The Temple Institute: With No Blowing of Trumpets



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With No Blowing of Trumpets

reprinted from Ynet
Tishrei 8, 5769, October 7, 2008

By Nadav Shragai

Following the end of the shmita (sabbatical) year 21 years ago, the top ranks of Israeli officialdom enlisted to a man in a modern-day approximation of the Hakhel ceremony. The event took place at the Western Wall Plaza during the intermediate days of the Sukkot festival.

When the Temple still stood, Hakhel (the Hebrew word for assembly) took place after every shmita, or once every seven years. The ceremony was held on the Temple Mount on the first evening of Sukkot. Historical sources say that trumpets were blown throughout Jerusalem and large wooden stages were erected on the mount. The king would then read out portions of the Book of Deuteronomy to the assembled audience. The colorful ritual was intended to preserve the memory of the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai. Even King Agrippas I, the Roman-Jewish grandson of Herod, conducted the Hakhel, earning cries of "You are our brother!"

In 1987, a substitute was found for the king in the person of Chaim Herzog, who was then president of Israel. Herzog read the relevant chapters of Deuteronomy to the entire "Who's Who" of Israeli officialdom, from prime minister Yitzhak Shamir to Supreme Court president Meir Shamgar. Trumpeters from the Temple Institute blew trumpets, a cantorial choir and the Young Israel Philharmonic Orchestra provided music, and three huge video screens broadcast what transpired to the assembled multitude.

This was the first time since the Six-Day War that Hakhel was held at the Western Wall. The last time the event was held at the Western Wall had been in 1946, before the establishment of the state. Then, too, it aroused great excitement. Masses of people flocked to Jerusalem. They came first to the Yeshurun Synagogue, where they recited psalms of praise, and then they marched to the Western Wall.

Another shmita year ended about 10 days ago, and during the intermediate days of this coming Sukkot holiday, which begins next week, another Hakhel event will be held. Or to be more precise, two events, accompanied by fierce controversy.

The main event at the Western Wall, the fourth since 1987, will, like its predecessors in 2001 and 1994, have a very different character from that of the first event 21 years ago. The difference derives from the increased power of the Haredim (ultra-Orthodox) in the religious establishment, and it is immediately evident in the event's name - no longer a "Hakhel Ceremony," but rather a "Hachnasat Torah Ceremony in Memory of the Hakhel." Hachnasat Torah is a ceremony celebrating the acquisition of a new Torah scroll.

The people responsible for this year's ceremony are Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, who is considered the leading Ashkenazi Haredi adjudicator of rabbinical law of this generation, and his disciple, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger.

Two decades ago, the Haredim were already expressing reservations about holding the Hakhel at the Western Wall. At that time, they called president Herzog - whose father, former chief rabbi Yitzhak Herzog, had been in favor of reviving the Hakhel - "vinegar derived from wine," an epithet for a despised offshoot of a good family, and waged a noisy campaign against the event.

Now, with Haredim occupying all the positions of power, the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, in consultation with Elyashiv and the chief rabbis, has decided that the president, the prime minister and the president of the Supreme Court will not be invited. Instead, the dignitaries will be rabbis: the current chief rabbis - Metzger and Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar - and their predecessors, Rabbis Yisrael Meir Lau and Eliahu Bakshi-Doron. Two well-known cantors, Binyamin Helfgott and Moshe Habusha, will also attend.

The fact that the occasion is defined as a hachnasat Torah, and only "in memory of" the Hakhel, makes it possible to bypass the ultra-Orthodox objections to it being held at all. It also allows the ceremony of welcoming the new Torah scrolls, which were donated by Ira Rennert and George Birnbaum (the well-known political consultant Arthur Finkelstein's partner in Israel), to be interwoven with some characteristics of the Hakhel.

At the same hour, however, an alternative Hakhel ritual will be held in nearby Tekuma Park, at a point that overlooks the Temple Mount. That ceremony, which is expected to attract members of the Temple Mount movements and the broader religious Zionist public, will take place under the auspices of the Company for the Reconstruction and Development of the Jewish Quarter. It will retain more of the characteristics of the original Hakhel: Trumpets will be sounded, and there will be a replication of the water-pouring ceremony that was performed in the Temple. In addition, objects prepared by the Temple Institute over the last year will be on display, including a golden miter and priestly garb. This ceremony will feature non-Haredi rabbis such as Adin Steinsaltz, Yuval Cherlow and Eliezer Waldman.

But the split into two ceremonies is evidently not the end of the division: Over the coming year, both the Chabad movement (following an old instruction from the Lubavitcher Rebbe) and the Temple Institute will give separate presentations at schools, kindergartens and other locales around the country to instill awareness of the Hakhel.

Proponents of the Hakhel cite Kontrass Zekher Hamikdash (Commemoration of the Temple Pamphlet), a booklet written about 120 years ago by the then-rabbi of Jerusalem, Rabbi Eliahu David Rabinowitz Teomim, to support their view. Teomim is considered the first to have revived the Hakhel in modern times. However, the ultra-Orthodox public rejected his approach then as well.

Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz - who will be the host of this year's official ceremony, as he was seven years ago - says that the model used for both this year's event and the one in 2001 is the correct model, because it is acceptable to every segment of the religious public. "The present event is one that can draw everyone closer and bring unity," he argued.



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