When some Gentiles read the Bible (including, of course, the so-called ‘New Testament’ of Christianity,) they wonder what happened to the Temple in Jerusalem. A frequent question from Gentiles to Jews is why animal sacrifices are no longer conducted and why Jewish places of worship are synagogues alone. The reason is in the very history of the people of Israel. In this post, I will talk about the temple, about the history of the two temples and about the construction plans of the third temple.
The holiest place in Judaism, known to any tourist to Jerusalem, is the Wailing Wall (‘Kotel,’ in Hebrew.) For a non-Jew, it must seem strange to see hundreds of Jews praying every day to a wall, even from all the corners of the planet (in the daily prayers, the Jews look toward the Wall, as the Muslims pray toward the Mecca.) In fact, the Wailing Wall is the only remaining structure of Second temple of Jerusalem, built by the captives of Babylon who returned to Israel, then renovated by Herod the Great in 19 a. C.
That temple was destroyed by the Romans in 66 AD. C. during a series of revolts which were stifled with severity by Emperor Titus, who ordered the complete destruction of the city. This brutal act of barbarism is still remembered by the entire Jewish community around the world and is remembered in several moments of prayer.
It is a painful event since the Temple was the cultural hub of Judaism. Rabbis preached there, sacrifices were made to G-d and it was the destination of pilgrimage of all Jews during the special holidays, like Pesach. Not only that: a first temple was built centuries before, Solomon’s, built around 960 a. C. and destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 a. C. by the orders of king Nebuchadnezzar. The first temple, an architectural wonder, retained the Ark of the Covenant (which in turn contained the tables of the Law of Moses, Aaron’s rod and a little amount of manna, which nourished our ancestors during the Exodus.) A catastrophic event, announced by several prophets, meant a moral and cultural defeat for Israel, which happened again during the siege of Jerusalem by the Romans.
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For a long time, Jerusalem was a sad place of desolation. In its ruins, corpses and the remains of a glorious past gathered everywhere. Emperor Hadrian renamed Israel as ‘Palestine’ to further undermine the morals of the Jews who had to flee Israel (remember that the name ‘Palestine’ comes from the Philistines, Israel’s great enemies during King David’s times.) Then, centuries later, Islam appeared. According to the Islamic tradition, the prophet Muhammad ascended to the heavens from the place where the temple of Jerusalem rose once: the esplanade of the Mosques, and for this reason, the Muslims built two important buildings for the Islamic world: the Dome of the Rock and the Mosque of Al-Aqsa. Ultra-orthodox Jews consider that the very existence of those buildings is a blasphemy for the Jewish faith.
And the point is: Jews do not forget. We keep the memory of our ancestral history in our hearts like carved stones. For many religious believers, Muslims, Jews of various branches and gentiles, the construction of a third temple is a highly controversial affair. And the serious matter is that such a project is far from being a simple nostalgic idea. The construction of the Third Temple in Jerusalem is a very complex project, which already has several years of work.
You see, since the destruction of the Second Temple of Jerusalem, the Jews have prayed for God to allow the rebuilding of the third temple. This prayer has been part of the traditional prayer that Jews realize three times a day. Despite continuing to be built, the idea and desire for a third temple is sacred to Judaism, especially for the Haredim, as a place of unfulfilled worship.
Of course, it is a controversial enterprise. In Jerusalem, the Temple Institute displays the architectural model of what will be the Third Temple of the Holy City. The model shows the Temple of Solomon, but it is not that is carefully described in the last part of the book of Prophet Ezekiel, which is what the third temple must be. The priestly garments of those who will minister the sacrifice in that place are already woven, the rest of holy instruments are made … but many religious Jews are skeptical about this building plan. On the other hand, those who minister in this temple have also been trained and selected according to the requirements explained in the Torah, but it’s really hard to know if they are truly descendants from the tribe of Levi, the only men allowed to perform the religious rites.
However, there is one problem that needs to be addressed. Any attempt to expropriate the Esplanade of the Mosques would lead to an enormous religious conflict that would cross the borders of the region.
What would happen next? Only G-d knows.
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* Featured Image courtesy of Enrique Domingo at Flickr.com