Off the Beaten Track: Pilgrimage to the Temple

Exploring the ruins of the Second Temple can be a great way to celebrate Passover, Easter.

Temple Mount and City of David 390 (photo credit:
Temple Mount and City of David 390
(photo credit:
Joe Yudin owns Touring Israel, a company that specializes in “Lifestyle” tours of Israel.
What better way to celebrate Passover or Easter than by exploring the ruins of the Second Temple in Jerusalem? Before doing so, however, one must first understand the history of the Temple and the politics surrounding it.
Judaism has gone through major changes over the last 3,800 years or so. From Abraham to Moses it was all about personal relationships between man and God; God revealing himself to man and guiding him in the ways of morality with the promise of establishing a new nation in a fertile land.
In the Jewish tradition it started with the destruction of idols and the banning of child sacrifice. It culminated in the giving of the Torah, God’s laws and teachings, to all the children of Israel and “a mixed multitude” at Mount Sinai. From that point, the nation building began with a new generation, guided by the Torah and God’s appointed judges and prophets into the Land of Israel. 
According to the Hebrew Bible, God’s presence followed the Israelites into the Land of Israel residing in the Mishkan, a portable tent containing the Ark of the Covenant, and was eventually brought by King David to Mount Moriah which, according to Jewish tradition, is the place of the binding of Isaac and creation of the world. 
King Solomon built a permanent house for him there in Jerusalem and between the years 965BCE and 586BCE the Holy Temple stood in Jerusalem and the Israelite people would bring their sacrifices up to the mount three times a year as commanded in the Torah, singing songs, heaping praise on the Lord and praying for peace and morality.
With the destruction of Solomon’s Temple by Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians in 586 BCE and the enslavement of the Jewish people, Judaism again began to change its path.
In exile many Jews begin to meet on the Sabbath in homes to discuss scripture, study Torah and sing praise unto the Lord. The institution of the synagogue was formed not in Israel, but Babylonia, and a new sect of Jews emerged from this time: the Pharisees.
Because of the relatively short period of exile this new form of spiritual, cerebral Judaism did not replace the Temple but upon the Jews' return to Israel grew alongside the cultic practice of Judaism based in the Second Temple built around 515 BCE and administered by the Sadducees.
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The Second Temple went through many periods of building and renovation. Built first by Zerubabel out of wood, later expanded by Ezra and Nehemiah, it was made grand by the Maccabees and completely renovated to its grandest form by King Herod in the first century BCE. This last version of the Temple is said to be the most impressive as the Talmud states: "Whoever hasn’t seen Herod’s structure has never seen a beautiful edifice" (Bava Kama 4a).
During the time of the Second Temple the Pharisees would preach adherence to the moral code of the Torah, using interpretation of Scripture, and oral traditions based on the biblical writings and interpreted by generations of sages as the shining light of Judaism.
The Temple was important to them as God commanded them to bring the sacrifice there during Passover, Shavuot and Succot, but these were deeds among the 613 commanded upon the Jewish people and each one was as important as the other. For the Pharisees and their philosophical followers, the rabbis, Judaism was about trying to bring man up to God’s level by doing good and adhering to a higher moral code.
For the Sadducees who controlled the Temple and made a living from the pilgrimages to the Temple, their goal was to bring God down to man’s level through the Temple sacrifices so he would dwell among us. Their goal was to keep the political situation quiet and go through the motions of the Temple cult. This form of Judaism would not survive the second destruction of the Temple in the year 70 CE by Titus and the Romans. Indeed the ruins of the Temple complex at the Davidson Center just inside Dung Gate bears witness to this fact.
There are two different ways to explore the Davidson Center: Buy a combination ticket at the City of David and walk underground from the Shiloach Pool in a system of tunnels, sometimes on the first century BCE street leading up to the Western Wall inside the center, or you can enter inside Dung Gate to the left down the stairs.
There are many recently excavated ruins inside the center and it is best to take a guided tour.
Joe Yudin became a licensed tour guide in 1999. He completed his Master’s degree at the University of Haifa in the Land of Israel Studies and is currently studying toward a PhD.