The Classic Reasons

Regarding the First Temple, the Talmud tells us:

Due to what reason was the First Temple destroyed? It was destroyed because three matters existed in the First Temple: idol worship, forbidden sexual relations and bloodshed . . .1

The Talmud then continues regarding the Second Temple:

However, in the Second Temple period the people were engaged in Torah study, observance of mitzvahs, and acts of kindness, so why was the Second Temple destroyed? It was destroyed due to the fact that there was baseless hatred during that period. This comes to teach you that the sin of baseless hatred is equivalent to the three severe transgressions: idol worship, forbidden sexual relations and bloodshed.

Baseless Hatred During the First Temple Period

As the Talmud itself points out, baseless hatred was rampant during the First Temple period as well. So why is this not given as the reason for the destruction?

One explanation given is that the baseless hatred during the First Temple was primarily expressed by the leaders of the time, not the common folk.

Others, however, explain that although there was indeed disunity and hatred, just not to the same extent as during the Second Temple period. Had there been unity, the First Temple would not have been destroyed, even with the cardinal sins committed between man and G‑d. For as we’ve seen from other periods of history, even if there were many sins that were committed between man and G‑d, as long as there was still unity between the people themselves, G‑d stayed His wrath.2

Didn’t Make a Blessing on the Torah

Another reason given in the Talmud for the destruction of the First Temple is that “they did not make a blessing prior to learning the Torah.”3

That seems a bit drastic. Why destroy the Temple for not making a blessing?

Commentators explain that the issue wasn’t so much the blessing but what it represents. If one learns Torah as an academic pursuit, or as “the wisdom of the Jewish people,” one is missing the key component, which is that the Torah is divine wisdom given to the Jewish people. 4 Had the Jews remembered the divinity of the Torah, learning the Torah would have aroused their love for G‑d and prevented them from transgressing these cardinal sins, which are sins between man and G‑d.5

Because They Ruled According to the Letter of the Law

Elsewhere in the Talmud, we are given reasons why “Jerusalem was destroyed,” which, according to commentaries, also includes the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.6

Based on this, one reason why the Second Temple was destroyed was that “they established their rulings on the basis of Torah law and did not go beyond the letter of the law.”7

The commentators ask, how can this be something negative? After all, a judge cannot rule or force a litigant to go beyond the letter of the law. One explanation is that this too is seen as a result of baseless hatred. It is up to the litigants to be willing to find a compromise and go beyond the letter of the law, which they were unwilling to do due to their baseless hatred.8

Additional Reasons for the Destruction of the Temple

As mentioned above, Jerusalem’s destruction is equated with that of the Holy Temple. Here are some additional reasons for the destruction:

Abaye said: Jerusalem was destroyed only because people desecrated the Shabbat in it … Rabbi Abbahu said: Jerusalem was destroyed only because they omitted recitation of the morning and evening ShemaRav Hamnuna said: Jerusalem was destroyed only because they neglected the [education of] school children … Ulla said: Jerusalem was destroyed only because people had no shame before each other … Rabbi Isaac said: Jerusalem was destroyed only because the small and the great were made equal … Rabbi Chanina said: Jerusalem was destroyed only because the people did not rebuke one another … Rabbi Yehuda said: Jerusalem was destroyed only because they disparaged the Torah scholars in it … .9

Although the Talmud doesn’t state which Temple it is referring to, the commentaries explain that this was the First Temple since the Talmud goes on to cite biblical verses for each opinion.10 Additionally, commentaries point out that the various opinions in the above list aren’t contradictory. Rather, each one discusses a different aspect and dimension of the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem.11

Baseless Love

In order to rectify something, you need to get to the root of the problem. So if the underlying reason for the destruction of the Temple was baseless hatred, then to fix that and rebuild the Temple, we need to work on loving our fellows unconditionally. Loving does not just mean “doing acts of kindness.” After all, as the Talmud quoted above makes clear, the Jews were doing acts of kindness during the Second Temple period.

Rather, we need to arouse true feelings of love for our fellow. This is done by focusing on the divine soul that we all share, rather than focusing on the externalities that divide us. By adding in love for our fellow, we will ultimately remove the cause for this exile and merit the rebuilding of the Temple—may it be speedily in our days!