What is Bittul ha-Tamid?

Bittul ha-tamid. noun. Taking a break from religion, for moral reasons.

There has always been an element of protest in Hebrew religiosity. We can picture ancient biblical prophets like Nathan or Amos or Jeremiah ranting at someone or no one or everyone about even small injustices inflicted upon seemingly unimportant people. We can imagine their grim visage on such occasions, illuminated paths of sweat scoring their dusty faces, hair held akimbo over penetrating eyes.

How did those ancient prophets cultivate such moral acuity? Where lies the origin of a social conscience?

Wasn't it Amos who said that one slight act of justice made on behalf of the weak, one reckoning in the poor's preference perhaps performed in a half-morning's time, was better religion than half a year of pious temple-going psalmody? Better to right a wrong than sway in the holy of holies.

Bittul ha-tamid is the Jewish practice of ceasing liturgical worship in order to emphasize and publicize a wrong. It was mostly performed in the Middle Ages, often as an act of protest, sometimes as a complaint about a wealthy man's treatment of a poor man.

It's an ingenious idea, and one that could be exported to all religions and to the secular world too.

A sign reads, 'We are not holding services today' or 'We are not open today.'

'Why?' asks the jangled assembly?

The reply could describe any one of a hundred committed wrongs, and some of these wrongs might have been performed by the very religious (or secular) institutions that temporarily shut their doors to commerce.

Could a religious body carry out bittul ha-tamid for long-ago injustices performed by that religious body? If so, what would be a suitable length of time to discontinue services in order to protest those wrongs and call attention to those wrongs?

Is there somewhere some calculus to gage the degree and duration of harm caused and then recommend a length of time for bittul ha-tamid? Are any wrongs so egregiously offensive that a religion might shut its doors for an entire lifetime in order to advertise and atone for that wrong?

Dare we imagine this:

In cities all over the world, Christians and Muslims go to their places of worship only to find a sign upon locked doors:

CLOSED FOR BITTUL HA-TAMID
A THOUSAND YEARS OF HARM
NEXT OPENING NEXT CENTURY

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