Let us ask a terrifying question. It is a terrifying question to many Jews, because
it goes to the very heart of the system of beliefs that constituted “Judaism”, as it was framed by the Blessed Rabbis of Memory.
Now, this is not to deny the gift of these Rabbis, nor is it, at all, to disparage the astonishing spiritual legacy they gave us, without which– and of which we cannot have doubt– the Jewish People would not have survived; we would have been absorbed into the currents of history, dissolved, indiscriminately, into “diaspora” of the world genome.
For so many millennia, Jews have held out for the rebuilding of the Temple,
and the reinstitution of animal sacrifice. This is ostensibly because many of the biblical mitzvot concern sacrifice and the Temple cult, and cannot be fulfilled unless the Temple is rebuilt. So, if the Temple is not rebuilt, and the mitzvot are not accomplished, there cannot be salvation, either for Israel or the entire world.
This is how the thinking goes.
This is the biblical “program” developed by the ancient Rabbis. The performance of the mitzvot led to salvation in the world to come. But, the performance of all the mitzvot could not take place until the Temple was rebuilt, animal sacrifice became revivified, and then, Israel could continue its history, and its role as a leader, in universal history.
This “program”, obviously, required us to return to Israel from our Diaspora, or, we could not rebuild the Temple. It was a brilliant, and defiant, insistence, that the insult of the Romans- (and earlier, the Babylonians)— would be thwarted, and rectified, and that the Jewish “moment” in our history, would be picked up upon and continued.
Alas, however, in the 2000+ years since the Roman invasion, times did change quite a bit. Christian culture evolved, and expressed what was essentially a Jewish Universal message, in the form of a “Roman-derived” and later Enlightenment culture, called Western Civilization. In this era, there were dramatic advances in philosophy and science, as well as human political rights, and, overall, an enormous convergence with essential Jewish beliefs. Jews participated in this movement, and in fact, the movement would have been unthinkable without Jews.
During this time, we considerably advanced beyond the sacrificial stage of needing to sanctify our dominion over the beasts, under God. Now, in our current age, we need to sanctify our dominion over matter itself– and correctly tame our instincts to self-sacrifice in nuclear annihilation.
Now the problem is, Western thought, although foundationally Jewish, is still alien. Many Muslims, who experienced similar Crusades as we, also feel the imposition of Western (i.e. foreign) thinking upon us. On some level, we were both “raped” into accepting it, and there is a part of us both, that refuses, out of self-respect and legitimate defiance, to fully “buy into” modernism.
So— it is perfectly understandable, why many of our Orthodox brethren insist, and keep insisting, to rebuild the Temple, and that they would refuse to accept the effect of alien cultures upon us. But, I do remind many here: Even the names of the months, as “Av”, are Babylonians. The purity of purity which we imagine we are, is not quite so pure if you look deeper.
For Universal Judaism, Tisha b’Av, is a remembrance of both the ancient Temples, because it is a remembrance of the Critical and Sacred Idea of Sovereignty. Each nation, like a collective individual, has its right to exist, to be itself, to have its own uniqueness under God. The sanctification of Sovereignty, which is no less than the notion of “free will” on the order of nations, is a sacred idea which we, during this sacred holiday, will explain and expound upon.
However, sovereignty does not require, defiantly, that we need to go back to a more primitive early stage of development, when torching the fat of kidneys
was the way to provide a “pleasing odour” to God.
All contemporary Jews need to strongly re-look at their reverence for the rebuilding of the Temple. Some may choose to keep this longing, as part of their cultural and emotional inheritance. But, I think, it is time to basically set it aside, and move forward into a different kind of future.
This does not mean we need to ignore, or desecrate the Temple Mount, nor
relinquish the meaning of the Kotel, let alone merely permit it as a Muslim shrine, since they are the dominant occupants there. No one’s memory and spiritual activities needs to be violated.
But, do we literally, factually, in real-three-dimensional time need to rebuild the Temple and start animal sacrifice again? Can we please remove some of the extreme biblicism that was part of the rabbis’ “program” to preserve us?
Sure, this Torah was back then, our “constitution”, and it still is— of sorts.
But today, this Torah is the inspiration for our constitution, as well as some other inspired ideas which we brought in from Greek, Ottoman and British legal insights as well. Israel today is a different Israel. Shouldn’t it be?
What is important– and it is a critical aspect of Sovereignty– is that every nation should Reign in Truth! And while Truth can be expressed through a scripture, and can be expressed by Illumined Rabbis of ages past and present, Truth cannot be contained by either one.
The fixity, and unrelenting desire to rebuild the Temple, is something that need no longer be a fixed-doctrine in today’s Judaism. It is time for it to be gently released, and go the way of killing someone for breaking the Sabbath.
Yes, this means retaining and reconceptualizing “Judaism”, in a way that retains the Essence of the great rabbinic “program”. Yes, this means CHANGE!!!
As my great teacher, Professor Ellis Rivkin, often said, “It is because Judaism changed that we survived. If we hadn’t changed, we would have died.”
Temples are built. Temples die. All things mortal change. The Temple, however
revered, is mortal. Change changes change.
Blessings to everyone; may we pray for the Sovereignty of Israel, as we
approach Tisha B’Av.