Tetzaveh: Archaeology vs. Tradition

February 18, 2021

The Jewish people have traditions dating back thousands of years which outline the specific form and format of our traditions. What if archeologists find contradictory evidence? Do we change our rituals or do we not?

This week’s lesson is dedicated by Mendy & Dinie Mangel in honor of their dear children and grandson.

A. The Headplate In Rome

This week’s Torah portion describes the headplate of the High Priest and its engravement, “Sacred to G-d” (source 1). The Rabbis of the Mishna argued about its format; according to tradition, it was written in two lines, but Rabbi Eliezer claimed to have seen it in Rome, and it was written in one (source 2). Maimonides rules like the former, that it is to be written in two lines, (source 3), and the Me’iri explains that the rabbis of the Mishna did not retract their opinion even in the face of Rabbi Eliezer’s eyewitness testimony (source 4).

The Rebbe cites these sources and explains that Judaism views tradition as stronger than the eyewitness testimony. Rabbi Eliezer’s viewpoint, after all, isn’t as simple as it seems. It is very likely that there were “imitation breastplates.”

B. The Menorah of Titus

The Torah describes the image of the menorah and Rashi explains that the arms were diagonal, not half-circle (source 5). This was also depicted by Maimonides and confirmed by his son, Rabbi Avraham (source 6). There are other important details of the menorah as well; for example, the Talmud says it had legs (source 7). In the writings of Josephus, we see another important fact: there were a number of menorahs besides for the official one used for the daily service in the temple (source 8).

The Rebbe presents these ideas and draws the same conclusion as before. Jewish tradition is very clear about the fact that the menorah had straight branches. The Arch of Titus, on the other hand, can be faulty for numerous reasons. Why would we go with Titus if we could go with Rashi, Maimonides, and the entirety of Jewish tradition?

C. Addendum: The Rebbe’s Answer to Other Opinions

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