less holy than according to the mystical approach. Rather, it is simply a different perspective on what the nature of holiness is all about.

(Adapted from my forthcoming book Rationalism vs. Mysticism: Schisms in Traditional Rabbinic Thought. For extensive discussion, see Menachem Kellner's important work, Maimonides' Confrontation with Mysticism, pp. 107-115. He also references numerous other studies on this topic.)

56 comments:

  1. And Yaakov awoke and said: Indeed G-d is in this place, but I did not know... This is none other than a Bet Elo-him, and this is the gate of heaven (Vayetzei).

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  2. I'm not sure you intended it but the impression given by your choice of image above is that kissing the ground of Israel derives from perception of it as having inherent holiness. However, it doesn't appear to me that this is an appropriate picture to use considering "גדולי החכמים היו מנשקין על תחומי ארץ ישראל, ומנשקין אבניה, ומתגלגלין על עפרה וכן הוא אומר כי רצו עבדיך את אבניה ואת עפרה יחוננו"

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    1. That was absolutely not my intention. See the last paragraph.

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    2. You are wrong.

      You failed to quote the end of the Rambam (Hil. Bais Habechira 2:2)

      "It is universally accepted that the place on which David and Solomon built the Altar,the threshing floor of Ornan, is the location where Abraham built the Altar on which he prepared Isaac for sacrifice.

      Noah built [an altar] on that location when he left the ark.It was also [the place] of the Altar on which Cain and Abel brought sacrifices. [Similarly,] Adam, the first man, offered a sacrifice there and was created at that very spot, as our Sages said: "Man was created from the place where he [would find] atonement." "

      How did you omit this? The place where Hashem chose to create Adam from is mundane in your opinion?

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  3. After pontificating incessantly that holiness cannot exist, it's always useful to do a remarkable sleight of hand when necessary.
    But hey, it would be highly unpopular to say otherwise here.
    Consistency must be "the hobglobin of small minds"

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  4. I think a key fact that you left out is that the Rambam also says that the kedusha of the makom hamikdash is never batel because the kedusha is based on the Shechina -- not history or usage. (I also think your reading of the Rambam in Beis Habechira 2:1 about the place of the mizbeach is far from clear but that is a longer discussion.)

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  5. could you link to the last time your wrote this?

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  6. another omission is the fact that the Rambam connects the place of the mizbe'ach to the earth that man was created from. It seems that this was just a little too metaphysical for your thesis. "אמרו חכמים: אדם ממקום כפרתו נברא"

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  7. Aren't you setting up a false dichotomy? Can't a place possess inherent holiness today because of a historical event? So yes, maybe Har Habayis had no inherent kedusha when the world was created. But today it does because of the Batei Mikdash that stood on that spot. I don't see why the two attitudes are in conflict.

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    1. Because that isn't 'inherent'. That's 'granted a special status because of something that happened there once' (but could have happened elsewhere ).

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  8. בפרק הראשון בהלכות תרומות הלכה ה׳ - ולמה אני אומר במקדש וירושלים קדושה קדשה לעתיד לבוא, ובקדושת שאר א"י לענין שביעית ומעשרות וכיוצא בהן לא קדשה לעתיד לבוא, לפי שקדושת המקדש וירושלים מפני השכינה ושכינה אינה בטלה... אבל חיוב הארץ בשביעית ובמעשרות אינו אלא מפני שהוא כבוש רבים וכיון שנלקחה הארץ מידיהם בטל הכבוש ונפטרה מן התורה ממעשרות ומשביעית שהרי אינה מן ארץ ישראל, וכיון שעלה עזרא וקדשה לא קדשה בכיבוש אלא בחזקה שהחזיקו בה ולפיכך כל מקום שהחזיקו בה עולי בבל ונתקדש בקדושת עזרא השנייה הוא מקודש היום ואף על פי שנלקח הארץ ממנו וחייב בשביעית ובמעשרות על הדרך שביארנו בהלכות תרומה.
    It seems from this that Rambam did consider the land Holy, not based on usage but rather on the presence of the Shechina which is as metaphysical as can be.

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  9. Also see the various Peirushim on Vayekadeish Oso in Parashas Bereishis. Many of them seek to explain how what sanctity the seventh day could have at the time of creation. This implies that they were not comfortable with Shabbos being holy in some in inherent sense without corresponding human activity.

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  10. Would be useful to compare and contrast their opinions (Rambam and Ramban) on why Loshon Hakodesh is called holy.

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  11. These 2 divergent perspectives have had a huge impact on the debate on the halachic permissibly of land for peace.

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    1. I rarely miss an opportunity to criticize proponents of the halachic 'argument' for land for *peace*, but even I would not go so far as to accuse them of basing their delusional recommendations on extrapolating from one or another position in a contentless verbal debate about the meaning of holiness.

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  12. How is saying that one who became impure must be punished with death for entering a place where x historical event happened any more rationalist than saying that person should be put to death because of some metaphysical quality? Would this qualify as something "based upon evidence/reason rather than faith"?

    Put differently, I know someone who refused to sell his house because the Satmar Rav had once stayed over. Would you call that approach rationalist?

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    1. Well, that is exactly the same as how R' Slifkin describes the Rambam - the house is special because something historical happened there!

      Perhaps your point is that today, for someone in that situation, we might end up switching opinions: a modern rationalist might say "OK I had a special guest but now he is gone so the house is now normal again" while a mystic/spiritualist would say "the house is now holy." And more than this, a heavy-duty mystic might say that the presence of the Rav in his house revealed the heretofore unknown reality that the house had been holy THE WHOLE TIME AND WE NEVER KNEW IT :)

      [Oddly, this hearkens back to the first comment on the page, who referenced Yaakov, whose statement was of a similar form...]

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    2. Yosef R,
      That is precisely the point. The Satmar chassid is taking an approach that prior to this article everyone would describe as mystic and certainly not as rationalist. And yet here Rabbi Slifkin is describing this same approach as rationalist.

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  13. 1) "Rambam..was of the view that the sanctity of these places is not a metaphysical quality. Rather, it is a status that stems from their historical role."
    So how do you explain:

    "All the lands which Israel conquers in wars led by a king and approved by the court are considered as conquered by the people at large. Thus, they have the same status as Eretz Yisrael which was conquered by Joshua in every regard. This only applies if they were conquered after the conquest of Eretz Yisrael as described in the Torah. [RAMBAM Melachim Umilchamos 5:6]

    2) "The consequence of Rambam's view, that the sanctity of the Land is a function of its usage rather than due to any intrinsic metaphysical qualities, is that this sanctity can disappear"
    So how do you explain:

    "The Sages commented: 'Whoever dwells in Eretz Yisrael will have his sins forgiven as Isaiah 33:24 states: 'The inhabitant shall not say 'I am sick.' The people who dwell there shall be forgiven their sins.'

    Even one who walks four cubits there will merit the world to come and one who is buried there receives atonement as if the place in which he is buried is an altar of atonement as Deuteronomy 32:43 states: 'His land will atone for His people.' In contrast, the prophet, Amos [7:17, used the expression] 'You shall die in an impure land' as a prophecy of retribution.

    There is no comparison between the merit of a person who lives in Eretz Yisrael and ultimately, is buried there and one whose body is brought there after his death. Nevertheless, great Sages would bring their dead there. Take an example, from our Patriarch, Jacob, and Joseph, the righteous." [RAMBAM Melachim Umilchamos 5:11]

    and

    "Great sages would kiss the borders of Eretz Yisrael, kiss its stones, and roll in its dust. Similarly, Psalms 102:15 declares: 'Behold, your servants hold her stones dear and cherish her dust.'"
    [RAMBAM Melachim Umilchamos 5:10]



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    1. 1. Is obvious and explicit. The conquest is what gives the Land the status, but Hashem could have easily chosen a different land.

      2.none of those quotes say there is anything special about the Land. First, they are hyperbole meant to praise the land, but but do not at all address the reason for the special status of the land. Second, the blessings/merit/atonement are not due to special properties of the land but rather the fact that Hashem rewards those who live there for doing so.
      You really need to be a more careful and sophisticated reader.

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    2. Ok I will try to be sophisticated, here goes.

      Gravity: the universal force of attraction acting between all matter.

      This is what you would say about the above:
      This definition accepted by science is wrong!
      It is a result of misunderstanding the original sources!
      There is no such thing as a "force" this is not Star Wars! Of course gravity does exist but it is only a "status" determined by how nature operates, there is no "force" that's mystical nonsense!

      While you wouldn't be wrong you'd just be unsophisticated.

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  14. The two perspectives are not necessarily at odds. The Rambam is speaking of sanctification in terms of the halachic categories which determine where the agricultrual laws apply, etc. The mystical approach is broader, more hashkafic, and has more than a few dicta by Chazal as precedents, most famously "the world has ten measures of beauty, and nine were given...". The back of my head says Rambam himself has passages that are based on the mystical view.

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  15. The quote you bring from Rabbi Soloveitchik does NOT say that 'kedusha' is not an objective metaphysical quality.
    It says " I must disagree that kedusha is an objective metaphysical quality inherent in the land."
    In other words kedusha IS an objective metaphysical quality, however it is so not because Hashem created it that way, rather great Jews by their actions infused 'kedusha' into Eretz Yisroel.

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    1. What an incredibly contrived way of reading Rav Soloveitchik.

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    2. Soil is sanctified by historical deeds performed by a sacred people, never by a primordial superiority. Kedushat Ha’aretz denotes the consequence of a human act.

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  16. Have you read any other books other than Menachem Kellner's important work, Maimonides' Confrontation with Mysticism?

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  17. you are making a serious error in how you understand the rambam in Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Beit HaBechirah 2:1-2. his intention is actually the exact opposite of how you present him. he does not say that the reason for the holiness was because of the akeda etc. (if he meant that he would have added the word משום before writing במקדש נעקד יצחק וכו instead of the vav hachibur that he uses) rather that the reason why the akeda was performed there was because of the holiness of the sight. this is even more explicit at the end of halacha bet when he quotes "אמרו חכמים אדם ממקום כפרתו נברא" in other words it was already מקום כפרתו even before mankind was created

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  18. Rav Natan, the tension or contradiction between Rationalism and Mysticism are very real, as you so nicely describe here regarding the holy land, and as my teacher Menachem Kellner compellingly illustrates regarding purity/impurity, holy people, holy times, holy land, etc.

    However, what is largely missing in these discussions is the larger context, where both Rationalism and Mysticism are *both* conceptual outgrowths (or perhaps conceptual distortions?) of something far more basic, namely PESHAT.

    In the "peshat" of the Bible and Hazal, nearly everything derives from relationships involving persons, rather than from the "essential" or "non-essential" makeup of people, places, or things. A man's wife is holy to him (מקודשת), not as a legal status (Rambam) nor because her essence changes (Kabbalah), but rather because they have chosen one another and there is a covenant between them. They each could have chosen someone else, and then there would have been a different covenant, a different relationship.

    The same is true regarding God and Israel (contrary to Rambam and Halevi alike). God, like a person, chooses where to be, when to be there and with whom. He could have chosen otherwise. He chose a people and chose a land for them, and a place to which His heart is close. Furthermore, the people of Israel have a personal relationship (not just a legal one) with this certain place (and with no other), a relationship which is expressed through acts of affection.

    That, I think, is the "peshat" meaning behind the minhag cited in one of the earlier comments: "כי רצו עבדיך את אבניה ואת עפרה יחוננו". Michael Wyschogrod has made a compelling case for this outlook.

    Shabbat Shalom

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    1. I was taught - by Menachem Leibtag, a very p'shat based teacher following the "modern" Tanach p'shat school, possibly one of the bigger educators and second generation scholars in the movement - that the shoresh means "set aside for a purpose." So a spouse is SET ASIDE for the other spouse and not for anyone else. A holy object or day is set aside for service/worship.

      As you said, the understanding that holiness is something inherently different probably grew out of there.

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    2. @Yosef R,

      That definition of מקודש is given in קדושין, at the start of the מסכתא.

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    3. Tosafos in Kiddushin 3b says it.

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  19. Everyone says that the land had to be reconsecrated under Ezra and that that made it last.

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    1. Which means that everyone agrees it's not inherently holy.

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    2. Do you know what inherent means? Something that becomes holy, let us say a cow hide that is now a Sefer Torah, is inherently holy.

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    3. I do, actually.
      If the land had to reconsecrated then it's not inherently holy, but the holiness depends on the actions of those walking on it.

      I wonder what would be the status of klaf that had had all the words removed and then used as a cloak for a few years. Asking for real.

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    4. A Torah scroll that has become worn or disqualified should be placed in an earthenware container and buried next to a Torah sage. This is the manner in which it should be entombed.

      The mantle of a scroll that has become worn should be used to make shrouds for a corpse that has no one to bury it. This is the manner in which it should be entombed.
      Rambam Hilchos Tefillin Mezuzah and Sefer Torah [10:3]

      And as an aside:
      It is forbidden to enter a lavatory wearing an AMULET containing verses from the sacred writings unless it is covered with leather.[Rambam Hilchos Tefillin Mezuzah and Sefer Torah 10:5]

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    5. Thank you but that doesn't really answer the question

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    6. It does. You have to bury a worn or pasul Torah because you are not allowed to use it for anything else. Why would it matter if someone did use it for something else?

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  20. Why did Hashem tell Avraham to offer up Yitzchak specifically on Mt Moriah?

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  21. There is another verse attesting to land having metaphysical holiness, without having human involvement, in this weeks parsha. "וַיֹּאמֶר: 'אַל תִּקְרַב הֲלֹם שַׁל נְעָלֶיךָ מֵעַל רַגְלֶיךָ, כִּי הַמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה עוֹמֵד עָלָיו אַדְמַת קֹדֶשׁ הוּא'"

    As well as in יהושוע

    "וַיֹּאמֶר שַׂר צְבָא ה' אֶל יְהוֹשֻׁעַ: שַׁל נַעַלְךָ מֵעַל רַגְלֶךָ, כִּי הַמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה עֹמֵד עָלָיו קֹדֶשׁ הוּא!' וַיַּעַשׂ יְהוֹשֻׁעַ כֵּן."

    These verses seem to support Rambam’s view that it is the presence of the Shechina that sanctifies an area.

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  22. As usual, distorting the Rambam. As much of a rationalist as the Rambam was, in no way is he explaining kudusha - a most certain non rationalist concept - in rationalist terms. It's like explaining a computer virus working with the same physical reality as an actual human (medical) virus.

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  23. Interesting. I see a parallel with Am Yisrael itself which is holy not for some arbitrary reason but because of the maasei avos v'imahos. However we see something special already in Noah and Shem, long before the avos. Seems both the land and people were 'groomed' for a special role before it was made official.

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  24. Interestingly, everyone seems to agree that the only way the Romans were able to enter the Kodesh HaKadashim was because it reverted back to being "wood and stones".

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  25. Seems to me that it is pretty simple with learning Tanakh within its context. Holiness exists where God rests. He was in the bush, therefore Moses takes off his shoes. He was within the desert camp, therefore you have mitzvot to get rid of all tuma outside of the camp. Israel is holy because that is where God choses to rest his name. His "earthly headquarters" as it were. Only God is intrinsically holy. Everything else becomes holy because of its service to Him.

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  26. At least on a small scale, we are able to MAKE things holy and even to UNmake them! Declaring Maaser Sheni and then redeeming it; declaring hekdesh; pidyon haben.

    On the side of UNmaking holiness, perhaps we can never really do that, only transfer it, but that may be due to a concern that we do not become lax with the Honor of Heaven.

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  27. That was a temporary Kedusha, current only as long as God's presence was there at the time. It returned there temporarily again when the Aseret Hadibrot etc were being given given and during Moshe's 40 day sojourns up there.

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  28. In God's Debris, one of Scott Adams' characters asks:

    “What makes a holy land holy?” he asked.
“Well, usually it’s because some important religious
    event took place there.”
“What does it mean to say that something took place in
    a particular location when we know that the earth is constantly in motion, rotating on its axis and orbiting the sun? And we’re in a moving galaxy that is part of an expanding universe. Even if you had a spaceship and could fly anywhere, you can never return to the location of a past event. There would be no equivalent of the past location because location depends on your distance from other objects, and all objects in the universe would have moved considerably by then.”
    “I see your point, but on Earth the holy places keep their relationship to other things on Earth, and those things don’t move much,” I said.
    “Let’s say you dug up all the dirt and rocks and vegetation of a holy place and moved it someplace else, leaving nothing but a hole that is one mile deep in the original loca- tion. Would the holy land now be the new location where you put the dirt and rocks and vegetation, or the old location with the hole?”
    “I think both would be considered holy,” I said, hedging my bets.
    “Suppose you took only the very top layer of soil and vegetation from the holy place, the newer stuff that blew in or grew after the religious event occurred thousands of years ago. Would the place you dumped the topsoil and vegeta- tion be holy?”
    “That’s a little trickier,” I said. “I’ll say the new location isn’t holy because the topsoil that you moved there isn’t itself holy, it was only in contact with holy land. If holy land could turn anything that touched it into more holy land, then the whole planet would be holy.”
    The old man smiled. “The concept of location is a useful delusion when applied to real estate ownership, or when giving someone directions to the store. But when it is viewed through the eyes of an omnipotent God, the concept of location is absurd.
    “While we speak, nations are arming themselves to fight
    for control of lands they consider holy. They are trapped in the delusion that locations are real things, not just fictions of the mind. Many will die.”

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  29. Very interesting post. I had the same wuesrikn above which nobody answered. The pasuk specifically that Hashem commands Avrohom וְהַעֲלֵהוּ שָׁם לְעֹלָה עַל אַחַד הֶהָרִים אֲשֶׁר אֹמַר אֵלֶיךָ

    So I don’t understand Rambam in the Moreh that Rav Slifkin cites?

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  30. Avraham was told to go to Israel and that it would be the land of the Jews. The Rambam of course knew this. It would have perhaps have been an accident of history if Avraham had come from there.

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  31. Excited for your book, just wondering from this post if regular readers of this blog will discover much new information from it

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  32. 'The human mind is incredibly averse to uncertainty and ambiguity; from an early age, we respond to uncertainty or lack of clarity by spontaneously generating plausible explanations. What’s more, we hold on to these invented explanations as having intrinsic value of their own. Once we have them, we don’t like to let them go.
    In 1972, the psychologist Jerome Kagan posited that uncertainty resolution was one of the foremost determinants of our behavior. When we can’t immediately gratify our desire to know, we become highly motivated to reach a concrete explanation. That motivation, in Kagan’s conception, lies at the heart of most other common motives: achievement, affiliation, power, and the like. We want to eliminate the distress of the unknown. We want, in other words, to achieve “cognitive closure.” This term was coined by the social psychologist Arie Kruglanski, who eventually defined it as “individuals’ desire for a firm answer to a question and an aversion toward ambiguity,” a drive for certainty in the face of a less than certain world. When faced with heightened ambiguity and a lack of clear-cut answers, we need to know'



    Acknowledging some of these are beyond your[plural]ken would be too terrible a slippery slope?!





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  33. How do you explain the Rambam here which I am quoting almost verbatim from Chabad.org?

    www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/1007199/jewish/Beit-Habechirah-Chapter-6.htm

    "16.
    Why do I say that the original consecration sanctified the Temple and Jerusalem for eternity, while in regard to the consecration of the remainder of Eretz Yisrael, in the context of the Sabbatical year, tithes, and other similar laws, it did not sanctify it for eternity?

    Because the sanctity of the Temple and Jerusalem stems from the Shechinah, and the Shechinah can never be nullified. Therefore, it states [Leviticus 26:31]: "I will lay waste to your Sanctuaries." The Sages declared: "Even though they have been devastated, their sanctity remains."

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  34. IMHO the *origin* of all these holinesses is veeery secondary. The current holiness is what it is no matter how it got there. If we could understand its nature, why couldn't it have gotten to that nature via either route?

    (To the tune of "I don't care about the past. I don't care about the future. All I care about is the present." ;) )

    As to the legality if it was permitted to ascend the temple mount while Tamei before the first Mikdash, or in the interim between the first and second, or after the second and through the present, the origin plays no role in determining that. The holiness is certainly not finalized for the prohibition, until human input.

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    1. PS, Kedusha leaves no "fossils" for us to study to theorize how it got here. (Besides that we can't even see its current "state".) Is what's here the result of a straightforward process or a convoluted one? We can't even begin to figure that out.
      Another point is, does man create Kedusha? Can he do it on his own? How so? Is it within his powers at all? Or is it necessary to have Divine input? And is that Divine input some sort of group effort of man with the Divinity? Or is it a reward for man's good that the Divinity does on Its own? ...

      Delete

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