Friday, July 24, 2015

Some Tisha B'Av Thoughts on Building a Third Temple

Tisha B'Av is not the most relatable holiday out there for me on the Jewish calendar. We culminate the sadness of the Jewish people, and practically self-induce sadness. We remember a litany of national calamities that befell the Jewish people, most notably the loss of the First and Second temples. There are some who are so devastated by the loss of the Second Temple that they want to take their fervor and build a Third Temple. I don't share that enthusiasm, certainly not enough to hop a plane to Israel and pick up a shovel, hammer, or any other tool.

Part of my lack of enthusiasm is that a Third Temple would mean a return to a sacrificial system as a mode of worship. Sacrifices are a foreign concept of worship to me, as they are for so many modern Jews. The sacrificial system is an outdated, insipid concept. There are enough times in the Hebrew Scriptures where G-d admonishes the Jewish people because they have conflated the means (e.g., sacrifices) with the ends (i.e., becoming closer to G-d). If the sacrificial system were so wonderful, how come it was limited to one place and had other limitations? If sacrificing animals were so essential to Jewish practice, not only would G-d not have placed limits on sacrifices in the first place, but we would still be sacrificing animals. Notice how sacrificing animals is not a form of worship in a synagogue. Plus, Judaism would not have survived if Jews did not learn to adapt to the political reality of losing the land of Israel to foreign powers. 

Rabbi Nathan Cardozo summarizes many of my thoughts up quite well in a recent article he wrote:

The Temple service is not the ultimate form of worship that Judaism dreams about; it is only the beginning, a foretaste of what still needs to come. Its purpose is to function, though metaphoric rites, as a medium through which people are stimulated to take their first steps toward an inner transformation....It is not the culmination that needs to be achieved, but its sincere commencement....Whether or not the Temple will be rebuilt is not our concern, nor is it our dream. It is of little importance. What we dream of is the day when we will be able to transform ourselves and reconstruct the Temple's message within our hearts."

The loss of the Temple was so unfortunate not only because the Jewish people lost a sense of spiritual centrality, but also a form of worship that meant something to them. It is about dealing with loss and how to be consoled through the coping of that loss. We have all dealt with loss at some point, which is why the holiday is relatable on some level. It's still hard to relate because we have a Jewish state and we can visit a unified, thriving Jerusalem (I have!). We have seen that Judaism can be meaningful without a sacrificial system. I take Tisha B'Av as a time to reflect on loss and the effects it can have on us. I take it as a time to look back, not only on my life, but also the life of the Jewish people. Even with the sorrow entailed in the Tisha B'Av services and the rituals, that is not supposed to be the end-result.

Maimonides brings up an interesting point in Mishneh Torah (Ta'aniyot, Ch. 4, Pt. 1) about the purpose of such fasting. It is supposed to arouse us to repent, which is what R. Cardozo is saying. Yes, we take some time to look back, but we also take it as a time to pick ourselves up to move forward. If Jewish tradition teaches that we have not had a Temple for so long because of baseless hatred towards one's fellow [Jew], then I think repenting to inculcate a greater sense of Jewish unity, much like existed during the time of the Temple, is a good place to start. I think it's more mournful to see the inner bickering, the back-biting, and the downright malicious attacks on fellow Jews than I do a building. If the Temple is supposed to be a culmination of the spiritual values and ideals Jews are supposed to hold dear, then let's open ourselves to enough ahavat Yisrael and respect for other Jews, in spite of our differences. Since the Jews have not been able to develop that sort of unity for two millennia, it doesn't surprise me that a Third Temple has not been built. Until Jews can repent to a level of feeling a relatively boundless love, I don't see the point of mourning the loss of a building. Let's talk about treating other Jews with decency first. Then we can talk about a Third Temple.  

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