Second Temple 224.88 courtesy.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
For centuries Jews have remembered and mourned the destruction of the Temple through traditions such as crushing a glass at weddings or leaving unpainted a patch of wall opposite the entrance to one's home - each stressing that nothing can be perfect or complete without the Temple.
Built by Solomon in about 950 BCE and destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE, the Temple was rebuilt about 70 years later but finally razed by the Romans in 70 CE.
Talmud scholar Rabbi Yohanan wrote: "During these times that the Temple is demolished, a person is not allowed to fill his mouth with laughter. This is because the verse [Psalms 126] says, 'Then our mouths will be filled with laughter,' and does not say 'Now our mouths will be filled with laughter.' And when is 'then'? 'Then' will be when the Third Temple is rebuilt."
In other words, "Jewish life without the Temple is like fish out of water," says Rabbi Chaim Richman, head of the international department of the Temple Institute.
An author of 10 books on the Temple, Richman adds: "Do you realize that 202 commandments out of 613 must have the Temple to be fulfilled? Without the Temple, Judaism is a skeleton of what it's supposed to be."
To this end, the Temple Institute was founded in 1987 with the explicit goal of rebuilding the Temple. Located in the Jewish Quarter, some 100,000 visitors, about half of them Christian, visit the institute each year to learn about the First and Second Temples and preparations for the Third Temple.
The institute is presently involved in education, research and constructing vessels for use in the longed-for Temple.
Richman relates a story about Temple Institute founder Rabbi Yisrael Ariel, a paratrooper who helped liberate the Old City, including the Western Wall and the Temple Mount, in June 1967.
A Jordanian Muslim guide led the soldiers around the Temple Mount explaining where the Temple and other fixtures, such as the menora and altar, had stood. When asked why he was helpful, the guide explained, "We have a tradition that one day the Jews would win a war and rebuild the Temple. This is my contribution. I assume you're starting tomorrow."
Although Temple Institute staff have been called lunatics, zealots and racists by some, they maintain that there is nothing more natural for the Jewish faithful to do than make preparations for the Third Temple.
"The hallmark of the Third Temple is unparalleled peace and harmony," says Richman. "I believe that the best that a Jew can do is to have the integrity to believe and do as much as possible toward building the Temple."
According to Richman the first step in this process is soul searching. "The answer is returning to our spiritual roots. This adds up to building up the holy Temple. It's the vehicle that builds up reconciliation between God and manâ€¦ not just Jewish people."
To achieve this, the Temple Institute aims "to rekindle the flame of the holy Temple in the hearts of mankind" through various educational initiatives. Toward that end the institute invests about $500,000 yearly in publications, tours and seminars as well as maintenance of its Web site.
But the long-term goal, Richman says, is "to do all in our limited power to bring about the building of the holy Temple in our time."
How exactly this will be achieved is a point of contention.
According to Temple Institute director Yehuda Glick, many devout Jews believe the Temple "will come down somehow from heaven."
He insists a legend like that can be very hard to overcome, even though no Jewish sources support the idea.
"We must understand that 'heavenly' doesn't automatically mean mystical, superficial magic. During the Six Day War, the people of Israel were facing a major catastrophe and, in human eyes, we had no chance - we were to be wiped out. In six days we overcame enemies from every border and reunited Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel. That is no less a miracle," says Glick.
"So too when we look back at 1938 [before the Holocaust] and see we were almost wiped out," he continues. "Who would have believed we were just 10 years from seeing the words of the prophets coming out of the Book and materializing [the establishment of Israel].
"We have total faith that we are to do what we are obligated to do. He has His ways to surprise us. But it must come from a wide-range call and action."
RABBI MOSHE Silberschein, a professor of rabbinic literature at the Hebrew Union College, affirms the educational efforts of the Temple Institute. "I think the institute has educational value, helping children to see with their own eyes what they read about in the Bible and Mishna. It has value in helping them to visualize what the sacred service was like during the Second Temple period of Jewish history."
Still, Silberschein does have some misgivings about the institute "once the institute goes beyond teaching history, heritage and sacred texts, and starts talking about building the Third Temple." If, for example, a bulldozer were brought in to clear the path for the building of a Third Temple, that would be "tantamount to starting World War III," he says. "This is hardly an auspicious way to fulfill the biblical verse in Isaiah 56, 'For My House shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations.'"
Rabbi David Forman, former director of the Israel office of the Union for Reform Judaism, also takes issue with the institute's aims. "I'm opposed for two reasons: one is purely ideological/theological, and the second is practical/political," says Forman. "Firstly, the reconstruction of the Temple would thrust us back to a time where the expression of worship for God was exercised through sacrifice. According to our tradition, when the Temple was destroyed, the notion of sacrifice went by the wayside, and instead, in the rabbinic period, a new form of worship came into being - prayer - which seems to be a far more civilized way of asking, praising, thanking and praying to God.
"Secondly, it [rebuilding the Temple] would be terribly disruptive because of the emotional attachments the three monotheistic religions have to Jerusalem, the holy city, and to alter it and the status of the holy sites in any way that would impinge on spiritual longing would be a recipe for disaster and could lead not just to a local conflagration but to a wider one given the tension it would create," he explains, adding that "it would exacerbate an already sensitive situation that would engage the entire world community and certainly the Islamic community."
Eda Haredit spokesman Shmuel Poppenheim adds: "Hitgarut ha'umot [inciting nations] is forbidden... it awakens hate and repulsion, and could create a disastrous chain of events that would impede the coming of the Messiah.
Also, "In our days it is forbidden to enter the Temple Mount, which [institute founder] Ariel encourages. This is very grave and punishable by karet [premature death]," he continues. "But our main opposition [to the Temple Institute] is Ariel's premise that we are redemption-bound... His nationalism damages the pure faith of the Jews. Because of our sins we were exiled from the Land of Israel and the Temple; only our goodness and the will of God will rebuild the Temple, not our hands.
"It is problematic that Ariel mixes religious precepts, like redemption, with political principles like democracy and the State of Israel."
WHEN ASKED how the Third Temple would come about, Richman responds: "I don't do scenarios. I'm not shying away from the question. The Temple is not up to the Temple Institute, but up to the people of Israel. They have a representative government. Whether they'll act in accordance with what it means to be a Jew, I don't know."
He quotes Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, who said, "If we were the people we're supposed to be, the Muslims would come to us and ask, 'Please build us a Temple.'"
Asked about the timetable for construction, Richman, an ordained rabbi who quotes Maimonides on Temple matters but draws popular wisdom from "rabbis" Mark Twain and Yogi Berra, laughs, "I don't know, but I think we're behind schedule."
In the meantime, the Temple Institute focuses its energies on education and preparing vessels for use in the Third Temple.
A team of researchers, rabbis and scientists collaborate to ensure the needed items meet scriptural and rabbinic criteria. Beyond those standards, the craftsmen have artistic license to construct vessels as they deem appropriate.
"It's a very complex process," Richman explains. "Some items have taken over 10 years of research. We have groups of scholars who sift through superfluous information regarding concepts that have become completely forgotten or little is known of them. We are taking a section of Torah wisdom and reactivating it."
Knowledge of the construction of Temple objects is so obscure that "many people have asked us if we're allowed to do it. They ask, 'Isn't God supposed to do that?'"
Construction of the high priest's breastplate is an example of the complexity involved. According to Exodus 28 the material had to be woven of "gold, sky blue, dark red, and crimson-dyed wool, and of twisted linen."
Metalsmiths beat the gold into thin sheets, then cut it into fine threads to be woven into the material. The sky-blue color (techelet in Hebrew, said by the Mishna to resemble indigo) was a dye obtained from a snail known as hilazon.
The exact identification of this animal and the method used to produce the dye is the subject of extensive research. Most scholars today believe it to be the Mediterranean snail known as Murex trunculus.
"The dark red color, argaman in Hebrew, is also derived from a snail, possibly the Murex trunculus as well," says Richman. "According to this theory, the difference in color is a product of the amount of time the substance is initially exposed to sunlight."
The crimson color is produced from a worm referred to in the Torah as the "crimson worm," tola'at shani in Hebrew, a mountain worm that has been identified as Kermes biblicus.
The Hebrew word that appears for "linen" is shesh, which means "six." Researchers believe this requires each thread to be six-ply.
The 12 stones for the breastplate presented another problem since linguists don't agree on what the ancient names intend. Extensive research eventually revealed that ancient stones were classified by color, not gem family.
"The final authority is the midrash, which explains that the 12 tribes of Israel each had a flag, and the flag color matched the color of the stone worn on the high priest's breastplate representing that tribe. So there was maybe more than one stone to fit the requirement of the verse. We look at several criteria and find the best. That's the goalâ€¦ to find the best possible."
TO DATE the institute has created more than 60 vessels for use in the Temple, which are on display at the institute. These include the showbread table, incense altar, and head and breast plates for the high priest.
One of the most expensive pieces is a golden menora showcased on a platform near the Western Wall. Made of a single piece of solid gold poured over a metal base, the half-ton fixture contains about 45 kilograms of gold and is valued at $3 million. Its design and construction was based on rabbinic sources as well as Roman-Jewish historian Josephus Flavius, himself a priest who served in the Temple. The absence of a red heifer presents a problem as its ashes must consecrate the articles in accordance with Numbers 19 and rabbinical instruction. Otherwise the priests would have to use the vessels in a state of impurity. Citing security concerns, Richman would not comment on the search for the red heifer. The institute has also begun mass production of priestly garments. It recently received rabbinic authorization to use special sewing machines to produce the apparel, bringing the price of each garment down from about $10,000 to $800.
Dozens of kohanim (members of the priestly line dating to Aaron) have placed their orders.
Until construction on the Third Temple can begin, the institute seeks to build a World Center for Temple Knowledge outside Jaffa Gate.
Slated for construction in 2012, the 2,500-square-meter facility will offer a 3-D experience of "going up to the Temple" as well as in-depth exhibits and galleries.
These and other projects aside, the institute's long-term goal is to rebuild the Temple, which Richman insists must be preceded by a shift in thinking.
"Everything that goes on in this country relates to the spiritual struggle behind it all - especially with the people of Israel. It's all about a total struggle about who we are and what our destiny is. We're not called to be the best doctors and lawyers and Hollywood producers - that is not our destiny. We're called to be a nation of priests," he says.
"The Temple is a real litmus paper test of that equation. We are talking about the big existential question: Who are we?"