Yitzchak says two related things. First of all, the Temple built by Onias (or his family) in Heliopolis in Egypt is not considered to be an idolatrous shrine. This famous Temple is discussed in both rabbinic sources and in Josephus. Some sources seem to oppose this Temple, whereas others do not. It was in any case destroyed shortly after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 C.E. Second, R. Yitzchak holds that now that the Temple has been destroyed it is permitted to offer sacrifices elsewhere, just as it was permitted to offer sacrifices after the destruction of Shiloh. In other words, the sanctification of Jerusalem was only in place as long as the Temple stood. As we shall see, this is somewhat of a radical notion.
When asked if he really said such a thing, R. Yitzchak retracted. We shall see why below. Nevertheless, Rava confirmed that he did actually issue the above statement.
The reason why R. Yitzchak retracted was that his statement contradicts two explicit tannaitic sources which state the opposite. Once the Jews established the Temple in Jerusalem it was never again permitted to offer sacrifices elsewhere.
The Talmud cites a baraita from which we could learn that there is a dispute as to whether sacrifices may be offered on other altars after the destruction of the Second Temple. But first we should explain the baraita itself.
Eliezer says that when they were building the Second Temple, they put curtains around hekhal (the sanctuary) and the Temple courtyard during the rebuilding. These curtains would take the place of the walls. The curtains for the hekhal were outside the walls so that the builders wouldn’t enter the actually space of the hekhal. But they didn’t need to be so strict when it came to the courtyard. Here the curtains were inside the courtyard’s walls.
Joshua holds that once the first Temple was sanctified, the sanctity remained in Jerusalem forever. What this means is that it is permitted to offer sacrifices in Jerusalem even though the Temple and its walls have not been rebuilt.
If R. Joshua holds that the first sanctification lasted forever, then his disputant, R. Eliezer would seem to hold the opposite. Seemingly this is why R. Eliezer requires curtains—they take the place of walls and allow sacrifices to be offered on the altars even before walls were rebuilt.
Ravina reasons that there is no dispute between R. Eliezer and R. Joshua. R. Eliezer agrees with R. Joshua that the original sanctification of Jerusalem was for all time. He requires the curtains not in order to take the place of the walls and thereby allow sacrifice. Rather, the curtains were there only for privacy.
Today’s section continues searching for a tannaitic debate about whether when Jerusalem was sanctified that sanctification would last forever. A positive answer to this question would mean that even after the destruction it would be forbidden to offer sacrifices elsewhere.
This baraita is taken from Tractate Arakhin and refers to redeeming houses in walled cities (the owner has only a year in which to redeem them). The mishnah lists cities that were walled at the time of Joshua. But there were other such cities, leading to the question of why only these cities were listed. R. Yishmael son of R. Yose answers that when the Jews returned from the Babylonian exile these were the only walled cities still remaining. They then sanctified these cities, for the other city’s holiness was annulled when the Temple was destroyed. This shows that he holds that when Jerusalem was first sanctified, its holiness was not forever.
In this baraita the same tanna, R. Ishmael son of R. Yose contradicts himself. In the beginning of the baraita he seems to say the same thing he said above—when the exiles returned they sanctified these cities. But later in the baraita he clearly says that they didn’t need to sanctify them, because the original holiness never left them. If there is a tradition about a city that it was walled in the time of Joshua, then it continues to be treated as a walled city forever.