Yesterday marked the commemoration of the 17th of Tammuz, a day of fasting and reflection and the start of the “three week” mourning period culminating in the somber day of remembrance Tisha BaAv, the Ninth of Av. In addition to the other misfortunes which befell the Jewish people on this day, traditionally the 17th of Tammuz is the day when the walls of Jerusalem were breached in 69 C.E. leading to the destruction of the 2nd Temple 3 weeks later on the Ninth of Av. Throughout the centuries, the Jewish people have used this time period for both personal as well as national introspection. For the vast majority of people the Temple and its destruction, is only used as an instructive teaching platform for broader moral lessons. For many the questions and introspection focuses on the following: What was the root cause of the destruction? How can we make sure to not fall prey to it again? Do we see similar trends in the Modern State of Israel, and if so how should we combat those trends? However, regrettably, there seems to be only a small minority of the Jewish people who ponder and contemplate the need for the actual physical rebuilding of the Temple. What purpose did the Temple serve, and what meaning and insight would its rebuilding hold for the Jewish People Today?
This question is not simply a “religious” one (and therefore I will not be addressing the purely “religious” implications in the coming paragraphs), but is one which was addressed by the founder of the modern “secular” Zionist movement, Dr. Theodore Herzl.
In his Utopian novel “Altneuland/ Old New Land” published in 1902 six years after “Der Judenstaat/ The Jewish State”, Herzl expanded on his ideas and vision for the future Jewish state in the Land of Israel. In this novel we follow the story of Friedrich Löwenberg, a young Jewish Viennese intellectual, who tired with European self-indulgence joins the travels of the Prussian nobleman Kingscourt. While stopping in the port of Jaffa in 1902 they find Palestine a backward and impoverished land. However, on their second visit which takes place in 1923, they are astonished to discover a land which has been completely transformed. A new Jewish state has risen and European Jews have rediscovered and re-inhabited their “Old New Land” again becoming masters of their own fate and destiny in the Land of Israel.
Close to the end of this work Dr. Herzl lays out in meticulous detail the new wondrous city of Jerusalem which has opened up to all. Many scholars, Rabbis and Zionist thinkers have questioned and critiqued this work based on different philosophical, religious, and political issues that they have had with it. However, in my opinion regardless of ones’ political or religious affiliation in these weeks of introspection and reflection it would behoove us all to take a closer look at his vision and message of the rebuilt Temple in the reborn Jerusalem.
As he astutely reminds us at the end of this book:
“אם תרצו, אין זו אגדה; ואם לא תרצו, אגדה היא ואגדה תישאר”
“If you will it, it is no dream; and if you do not will it, a dream it is and a dream it will stay”
Due to the eloquence of his writing, the entire section with minor edits for length appears below:
Twenty years before, Kingscourt and Friedrich had entered Jerusalem by night and from the west. Now they came by day, approaching from the east. Then she had been a gloomy, dilapidated city; now she was risen in splendor, youthful, alert, risen from death to life.
They came directly from Jericho up to the top of The Mount of Olives with its wide views. Jerusalem and her hills were still sacred to all mankind, still bore the tokens of reverence bestowed upon her through the ages. But something had been added; new, vigorous, joyous life. The Old City within the walls, as far as they could see from the mountain top, had altered least. The Holy Sepulcher, the Mosque of Omar, and other domes and towers had remained the same; but many splendid new structures had been added. That magnificent new edifice was the Peace Palace. A vast calm brooded over the Old City.
Outside the walls the picture was altogether different. Modem sections intersected by electric street railways; wide, tree-bordered streets; homes, gardens, boulevards, parks; schools, hospitals, government buildings, pleasure resorts. David pointed out and named the important buildings. Jerusalem was now a twentieth century metropolis. Fascinating indeed….but the Old City drew their eyes back ever and again. There she lay in the afternoon sunlight, on the farther side of the Kidron Valley….Kingscourt had put all sorts of questions, and David had answered them all. Now he asked, what was that wonderful structure of white and gold, whose roof rested on a whole forest of marble columns with gilt capitals? Friedrich’s heart stirred within him as David replied, “That is the Temple!”
Friedrich’s first visit to the Temple was on a Friday evening. David had engaged rooms for the party at one of the best hotels near the Jaffa Gate, and at sundown invited his guests to go with him to the Temple. Friedrich walked ahead with Miriam, David and Sarah following. The streets which at noon had been alive with traffic were now suddenly stilled. Very few motor cars were to be seen; all the shops were closed. Slowly and peacefully the Sabbath fell upon the bustling city. Throngs of worshipers wended their way to the Temple and to the many synagogues in the Old City and the New, there to pray to the God whose banner Israel had borne throughout the world for thousands of years.
The spell of the Sabbath was over the Holy City, now freed from the filth, noise and vile odors that had so often revolted devout pilgrims of all creeds when, after long and trying journeys, they reached their goal. In the old days they had had to endure many disgusting sights before they could reach their shrines. All was different now. There were no longer private dwellings in the Old City; the lanes and the streets were beautifully paved and cared for. All the buildings were devoted to religious and benevolent purposes-hospices for pilgrims of all denominations. Moslem, Jewish, and Christian welfare institutions, hospitals, clinics stood side by side…
Whatever a man’s attitude toward religion, he could not escape a reverent mood in the streets of Jerusalem when he saw the quiet throngs exchange the Sabbath greetings as they passed…
They reached the Temple. The times had fulfilled themselves, and it was rebuilt. Once more it had been erected with great quadrangular blocks of stone hewn from nearby quarries and hardened by the action of the atmosphere. Once more the pillars of bronze stood before the Holy Place of Israel. “The left pillar was called Boaz, but the name of the right was Jachin.” In the forecourt was a mighty bronze altar, with an enormous basin called the brazen sea as in the olden days, when Solomon was king in Israel…
The great hall resounded with singing and the playing of lutes. The music recalled to Friedrich far-off things in his own life, and turned his thoughts to other days in Israel. The worshipers were crooning and murmuring the words of the ritual, but Friedrich thought of Heine’s “Hebrew Melodies.” The Princess Sabbath, she that is called the “serene princess,” was at home here. The choristers chanted a hymn that had stirred yearnings for their own land in the hearts of a homeless people for hundreds of years. The words of the noble poet Solomon ha-Levy, “Lecha Dodi, likrath kallah!”… (“Come, Beloved, to meet the bride!”) How beautifully Heine had put it:
“‘Komm, Geliebter, deiner harret
Schon die Braut, die dir entschleiert
Ihr verschaemtes Angesicht.”
Yes, Heine was a true poet, who sensed the romance of the national destiny. He had sung German songs ardently, but the beauty of the Hebrew melodies had not escaped him.
What a degraded era, that was, thought Friedrich, when the Jews had been ashamed of everything Jewish, when they thought they made a better showing when they concealed their Jewishness. Yet in that very concealment they had revealed the temper of the slave, at best, of the liberated slave. They need not have been surprised at the contempt shown them, for they had shown no respect for themselves. They crawled after the others, and were rejected in swift punishment. Curious that they had not drawn the obvious moral! Quite the contrary. Those who succeeded in business or in some other field often openly forsook the faith of their fathers. They were at pains to hide their origin as though it were a taint. Those who forsook Judaism denied their own fathers and mothers in order to be quit of it: they must have thought it something low, reprehensible, evil…
And out of those depths they had raised themselves. Jews looked different now simply because they were no longer ashamed of being Jews. It was not only beggars and derelicts and relief applicants who professed Judaism in a suspiciously one-sided solidarity. No! The strong, the free, the successful Jews had returned home, and received more than they gave. Other nations were still grateful to them when they produced some great thing; but the Jewish people asked nothing of its sons except not to be denied. The world is grateful to every great man when he brings it something; only the paternal home thanks the son who brings nothing but himself.
Suddenly, as Friedrich listened to the music and meditated on the thoughts it inspired, the significance of the Temple flashed upon him. In the days of King Soloman, it had been a gorgeous symbol, adorned with gold and precious stones, attesting to the might and the pride of Israel. In the taste of those days, it had been decorated with costly bronze, and paneled with olive, cedar, and cypress,-a joy to the eye of the beholder. Yet, however splendid it might have been, the Jew could not have grieved for it eighteen centuries long. They could not have mourned merely for ruined masonry; that would have been too silly. No, they sighed for an invisible something of which the stones had been a symbol. It had come back to rest in the rebuilt Temple, where stood the home returning sons of Israel who lifted up their souls to the invisible God as their fathers had done upon Mount Moriah.
The words of Solomon glowed with a new vitality:
“The Lord hath said that he would dwell in
the thick darkness. I have surely built
Thee a house of habitation,
A place for Thee to dwell in forever.”
Jews had prayed in many temples, splendid and simple, in all the languages of the Diaspora. The invisible God, the Omnipresent, must have been equally near to them everywhere. Yet only here was the true Temple. Why?
Because only here had the Jews built up a free commonwealth in which they could strive for the loftiest human aims. They had had their own communities in the Ghettoes, to be sure; but there they lived under oppression. In the “Judengasse”, they had been without honor and without rights; and when they left it, they ceased to be Jews. Freedom and a sense of solidarity were both needed. Only then could the Jews erect a House to the Almighty God Whom children envision thus and wise men so, but who is everywhere present as the Will-to-Good.
Friedrich watched the dignified, clear-eyed people exchanging Sabbath greetings as they left the great house of worship. He turned to David. “You were right-up there on The Mount of Olives-when you told me the name of this place. It is the Temple indeed!”
(Old New Land, Jewish Virtual Library)
The Author is a Jerusalem based Rabbi and Jewish Educator. He is a Lieutenant in the IDF reserves where he serves as a battalion Rabbi, and is the author of the book “A People, A Country, A Heritage-Torah Inspiration from the Land of Israel.”apeoplecountryheritage.com