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'Active' Temple Mourning on Tisha B'Av

reprinted from Haaretz
Jul.26, 2012

Chaim Richman of the Old City's Temple Institute has quit just waiting for ‘Next year in Jerusalem.’

by Mordechai I. Twersky

(Click here to see and hear beautiful slide presentation.)

Chaim Richman's take on Temple mourning is not what one usually hears from an Orthodox rabbi.

After spending an hour with the 53 year-old Salem, Massachusetts, native, in Jerusalem's Old City, one imagines him leaving the seder table were he to hear just one more utterance of the Haggada's signature coda, "Next year in Jerusalem."

"A symptom of the Diaspora experience is that we have romanticized the idea of waiting," says Richman, an ordained rabbi and teacher. "That really bothers me so much. What's going to be different 'next year'?"

This week’s traditional "Nine Days" is the second stage in an annual, three-week mourning ritual culminating with the observance of Tisha B'av – the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av - the fast day marking the destruction of Jerusalem's two ancient Temples. As this year's date falls on the Jewish Sabbath, the nearly 24-hour fast will commence on Saturday evening, July 28, 2012.

For ritually observant Jews, the period is marked by a series of abstentions from daily comforts - most notably shaving, refraining from listening to music, eating meat, and swimming. Others may delay long trips and travels during a timeframe they believe is historically fraught with danger and generally associated with calamity.

According to Richman, who has written 10 books about the Temple, the Jewish concept of "Aveilut," or mourning, for the Temple must be "purposeful" and compel one to "action." Otherwise, he warns, the various rituals may become rote and devoid of practical meaning.

"We're not Catholic," said Richman, taking issue with what he sees as a disproportionate Jewish emphasis on self-denial that has become the hallmark of the annual mourning period. "This isn't Lent."

It's a fair bet that Richman is adopting an active approach to Temple-building. When pressed, he acknowledges its future construction on the contested Mount - also held sacred by Muslims - could create "a certain geopolitical tension." He has worked for 25 years at the Old City's Temple Institute, perhaps best known for creating Temple vessels and priestly vestments for future use in "the process that will lead to the Holy Temple becoming a reality once more," according to its web site.

The institute's most striking creation stands just a few meters away from its modest storefront on Misgav Ladach Street and overlooks the Western Wall: a three-meter-high, seven-branched Temple Menorah made of nearly solid gold that Richman says cost an estimated $3 million to produce.

The institute, which also produces educational materials, is now focused on a new phase: developing the Temple's architectural blueprints, some of which it shared with Haaretz. Richman, who heads the institute's international department, works with a team of researchers who are methodically "sifting through" Temple references, interpreting and codifying them in a process that he says involves a degree of "linguistic sleuthing."

Richman, who grew up in a secular home and became Orthodox at the age of 12, said he "fell in love with the Land of Israel" during a study visit in the 1970's and "wanted to come back." This month marks the 30th anniversary of his arrival in Israel, he said. He cites as his organization's mandate, the Divine commandment in the Book of Exodus 25:8: "Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them."

As for the rest of the Jewish community, Richman says it needs to rethink its approach to the Temple and how it expresses its longing for it.

"It has become this noble idea – the pain, suffering, the waiting, 'maybe, maybe, maybe, if we're good kinderlach (children), God will appear next year,'" said Richman, all but deriding those who believe Jerusalem's future Temple will one day descend from the heavens in a Divine architectural stroke signaling the arrival of the Messiah. "What's with that? There's no parallel anywhere in Jewish thought to a building falling out of the sky."



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