SACRILEGE


SACRILEGE, the deliberate or inadvertent violation of sacred things. The Torah ordains the punishment of *karet for anyone who deliberately flouts the sanctity of the Temple precincts or deviates in the slightest from any of the rules or rituals connected with its service. Under this heading comes slaughtering, offering, or partaking of the sacrifices outside their appointed time or place, entering the sanctuary, officiating, or eating holy things while ritually unclean or when disqualified by reason of non-priestly status (Lev. 17:1–9; 19:5–8; 22:1–16). The priest profaned his sacred office by officiating, when suffering from a *blemish, when in mourning, or by contracting a forbidden union, such as marrying a divorcée, which disqualified his offspring from the priesthood and from marrying a priest (Lev. 21). To make a replica of any of the utensils or ingredients, such as the incense used in the Temple, is also regarded as sacrilege (Ex. 30:32). The seriousness of the sin of sacrilege is underlined by the biblical stories of Nadab and Abihu, burnt to death for offering "strange fire," and the stoning of Achan for taking the spoils of war dedicated to the sanctuary (Lev. 10:1–2; Josh. 7). The inadvertent use of sacred things, termed me'ilah, is also penalized in the Pentateuch (Lev. 5:14ff.). The offender is required to bring a guilt offering and reimburse the Temple treasury to the value of the theft plus one-fifth.

A whole tractate of the Talmud (see *Me'ilah) is devoted to the offense which became obsolete with the destruction of the Temple. But the principle involved lived on to safeguard the remaining sancta of Jewish life, in a carefully graded order of holiness: the Sefer Torah, religious articles such as tefillin and ẓiẓit, printed holy books, and the synagogue and its appurtenances. The rabbis adopted the formula of ma'alin bekodesh ve-ein moridin – "holiness may be increased but not decreased." The Mishnah in Megillah (3:1, 2) forbids the sale of a synagogue for a public bath or tannery, a Sefer Torah for books of lesser sanctity such as the Prophets. Even a disused synagogue may not be used as a shortcut or for spreading nets or drying fruit. Printed pages of holy books must be buried (see *Genizah) out of respect for the name of God inscribed therein (see *Shemot). No benefit may be derived from the dead, including the shroud or the corpse itself, except for the purpose of saving life (see *Autopsies). Cemeteries must be treated with the utmost reverence, and it is not permitted to walk over the graves or pasture cattle there (Sh. Ar., YD 368). The scholar who adopted an irreverent approach to difficult passages in the Torah was guilty of sacrilege too (Maimonides, Hilkhot Me'ilah, end).

Under a law promulgated by the State of Israel for safeguarding the holy sites of Judaism and other faiths (1967), there is a penalty of seven years' imprisonment for "profaning a holy place or violating it in any manner" (see *Holy Places). Detailed regulations have been gazetted by the Ministry of Religious Affairs prohibiting sacrilegious behavior at Jewish holy sites (Protection of Holy Places Law, 5727–1967, in: Laws of the State of Israel, 21 (1966/67), 76). These prohibit ritual slaughter, eating and drinking, smoking, sleeping, hawking, profanation of the Sabbath and festivals, and immodest dress. These regulations have been applied to Jewish holy sites in Jerusalem and other parts of Ereẓ Israel. After the Six-Day War the Israel Chief Rabbinate proclaimed it sacrilegious for a Jew to enter the Temple Mount because of ritual defilement.

[Aryeh Newman]


Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.