כ״ז בתשרי ה׳תשע״א (October 5, 2010)

Avodah Zarah 52a-b – The Jewish Temple in Leontopolis

Aside from the first and second Temples in Jerusalem, the only other Jewish Temples where sacrifices were brought were built by Jewish priests in Egypt. Rabbi Yossi ben Shaul asked Rabbi Yehudah ha-Nassi whether the utensils used in Bet Honyo – the Temple of Onias – could be used in the Jewish Temple, as well.

 

The Gemara in Menahot (109b) quotes a baraita that brings two opinions about the Temple of Onias. According to Rabbi Me’ir, that temple was a place of pagan idol worship; Rabbi Yehudah rules that only Jewish sacrifices to God were brought there. Rashi explains that according to Rabbi Me’ir’s opinion it is obvious that the utensils used there cannot be used in the Temple in Jerusalem, since they are avodah zarah, which is forbidden for ordinary use, and certainly for use in the Temple. Thus, the question is posed only according to Rabbi Yehudah. Although the priests who performed the sacrificial service in the Temple of Onias were disqualified from serving in the Temple in Jerusalem, perhaps that is only because they should have been aware of their indiscretion and are penalized for it; the utensils, however, have no free will, and therefore may remain permitted.

 

Rabbi Yehudah ha-Nassi answered that such utensils cannot be used.

 

According to Josephus, the Temple of Onias was built in Leontopolis in Egypt by the son of the  Onias III, sometime around the year 155 BCE. This temple was modeled after the Temple in Jerusalem. According to the Talmud (see Menahot 109b), Onias fled from Jerusalem to Egypt following a serious dispute with his brother. According to Josephus, the matter was connected with the Hellenists in Jerusalem, and, after a time, with the Hasmonean dynasty that claimed the High Priesthood in Jerusalem.

 

As we have learned, there is a disagreement about how to view the Temple of Onias, where the priests who served were all true priests – descendants of Aharon ha-kohen. It appears that the accepted position is that this was not a house of pagan worship; the most serious problem with it was the fact that a temple where sacrifices were brought that existed at the same time as an operating Temple in Jerusalem is forbidden, and participating in the sacrificial service there was punishable by karet (a serious heavenly punishment).

 

According to Josephus, Vespasian closed the Temple of Onias about three years after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, but it is possible that the service there was revived at a later time, in Rabbi Yitzhak’s time.