Should We Build A Third Temple?
A Sermon by Rabbi Arnold Saltzman
Recently we observed the 19th anniversary of the assassination of Prime Minister of Israel, Yizhak Rabin. In addition, recently a right wing Rabbi in Israel was the victim of an attempted assassination from which he is still struggling for his life at Shaare Zedek Hospital in Jerusalem.
Rabin was killed by a right wing fanatic who said that his rabbi had taught ‘anyone who gives up land in the land of Israel, even for peace, that it was permissible to kill them’. We have to ask ourselves ‘how is that different from an Imam who issues the same type of rulings against non-believers?'
Why was Rabbi Yehuda Glick targeted by radical Palestinians? Yehuda Glick leads a group calling for opening up the Temple Mount to Jewish worship as a precursor to rebuilding a Third Temple. On line we can read:
“Glick advocates opening the Temple Mount on an equal footing to prayer by Muslims, Jews, Christians and others. He has been called "a symbol of the struggle for Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount." He has been described as representing the recent shift in the demand for Jewish prayer to be permitted on the Temple Mount on an equal footing with Muslim prayer from the fringe to the mainstream of Israeli society. Glick has spoken about his vision of a Utopian Temple Mount. It would include a "House of prayer for all Nations," with the Dome of the Rock standing alongside a rebuilt Jewish sacrificial altar.”
This group is using crowd-sourcing to raise funds for their projects, and the government of Israel has been cautious about confronting them, since they are a part of the religious base which keeps Likud in power.
For me this is a red line, just as much as a military threat, perhaps even more so. I do not believe in the rebuilding of a third Temple. I am against it, and will speak out against it.
As an Orthodox youth and even as a Conservative Cantor, I always looked forward to the prayer - Sheyiboneh Beys Hamikdosh - May it be Your Will that we will rebuild the Great Temple! As a child I sang with the Kusevitzky brothers, cantors from Poland who popularized this cantorial recitative of great beauty and heart.
In a post Holocaust world, and even as we commemorate Kristallnacht, the ‘Night of the Broken Glass’, a night of terrible and catastrophic destruction in modern Germany and Austria, we note that following WWII there was a strong hope for a homeland, and a rebirth of the Jewish People. It happened. Along with this, inspired music set to the words of rebuilding the Temple, became a metaphor for rebuilding an annihilated European Jewry, Sephardic and Mizrachi Jewry, an ingathering for a new future.
The melody and interpretation of both Moshe and David Kusevitzky were inspiring and mystical. Pleading in the soulful manner, with coloratura runs, breathtaking and as fast as the wind - hurry - bimheira beyameinu - speedily in our time. Now, I never believed in that literally, nevertheless I understood the power of these words following the Holocaust.
The music still stands, yet the words - what do they mean?
For most Orthodox Jews, only when the Messiah (Moshiach) comes could a third Temple be built, and not, when due to the fact that money was raised through the Internet. Yet, in Israel today, in religious schools, the study of Temple sacrifices, and the Temple cult is the norm in religious education. In my own Rabbinic School as we studied this, I commented that this was a primitive form of Judaism, and other members of the class commented ‘How Could I Say That?’ How could I be against animal sacrifice in the 21st century? Well, I am against it.
Furthermore, the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 70 CE left the Temple Mount in ruins and then they built a Temple to Jupiter. Eventually the area was in shambles. For almost 600 years it remained desolate until the Muslim Conquests, when they sought to find the sight of Solomon’s Temple and build a new edifice over it. This happened, and that is how we have the Dome of the Rock, one of the most magnificent buildings and places of religious worship in the world.
Traditional Rabbi’s have always forbidden Jews from going to this area, since in ancient time, only the High Priest could enter this area, once a year to utter God’s name. So if these groups are so religious how will they explain away worshipping on the Temple Mount, no less building somewhere on the Temple Mount?
I am also appalled that President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, said that the closure of the Temple Mount recently was a declaration of war. His words are irresponsible. When people are being attacked by stones, knives, guns and home made bombs, and being murdered it is necessary to regain some peace before normal days return. Nevertheless, the status quo which was hammered out decades ago with Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kolleck should be adhered to.
Jews have a right to pray or visit, just as Christians and Muslims do in Jerusalem albeit in different locations.
I ask you, which Israel IDF soldier, young man or woman, is going to die for these fanatical pursuits? Which stone is worth your son or daughter, father or mother, husband or wife, brother or sister?
The push by the ‘religious right’ should be a matter of concern for the Reform Movement and for all of us. On the sight of now calamitous destructions of the the ancient Jewish People and many wars, we have a balance of Jews worshipping, Muslims worshipping, and Christians worshipping in another area of old Jerusalem. When Ariel Sharon came to power he opened the underground areas, to much noise and anger from the Arab population. I think ultimately that was a good decision.
Building the Third Temple in Jerusalem is not a unifying Jewish value. The Reform Movement intentionally abandoned calling its houses of worship synagogues, and instead called them Temples. Why? To indicate that we can worship in a Temple without a cult of sacrifice, and without perpetual war over a rock. Visiting the Temple Mount should be enough, Praying at the Kotel, the Western Wall should be enough. Praying at Robinson’s Arch should be enough. Praying in Maryland does not take a detour through Jerusalem, even though Jerusalem is in our hearts.
The suspect in the shooting of Rabbi Glick has been killed by the Shin Bet in the neighborhood of Abu Tor. Anger is spilling over in the worst possible way. The Right Wing members of the Knesset say they are speaking out for their right to worship wherever they want in Jerusalem. Yet, I think that ‘they’ are also responsible for the increasing anger and fear among the residents of Jerusalem.
Mark Regev, the spokesman for the Netanyahu Government commented: A failure to struggle for the right of Jews to live in peace in Jerusalem will result in murderous Palestinian terror across Israel,” To me this is dangerous double speak. Infringing on the rights of Israeli Arab citizens to worship, and if they resist they too will be labeled ‘terrorist.’ We can do better.
What are we building? What are we destroying?
When the first Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rav. Kook, spoke of rebuilding the Temple, he wrote:
And the truth of the light of the world will be built from various dimensions, from various approaches, for these and those are the words of the living God...
Just as "the building" requires many different parts, truth does, too.
I am opposed to the idea of rebuilding the Temple physically. While at the same time I seek to build a Jewish Community dedicated to good principles for all human beings. We should accept that others worship differently, and that we live in a pluralistic world. We do not have to support insanity, even if we condemn those who assassinate, murder and terrorize while they are celebrated for doing so in Gaza.
Clal Yisrael means we build across denominations in Judaism. The Reform Movement does not believe in the rebuilding of the Temple. The Conservative Movement says it does, yet without sacrifices. I believe that many Orthodox Jews would agree that rebuilding the Temple is not what we should be about.
Israeli Prime Minister Yizhak Rabin was assassinated 19 years ago. It is difficult to believe that the fanatic who felt he had the right to do this changed the course of history for the worse for all of us.
This should be instructive that in pursuing peace as a goal, we must not give in to fanaticism. Israel is the refuge of the Jewish people, and home to two million Christians and Muslims who enjoy its democracy, even though it is imperfect. The 'hope' and the 'dream' was never to resurrect ancient Israel, rather it was and it is to have a modern state, capable of defense and economic health as well as intellectual inspiration. Israel is all of these. Yet today, extreme views may pull Israel further from the goal of peace.
Yizhak Rabin was a brilliant military strategist and courageous man, the epitome of how we view Israel, strong and determined, yet compassionate and patient. Rabin was beloved in the American community where he spoke on many occasions and where listening to him one could begin to understand and fathom that he had a great analytical mind. He understood that strengthening moderate forms of Judaism and points of view could strengthen Israel, and that perhaps the greatest threat to the future was an irresponsible yearning for the religious past of the ancient world, something which has been altered even by rabbinic interpretation and making it impossible to return to.
We were shocked, and are still shocked by the pain of that day. The evil perpetrated was felt around the world. In his memorial service I will never forget that leaders of Egypt and Jordan flew to Jerusalem for his funeral. This was a sign that there might be hope for the future. Unlike today, on that day the leaders of the world stood with Israel. How can we recapture that? That is the Temple we should rebuild.
No one can ever claim that Rabin was a 'peacenik,' rather he was a realist and a great General and leader who had a vision of a better future, which an assassin robbed from us. At some point the voices which have been drowned out in the recent past, will rise again and speak out for Shalom Al Yisrael.
Lea Rabin answered a letter I sent immediately after the assassination writing back to me and giving me permission to create a scholarship in memory of this great leader and hero. She said that strengthening those more moderate forms of Judaism was the best way to counter the fanatic who killed her husband.
As we commemorate Kristallnacht, the destruction, and remember Rabin, may we commit ourselves to speak out against Jewish Fundamentalism, and those who would build a Temple while tearing down the fabric of the Jewish people.