The history of the Jewish experience since the Holy Temple was destroyed some 1,941 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 Ruins
The 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 Moments
Even 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 Chananya
The 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 Disappointment
This 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 Service
One 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 Times
In 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: