No Joke: Many Religious Zionists Strive to Rebuild Jerusalem's Temple

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Right-wing activists at Temple Mount.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

Every year, the Tisha B’Av fast day brings the issue of the destruction of the Temple to the top of our sorrows. Good people try to focus the day and the mythic inquiry associated with it, on social discourse that breeds solidarity. This, in contrast to the senseless hatred and the moral and spiritual disintegration which, according to tradition, accompanied the destruction of Jewish society in the Land of Israel in the first century CE and which continues to accompany us today.

Yet in recent years it seems that the mourning public, mostly within the religious Zionist part of society, has lost interest in the social and emotional lessons connected to the destruction, and is turning its longings towards much more material matters: Gold and silver, trumpets, white garments and slaughtering knives. In short, seemingly sane people who are preparing for the rebuilding of the Temple on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

They are not joking. In a serious paper such as Makor Rishon, which serves a large and important population, a regular page has appeared for years that deals with matters of the Temple and its reestablishment. The page’s editor is well connected and from a very influential family.

This interest in matters of the Temple was once considered to be just obligatory lip service in the religious community, which does not or is not capable of looking at its traditions in an abstract and critical fashion. But realistic Jews always knew how to differentiate between literary dimensions in their beliefs and concrete needs. And now, in recent years, since the incredible feeling of spiritual elevation from the settlement enterprise has become a bit diluted by the sense of routine, the enthusiasts of the Jewish national rebirth have found a new focus: Building the Temple. And this absurd matter has become completely normative among most of Habayit Hayehudi’s voters.

What is strange and worrying about this phenomenon is not just the fact that these people, who see themselves as carrying the banner of the renewal of Judaism in our times, think in totally idolatrous terms. After all, the Temple they are longing for embodies all that is linked in our consciousness to shocking and vicious brutality, such as golden altars, bellowing calves being slaughtered “in the name of God,” and rivers of blood filling the halls. The fact that they dare to believe that this is Judaism and these are God’s commandments is no less worrying. After turning Zionism into a movement of heartless thieves with no conscience for the past 40 years, they now want to impose dangerous nonsense on the spirit of Judaism of our times, of the type that led to the destruction of our people 2,000 years ago.

A model of the Second Temple, built by King Herod.Credit: Juan Cuadra, Wikimedia

True, the detailed instructions to build the Temple appear in the Bible. But once again, as in other matters, here too the Torah is trying to prevent acting upon the strong atavistic urge for abominable practices by imposing uncompromising regulations, conditions and limitations. We have a clear example of this strategy in the laws of kashrut. At the beginning the Torah forbade eating meat entirely. Only after it turned out that the people were unable to keep this prohibition, did the Torah allow them to eat meat; but it heaped on them an abundance of obstacles, with the predatory meat-eating beasts themselves being marked in the most symbolic and clearest manner as not kosher.

The ancient urge to build the Temple was, it seems, uncontrollable. But the prayer of King Solomon at the inauguration of the Temple teaches us how much the Bible has reservations about the idea. Beyond the corruption and murder it represents, the Temple and its cherubs are designed to be a folly that is virtually impossible to realize.

Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai had a good reason for abandoning a burning Temple and city, and turning instead to build Yavneh and its scholars. The fact that today powerful forces in the religious Zionist community are pushing to renew the delusions of the Temple testifies to the rot that has spread in this community since it dedicated itself to gaining control over another people and stealing its land.

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