The destruction of the Second Temple (Beit Sheni) is a significant event in Jewish history, perhaps even the most significant of the last two thousand years. According to various historical and religious texts, multiple factors contributed to its downfall, and this prolonged period of exile that has followed.
By far the main reasons cited in Jewish sources is “sinat chinam,” usually translated to “baseless hatred” among Jews. This idea is found in the Talmud, specifically in Yoma 9b, where it states that the Second Temple was destroyed due to sinat chinam being prevalent among the Jewish people during that time. This infighting and lack of unity weakened the community, making it not only vulnerable to external forces but deserving of such punishment. While this was and still is a tremendous problem in the Jewish community that continues to prevent the building of the Third Temple, none would say it is the only quality of the Jewish people that needs to be fixed, or at least that there are not specific areas where that manifests in particular.
In Avot deRebbi Natan, it is further highlighted that arrogance and a lack of humility contributed to the downfall of the Second Temple. The text teaches that arrogance leads to divisiveness and hinders unity, which ultimately weakens the community and makes it susceptible to external threats. This is not actually a contradiction but is more specific form of sinat chinam, emphasizing humility’s necessary role for an individual’s relationship with other people and with God.
Elsewhere in the Talmud, such as Baba Mezia, it adds other perspectives to the discussion. It mentions that the Second Temple was destroyed because of “gezel” (robbery) and “shefichut damim” (shedding of innocent blood). This suggests that social injustices and violence within the Jewish community played a role in the Temple’s destruction. Other reasons for the downfall of Jerusalem are given, including a lack of Shabbat observance, disregarding of the Shema, and forsaking the education of children. These are pillars of Jewish life of any point in history, and it is inevitable once people forgo the basic tenets that they will lose in their relationship with God. Later writings mention the “Big Three” sins of idolotry, illicit relations and murder as not only the cause for the fall of the First Temple, but also part of the cause of the destruction of the Second Temple.
Understanding the destruction of Jerusalem, Rav Yochanan said: “Jerusalem was destroyed only because the judges ruled by the strict letter of the law, not ruling beyond the letter of the law.” In general, with all these examples that the proper conduct was not done for others. This would manifest on some people acting callously, others acting neglectfully. If everyone is acting poorly and independently, with no community to hold each member to account, this les to degredation and loss of cohesion. The negative consequences of baseless hatred and divisive behavior are evident from our history, but the ways it will manifest itself are not uniform. When one begins to live for himself—not supporting his fellows and forsaking God—he loses sight of how his actions affect others and eventually he loses sight even how he negatively affects himself. It is this carelessness that leads to sinat chinam.
We must remain committed to the values of the Torah, justice, and moral behavior. A sin between man and God can usually be done in private, a hatred and disdain are not always on display but are socially and personally corrosive just the same. By living according to the principles of “ahavat chinam” (baseless love) and “tzedek” (justice), following the mitzvot in the Torah, we can strengthen our community to the point of being worthy of Moshiach’s arrival, and the Third Temple.
There may be a variety of writings on the subject, but that should emphasize the point that every person needs to work indivually. Some people may be too strict on the letter of the law who are not compassionate enough, while others may let emotion get in the way of doing what’s right. When united, the Jewish community will work together to correct those mistakes.