The Holy Temple:
Its Destruction and Subsequent Attempts to Rebuild It
The history of the Jewish experience since the Holy Temple was destroyed some 1,935 years ago at the hands of foreign invaders, is known as the exile. Exiled from their land and from their spiritual center - the Holy Temple - the Jewish nation has been marking time, waiting to leap, as it were, back into history, to take back its own destiny, and above all, to rebuild the Holy Temple - the house of G-d. The Jewish nation has seen to it that the Holy Temple was never forgotten throughout the darkest moments of her exile, and that her sons and daughters would one day renew the Divine service on Mount Moriah, and rebuild the Holy Temple.
Yet, along the way, forgetfulness and misunderstanding did creep in. To this day, many a Jewish household continues to observe the tradition of maintaining a half-meter square patch of wall scraped clean of plaster as one enters the house. For how can we complete our houses when G-d's house lays in ruins? Yet too many an observant Jewish homeowner wrongly believes that this patch of wall is commemorating the "destruction" and the the Temple itself: an ancient loss, but not a promised future. With remarkable tenacity the Jews have stuck to their memory of the Holy Temple. However, it is not the destruction that we are intended to commemorate, but the Divine promise that we will one day build the Holy Temple again. We weren't instructed to enshrine the 9th of Av as a day of permanent mourning for the Holy Temple, but as a day to remind us of our responsibility to rebuild the Holy Temple one day - maybe today - maybe tomorrow. We weren't instructed to commemorate its destruction, we are instructed to remember the Holy Temple in order to remain spiritually and intellectually prepared to rebuild it whenever the moment arrives. The following paragraphs, excerpted from The Odyssey of the Third Temple, by Rabbi Yisrael Ariel and Rabbi Chaim Richman of The Temple Institute, (copyright 1993, no longer available in print), tell the tale of a nation coming to grips with destruction, and by sheer force of will, shaping its every thought and action toward the day when that tragedy will turn to rejoicing - with the building of the Holy Temple.
The Holy Temple Lies in RuinsThe mighty Roman Empire, which ruled over vast stretches of the ancient world, engaged their legions' finest elite forces in Judea. No effort was spared in the struggle to regain the honor lost on the revolt which erupted in Jerusalem against the occupation of the caesars. The campaign had but one goal: the rebellion must be snuffed out.
The city was besieged for many long months. The population, continuing to battle, but now slowly dying of hunger, still refused to surrender to the Roman conquerors. With their very last ounce of strength, the heroes of Judah fought to save the Temple. As the realization of the inevitable destruction loomed closer, the priests hid many of the sacred vessels in various locations throughout the Temple and Jerusalem.
The Temple's Last MomentsEven in the last minutes of the war, the priests continued carrying out their sacred duties, in spite of the fact that the Temple courtyards flowed with the blood of the slain and fire roared at the entrances. The scope of the tragedy is recorded in the words of the rabbis:
"The day the Temple was destroyed was the ninth of Av. It was the conclusion of the Sabbath, and the end of the seven year cycle. It was during the time of the (priestly shift) of Yehoyiriv."
"The priests and levites stood on the platform and continued to sing... and did not cease until the enemy entered and subdued them." (BT Erchin 11:B)
"When the High Priest saw that the Holy Temple was in flames, he climbed up to the roof of the Sanctuary together with groups of the young priests. They held the keys to the Temple in their hands and spoke before the Holy One, Blessed be He: 'Master of the Universe! It appears that we were not worthy of being trusted officers for You - take back the keys to Your house!' and with that, they threw the keys upwards. The image of a hand appeared in the heavens and took them... "
"And when the priests and levites saw that the Holy Temple was indeed consumed with flames, they held the lyres and trumpets... and plunged into the fire." (Aicha Rabtai)
The Temple service was cut down while in progress - for its interruption can never be conceived of; not for war, or destruction. or even for the fire raging within.
The Talmud and Midrash present a detailed description of each stage of the destruction. Vivid images are also provided by Flavius Josephus, an eye-witness both to the destruction and the victory parade in Rome.
The sages describe Titus' trek from Jerusalem back to Rome upon returning from the war: "Titus removed the veil (which separated between the Holy and the Holy of Holies) and spread it out like a net. He gathered all the sacred vessels together and placed them inside, and then embarked by ship for Rome, to boast and seek honor." (BT Gittin 56)
Even though on simple political and military levels there were far more significant victories for the Roman Empire than the destruction of Judea, they saw fit to commemorate this event and preserve it for future generations - the famed monument, the "Arch of Titus." Here the capture of Judah is celebrated, and the victory parade of the plundered Temple vessels arriving in Rome can be seen to this very day. During the course of the long and bitters years, this scene became the symbol of Jewish exile, but hope itself is born in the very darkest moments...
"The Day the Temple was Destroyed - The Messiah was Born"The Romans were convinced that the saga of Jewish history had ended. According to their understanding, the Jewish people would now become scattered and disassociated, and disappear from the stage. But in reality, the opposite occurred: The Jewish people called up vast resources of inner strength and prepared for the long exile, accompanied by endless suffering and persecution. A new spiritual center was established in the land of Israel by Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakai, in a modest little settlement called Kerem B'Yavnah. But the banner and flag of the nation, held high when wherever they traveled was as always... the Holy Temple. The people did not submit to spiritual defeat, nor did they equivocate of shrink for even a moment from the conviction that the Temple must be rebuilt: The very day (on which the Temple was destroyed), Menachem (the messiah) was born." (JT Berachot 2:4)
This Midrashic statement beautifully expresses the indefatigable heart and consciousness of the Jewish people and the collective Jewish experience: Hope and rebirth spring forth from tragedy itself. The promise of the eventual redemption was already present at the very moment of destruction. The worst moments of the end only seem to reinforce the belief in the fulfillment of the promised return to the Divine service - the rebuilding of the Holy Temple.
Already at the time of the destruction, the sages of Israel took precautions and made arrangements to begin preparing the nation for rebuilding the Holy Temple at the earliest possible moment. There were also a number of actual historical attempts throughout the exile to erect the Temple and renew the service - for the rabbis had planted these seeds deeply, immediately when the Temple was destroyed. They knew that these seeds would eventually grow and bear fruit... the hour of the establishment of the Third Temple.
Customs Developed as a "Remembrance of the Temple"As we have mentioned, the rabbis took many precautions to insure that the Jews would never forget their obligation to return to the Holy Temple. In similar fashion, Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakai, himself an eyewitness to the destruction, enacted several regulations which were decreed binding, for example: Priests who are able to keep track of the day of their turn in the Temple service should conduct themselves on those days according to the same regulations applicable during Temple life. They should not drink wine on these days, in order to remain in a state of preparedness and to internalize the feeling that the Temple will indeed be rebuilt speedily. For the belief is deep that the events will happen so quickly, that if it should transpire that a particular priest drank a minimal amount of wine - he would not even have enough time for its effects to wear off before he must go quickly and attend to the service. This ruling, and others like it, helped to create a status of taunt expectation and readiness amongst the priests and the people... readiness to rebuild.
So too, the rabbis instituted various customs of mourning during the course of the year, as well as days of fasting and special prayers, in order to strengthen the national feeling of obligation towards building the Temple when the time presents itself.
Customs were also enacted and introduced into Jewish practice specifically for the purpose of "remembering the Temple." This type of custom is exemplified by the eating of matzot together with the bitter herb at the Seder on Passover night, the same manner in which the festive Passover pilgrims ate in Jerusalem.
These laws and customs accomplished their purpose. The long exile saw a number of attempts to renew the Temple, in spite of the harsh reality of a Holy Land desolate and abandoned, oppressed by foreign rulers.
Preparations for Building the Temple - In the Days of Rabbi Yehoshua Ben ChananyaThe very first recorded attempt to rebuild the Holy Temple occurred just a few short years after the destruction of the Second Temple, in the era of Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Chananya:
"In the time of Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Chananya, the evil empire (the Caesar Hadrian) decreed that the Temple may be rebuilt. Two wealthy Jews, Papus and Lilianus were appointed to finance the project. They accompanied the exiles along the way from Acre until Antioch, supplying them with silver, gold and all their needs."
"Meanwhile, the Samaritans went to the Emperor and lied. They said: 'Know, O King, that the Jews are rebelling against you! When they rebuild the Temple, they will cease to pay the royal taxes.`' Hadrian replied, 'What shall I do? I have already authorized the decree!'"
"They responded; 'All you need do is send a message to them saying, 'Change the location of the Temple just a bit - or, add on another five cubits to the site." Then they will withdraw of their own accord.'"
"The whole nation had gathered in the valley of Beit Ramon when the Emperor's edict arrived. They began to wail and cry."
"They considered rebelling against Hadrian, but Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Chananya rose and spoke before them. 'It is enough that we have escaped from these people with our lives,' he said. The Jews dispersed and each man returned to his home." (Bereshit Rabbah 64)
Hope - And DisappointmentThis incident shows just how precious and vital the commandment of building the Temple is to the Jewish people - at the very first possible opportunity, they simply packed their bags and made their way from the far-flung corners of their exile to Jerusalem, to build the Temple again.
Another important conclusion we can draw from this story is that their intention was to reconstruct the Temple along the exact lines as the structure of the Second temple. For the King's directive had been to simply change the location a negligible amount from that which is established in halacha, or to introduce a 5 cubit difference in the measurements of the Sanctuary that had previously stood. Yet this was enough to throw them into panic, abandon the building plans and beat a retreat. The ceremonial promise had at first inflated the people with a sense of hope; returning them to their lost sense of honor and appreciation of life... but although the promise was reneged, its consequences were not altogether lost... it was already too late for the Jews to be expected to return to the dull stupor of exile.
Bar Cochba's Rebellion - Towards renewal of Temple ServiceOne of the results of that massive gathering in Beit Ramon Valley was the rebellion of Bar Cochba. For it was not enough that Hadrian did not keep his word to establish the Temple... he then decided to erect a Roman pagan abomination on the site of the Jew's Holy Temple.
The rebellion erupted, with the building of the Temple as its central objective. To make a statement to his fellow Jews about the purpose of the rebellion, one of Bar Cochba's first campaigns was to mint a coin of the renewed kingdom of Israel... and carrying the facade of the Temple in Jerusalem. The second side of this coin depicted the two silver trumpets which were blown in the Temple upon embarking to war.
The fighters gained strength and eventually took control of Jerusalem and vicinity.
Owing to inaccuracies in the reporting of the rebellions' progress found in both Roman testimonies and traditional Jewish sources, it remains unclear whether or not the fighters achieved their objective of even temporarily renewing the Temple service.
The uprising was brutally repelled, but in the course of time the Roman caesars declined and faded until they disappeared. Meanwhile, movement in Israel for rebuilding the Temple only grew deeper and stronger.
Renewed Temple Service in the Era of the Tosafists (12th - 14th Centuries)Additional attempts were made during the course of the long exile to begin the Temple service, and the following is one incident which deserves to be mentioned among them:
This plan was conceived in the time of the "Tosafists," the French school of Torah scholarship comprised of grandsons and disciples of the great medieval commentator, Rabbi Shlomo Ben Yitzchak, known universally as Rashi. At this time, large numbers of the sages living in France were immigrating to the land of Israel, and one of these men, Rabbi Yechiel of Paris (d. 1268), began making practical preparations for the return of the Jewish people and the resumption of the Temple service. Detailed information about this can be found in the book Kaftor VeFerach (chapter 6), by Rabbi Ashtori HaParchi. In this work, the author discusses some practical questions regarding the Temple with his master, Rabbi Baruch of Jerusalem. For example: the possibility of erecting the Holy Temple when Israel is in a state of impurity; also, if only priests in possession of pedigree documents (which trace their lineage and establish their priesthood beyond any doubt) may perform the service.
In these two important areas, Rabbi Ashtori HaParchi arrived at practical conclusions which are extremely enlightening: Firstly, that it is indeed possible to begin Temple services - even in a state of impurity. His ruling is that congregational sacrifices, meaning those which pertain to the entire nation, take precedence over impurity and override it.
Secondly, with regards to ascertaining the status of the priesthood, he maintains that any individual who has a family tradition as such may proceed to serve in the temple, even if he does not possess a document.
During this period, hundreds of Jewish scholars in France immigrated to the Holy Land; a portion of them settled in Acre while others resided in Jerusalem and other cities. But as a result of ensuing persecutions and decrees against them, the discussions on the possibilities of building were halted, and the movement lost its momentum.
Attempts to Rebuild in Modern TimesIn recent times, new-found liberties and freedom for European countries has been accompanied by further practical attempts to reestablish Temple service... for the possibility had been created for the Jewish people to return and renew national life in its own land.
A movement sprang up wherein many of Israel's great scholars began publicizing declarations and publishing books on the subject of resettling the land, arousing public interest and attention around the question of rebuilding the Temple as well. This movement included Rabbi Yehuda Bibas, Rabbi Yehuda Alkalai. Rabbi Zvi Hirsh Kalisher and others.
Rabbi Zvi Hirsh Kalisher, a leading figure in this effort, turned in writing to the greatest Jewish philanthropist of the age - Baron Asher Anshil Rothschild, who commanded the respect of all the world's royalty. R. Kalisher suggested that he offer to purchase the entire land of Israel at a high price from Ibrahim Pasha, King of Egypt, who ruled over the Holy Land at the time. The land itself was barren and desolate. R. Kalisher also suggested an alternative possibility, in the event that the first one should be rejected - to request the minimal purchase of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount. The Rabbi explains at great length, how the renewal of the Temple service will lead to the mass immigration of the Jewish people from the lands of their oppression, resulting eventually in the settlement of the entire land of Israel.
Excerpts from Rabbi Kalisher's Letter to Baron Rothschild Concerning the Purchase of the Temple Mount:
In his book D'rishat Zion, Rabbi Kalisher goes to great lengths to prove that the obligation to build the Holy Temple and renew the service applies in every generation, especially at a time when it is more feasible on account of a Jewish presence, with a chance for Jewish government in Jerusalem - as a free nation in her land.
The Future Todayby Yitzchak Reuven
"A time to weep." Rashi states simply: Tish'a b'Av. "A time to build." Rashi quotes from the prophet Amos: "On that day I will raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and repair its breaches; and I will raise up his ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old..."
It may seem odd to quote from Koheleth  (Ecclesiastes), concerning the three week period of mourning beginning with the fast of the 17th of Tammuz and ending with the fast of the ninth of Av. After all, it is the scroll of Eicha (Lamentations), written by the prophet Jeremiah, that describes the laying to waste of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar. But the scroll of Koheleth, written by King Solomon, who built the House of G-d, whose loss is commemorated by Eicha, has much to teach us concerning the destruction and rebuilding of the Holy Temple:
"To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing. A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace."
Time is dynamic. Time marks change, and time itself is a vehicle for change. G-d created our world within the dimension of time, and time is what marks the progression of G-d's revelation to man: this is what we call history. The Torah, handed down at Sinai wasn't the final word from G-d, but the first. This is not to say that there are other "Torahs" revealed by G-d at later dates, but quite the opposite. That Torah, the "original" revelation, continues to reveal itself to the people of Israel, through the medium of time. For the Jewish nation, historical time, "chronology", is merely a garment for an inner spiritual time. This revelation of G-d's word through linear time is complemented by another calibration of spiritual time: cyclical time - the Hebrew calendar. The months, weeks and days of the Hebrew calendar don't merely mark historical events that happened once, and are to be commemorated for time immemorial. The pilgrimage festivals as well as the other "appointed days" don't merely remind us of a ritual or tradition we need to perform. They reawaken a spiritual moment and relocate a spiritual place within the Jewish soul. They reopen a window of perception and access to a greater spiritual truth. They rekindle a living and loving relationship between G-d and His people. They reopen an opportunity for repair and refinement, for cleansing and correction of past misdeeds. The holy Sabbath itself, which opens up for its beloved - the Jewish people - every seven days, is not grounded in historical time at all. The source of its blessing derives from the creation of time itself. The holy Sabbath is timeless, and the holiness which permeates and emanates from the Sabbath is timeless by nature, and binds us to a moment beyond moments, a primordial light, which like a heartbeat, pulsates through our very spiritual being.
"To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven." Koheleth come to teach us that time itself is a tool for change. That if we learn how to grasp time and utilize its potential, we can change our own nature. We can transcend birth and we can transcend death, We can plant, when planting is necessary, and uproot when our spiritual growth calls for uprooting; We kill that which must die within us, and heal that which we need to heal; We break down what needs to be broken, and we build that whose time has come to be built.
The ninth of Av, the commemoration of the destruction of both the first and second temples, of the collapse of the Bar Cochba rebellion, and of later historical tragedies , such as the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, is a date on the Hebrew calendar like any other date on the Hebrew calendar. It contains a spiritual content, as does any other date on the Hebrew calendar, and contains within it the spiritual power to effect tikkun - rectification, repair, like any other date on the Hebrew calendar.
So why do we treat it differently? Why do we relate to the ninth of Av as we might relate to garbage collection day, or an appointment with the dentist, or tax return day. In other words, a day in which we have an obligation, unpleasant though it may be, that we really need to tend to, lest we regret not doing so the morning after. In other words, like a secular day on a secular calendar. The ninth of Av is a sacred day, born into our collective Jewish consciousness on the day that the spies returned to the Israelites in the desert and gave the evil report concerning the land of Israel. A painful day. But nonetheless, a sacred day on a sacred calendar.
The ninth of Av is a sacred day that demands tending to in the most fundamental spiritual level - for bound within the spiritual nature of the ninth of Av is nothing less than the destiny of our own souls. We ignore its potential at our own risk, yet ignore it we do, year after year. We ignore the ninth of Av by faithfully observing it each year. By sitting on the floor, reading kinot, (dirges), and fasting from dusk to dark. Breaking the fast on the evening of the tenth, and going about our business, we are ignoring the ninth of Av, and guaranteeing that it will remain a date fixed in time. A date on which times stands still. A date still born, cut off from its spiritual source, from its potential to heal and effect change.
Mourning, in Jewish custom, is a short-term, transitional activity, intended to allow the mourner to absorb the shock of his loss, come to terms with his new status, spiritually, physically and emotionally, as a result of his loss, and ready himself to move forward after his loss. To be in a state of mourning on a permanent or annual basis would be the antithesis of mourning, as it would confound the process of redefining one's self in light of his loss.
For two thousand years the Jewish people lived in exile. The exile was all encompassing: Jewish political independence was annihilated. The Jew was exiled - physically cut off from his land, emotionally impaired by a permanent reality of impotence, and spiritually crippled by his inability to observe mitzvot on both a personal and national level that were connected to the land of Israel and Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel. Agricultural laws could not be observed. Civil laws could not be observed. Laws between man and G-d could not be observed. For two thousand years the Jews managed to survive, and even flourish, but only within the self imposed concept of "dalet amot" - four cubits of Jewish law. In other words, the destiny of the Jewish nation was locked into a holding pattern. The linear aspect of Jewish sacred time had stopped. The cyclical aspect of the Hebrew calendar became a vehicle for remembering the past and maintaining the present, at the cost of forgetting the future, either by blocking it out altogether, or by rendering it beyond the influence of the individual or even of the community. In short - change - repair - was rendered unattainable through the actions of man, attainable only through Divine intervention by G-d. Yom Kippur could continue to be a time of spiritual rebirth for the Jews because of the very nature of the holiday - the seasonal timelessness of repentance. Rosh HaShana - the time of judgment - also maintained its spiritual integrity. Holidays such as Pesach. Sukkoth and Shavuoth necessarily were diminished as they all were, on the one hand rooted in the land of Israel, and on the other hand, pointing toward a historical redemption that had been put on hold. The ninth of Av, perhaps the key to unlocking this exilic stranglehold on the Jewish nation, became enshrined as a day of permanent mourning.
To be sure, the Jew in exile kept his dream alive, and the great sages who shepherded their people through the endless exile did provide the spiritual tools that would manage to keep the window to the future open, if only by a crack. But the Jew, by and large, had become conditioned to be a passive observer of his own, and his nation's fate.
The Zionist movement and the creation of the state of Israel set into motion new forces that began to transport the Jews back toward their future, with a speed and relentlessness that hadn't been felt for two thousand years. History - spiritual change - had begun once again for the Jews. Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel marked the end of the physical exile of the Jew. A renaissance of Jewish civilization beckoned. But alas, the spiritual exile of the Jew - that the secular Zionists were so zealous to reject - still rested heavy on the heart of every Jew, secular Zionist as well as observant Jew. When G-d granted victory to the Jewish nation in the Six Day War - when the land of Israel in its entirety, including the very heart of G-d's creation - physical as well as spiritual - Jerusalem and Mount Moriah, were returned to Jewish sovereignty, the curtain finally closed on the spiritual exile of the Jewish people.
So why do we still observe the ninth of Av as a day of mourning, some thirty eight years after the liberation of the site of the Holy Temple? The miracle of 1967 caught the Jewish nation off guard, unprepared. Unprepared spiritually, emotionally, and certainly in terms of practical knowledge of where and how to begin the renewal of the daily offering and the rebuilding of the Holy Temple. The knowledge existed in the very books that G-d fearing Jews studied every day, but these chapters containing the necessary information went unread. The 2000 year exile had taken its toll. The daily expectation of a quick end to the exile and a return to an earlier historical splendor which had carried the Jews through the long exile still remained deep in their hearts, but years of despair and despondency had placed that hope beyond the reach of readiness to act upon it when the historical opportunity presented itself. In the aftermath of the capture and liberation of the Temple Mount, and in light of the lack of readiness with which the nation of Israel was caught, 2000 years of yearning soon turned into fear: the secular Zionist political leadership of Israel feared the responsibility of being sovereign over the Temple Mount. They feared Arab/Moslem reaction to Jewish mastery over the Mount, and they feared the growing calls by their fellow Jews for a renewed Jewish presence on the Mount. Many observant Jews also feared the Mount. Centuries of yearning and praying for the return of the Holy Temple had manifested intellectually and emotionally as a perception that the Holy Temple no longer remained attainable in the realm of history, through the labors of the Jewish nation, as it had been during the times of both the first and second temples, but that it had become consigned to the end of time, the messianic era. This particular school of thought captured the souls of many Jews. On a purely psychological, or perhaps, physiological level, another truth was making itself known: people do not like change, and building the Holy Temple means changing everything. Not the least of those changes is the spiritual focus of the Jewish people, and this was perhaps the most difficult thing for the religious Jew to contend with. So a type of "collaboration" was engaged between the secular political leaders of Israel, and many of the rabbinical leaders, the purpose of which was to render the Temple Mount, and naturally, the Holy Temple itself, off limits to the Jews. Remarkably, for a people which had so diligently recorded every aspect of the life of the nation when it was centered around the Holy Temple, these rabbis - men of knowledge - who at their fingertips had recourse to every strand of knowledge necessary to begin the renewal of the Divine service - pleaded ignorance. And with that ignorance they locked the gate and drew a curtain over the Temple Mount.
But there did exist Jews who did not, could not accept this decision. These Jews saw the liberation of the Temple Mount as a heavenly summons for the Jews to return to their history, to fulfill their destiny as had been decreed thousands of years earlier by the prophets of the