Menachem's Writings Follow theKuch on Twitter

Who Will Ascend the Mountain of the Lord,
Who Will Stand Erect in His Holy Place

He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who has not sworn in vain against My soul and who has not acted with deceit

Yesterday, Rosh Hodesh Tammuz, my friend Hayyim and I decided to ascend the Temple Mount. We do so on occasion, but, even with good intentions, it only works out once every few months. Being a special date, the first of the month, we assumed a large crowd of Jews would be going up to the holiest piece of real estate on the earth. Were we wrong?!

The Temple Mount, Mount Moriah, even since the Israeli conquest of the old city of Jerusalem, remains under the effective control of the Wakf, the Moslem religious authority. Infidels, non adherents to Islam, are only allowed to visit the area for two hours each morning and another at lunchtime. At all other times, only Moslems are present. Admission to the compound is controlled by the Israeli police on behalf of the wakf. Security inside the compound is also nominally under the Israeli police, though they generally maintain a very low profile, leaving much leeway to the Moslem religious authority.

Most of the non-Moslems ascending each day, especially during the midday session, are foreign tourists. Torah law prohibits anyone (Jew, non-Jew or fox) from entering the areas of the Temple Mount on which the main Temple building and courtyard stood. This includes the open area on which the sacrifices were carried out. These locations may be frequented only by cohanim involved in sacrifice and other priestly functions, or by members of the nation of Israel when bringing their offerings.

Peripheral areas of the Temple compound may be visited by any Jew who is ritually pure, at any time, whether or not the Temple is standing. Gentiles are permitted access as far as the perimeter fence, where during Temple times, a sign warned them to enter no further. Isaiah informs us that the future Temple will be known as a "house of prayer for all peoples". But as Solomon's dedication too presented a universal theme, I do not know whether non-Jews will be permitted to enter the third Temple.

The difficulty we face ascending the Mount is that we are not certain of precisely where the hechal, the Temple building, housing the Holy and the Holy of Holies, stood. There are three main opinions: Kaufman, Koren and Sagiv. The physical difference between these positions is at the most tens of metres, but this is significant when attempting to define where you are and where you are not permitted to step. One wrong step may lead to excision from the Israelite nation.

While there are eleven entrances to the mount, infidels are only allowed in via one, the Mugrabi [Moroccan or Moor] Gate, atop the western wall. The Israeli police allow tourists (and their Jewish guides) free access to the Temple compound following a simple security check. This attitude is largely true for non-religious Israelis as well. Religious Jews are considered problematic because of the government's assumption, tainted by the wakf's antisemitic policy, that orthodox Jews only come to pray at this holy location, the very interface between heaven and earth, the navel of the world.

What's wrong with Jewish worship on the Mount? I can only postulate fear in the hearts of the Moslems that Jews praying at the site will lead to the end of Moslem aspirations, on the mount, in Yerushalayim, and in Israel. It seems a little strange that, on the one hand, they worry about Allah/God heeding a second rate infidel's supplications yet on the other hand, they elevate the potential pray power by Jews above their own.

To prevent even the possibility of prayer, the process by which a religious Jew is granted entry involves a scrupulous identification check, usually accompanied by some denigrating action by the officers. Only after the tourists have moved out of the way, are you granted permission to proceed. But at first only to just inside the Mugrabi Gate. Here you await, for maybe fifteen minutes, an Israeli policeman and a wakf volunteer. The Arab is there to ensure that no prayers are said; and the policeman to enforce his grievances.

Sometime the process takes so long that the police 'decide' not enough time remains to make a circuit of the area. Then you have to leave before you have entered, having spent nearly an hour in a vain wait. So near, but yet so far.

During second Temple times, the main Temple activity involved numerous forms of offerings: animal, meal and wine libations, as well as burning incense, positioning and subsequent consumption of the shewbread, the lehem hapanim, and the lighting of the menorah, the golden candelabrum. These activities were accompanied by a large choir, on occasion numbering in the hundreds, complemented with music. The singers and the instrumentalists were Levites. They sang selections from King David's psalms, chosen according to the day of the week and the form of offering. This song was perhaps the closest thing to our concept of prayer in the Temple service. The priests also blessed the assembled congregation, as they still do today in our synagogues, using the benediction prescribed in Numbers, vi 22-27.

In the narrative of Yom Kippur, the annual Day of Atonement, the mishna relates that, following completion of all of his special Torah mandated duties of that awesome day, the High Priest took the people to the Temple knesset [perhaps synagogue?], located in a part of the courtyard with the least level of holiness (but more holy than any place outside of the Temple compound). Here the Priest read aloud from the Torah to the assembly. This may have been almost a stalling tactic, awaiting for the message that the sheep to Azazel had arrived at its intended destination, someway eastward into the desert, thus completing the day's ritual requirements. Other than the high priest's three earlier confessions over the sacrifices, on behalf of his family, the priestly household and the entire nation, there is no indication or implication that any prayers took place on this day.

Temple Judaism was action based. In fact I would venture to say that Judaism is not the correct term here. When God promised Abraham re his progeny, he did not say I will make thou [singular] into a great religion, but "into a great nation".

The prayer format we use today was conceived during the latter years of the Temple period, at the close of a span lasting well over a thousand years, if you include the four hundred and forty years the tribes of Israel lived in the Land before Solomon built the Temple. We find no formal prayer structure. The sanctuary at Shilo, the stone building in the form of the desert mishkan, still overlaid with the mishkan's beautiful colourful covers, functioned for 369 years, in every way as did the later Temple; even to the extent that while Shilo stood, individuals were prohibited from private sacrifices in their homes or villages.

During the Shilo period and since Solomon's Temple dedication, private Jewish sacrifice was forbidden -- and it still is today. I venture to assume that this was because the nation needed the centrality which the Temple provided as a national focus and as a Godly interface. However from the time of entering the Land, until the end of the first Temple, this message was not understood by many. Parallel to idol worship, the biggest crime by the people against God was the continuation of private altars; and the greatest iniquity of the kings of Judea was in not wiping out the practice. [It would appear that gentiles, those who accept the seven laws of Noah, are allowed today to sacrifice to the true God from wherever they build an appropriate altar.]

The only service I have found resembling prayer in the Temple, may have been the communal reading of Sh'ma moments before sunrise. There are some references to this practice in the mishna, including Queen Helene's donation of a reflective copper surface, placed atop the heichal to pre-empt the rising sun. I have seen no evidence of reading Sh'ma at Shilo or the early Yerushalayim Temple times. Perhaps this too was only introduced in the latter years.

A form of supplication did however exist, dating back to the conquest of the Land. This was meditation, usually mantra based, but also using other external stimuli, such as candlelight and music (cf. King Saul). Special groups perfected meditation. The bible refers to them as the bnei hanevi'm, literally the sons of the prophets. They were so-called because prophecy could only be attained within a heightened transcendental state. Not every adherent achieved prophecy, or even the lower level of ruach hakodesh. Most likely, only a selected few of the many practitioners ever did.

Prayer, when it was universally introduced into Judaism, may have been based on the meditative formulae. We repeat the same prayers [550 words] three times a day, very quietly and privately, in a stance that reflects meditation practices, namely the position of the legs, slight bending of the knees and positioning of the hands atop the heart.

It seems that, for some unclear reason, a change occurred in the human psyche, universally, somewhere around a hundred or so years before the destruction of the Second Temple. An innate human desire to sacrifice something of himself to the Divine, something that resembled, in some cases really was (cf. Molech), human. This inborn emotion, dating back to Cain and Abel, who both decided, on their own volition, to sacrifice from their personal gains as gratitude to the Creator they still recognised, suddenly disappeared.

Our Second Temple meets the fate of the First, and although it took a few hundreds years more, the people again are dispersed, this time not centrally to Babylonia, but to the four corners of the earth. Wherever they went, the nations into who they settled, had, like them rejected animal sacrifice, and replaced it by prayer. Of course for the wandering Jews, far from their Temple site, sacrifice was forbidden . . . but everyone else seems too to have totally rejected it.

What will be the holy service in the Third Temple? Will it be prayer, animal sacrifice, or both? Will the offerings only be incense and grains?

Unfortunately today, though hundreds of thousands of Jews, as many as five times a day, call upon God to restore Yerushalayim and the Temple service, how many really want it? How many do more than recite the request by rote? How many hope it really won't happen?

My holocaust survivor friend, Eli has absolutely no doubt why the catastrophe hit the Jewish nation. "Every yom tov in Pressburg and all over Europe", he explains, "we went to the synagogue and sang in a mournful, though beautiful tone, 'Because of our sins we were expelled from our country, and banished from our land, and we are unable to go up . . . '. And then we went home and celebrated and ate and drank merrily. But by the time I was a child, we were able to go -- but we were very contented to not do so."

There are some who really believe in the necessity and the inevitability of the Temple in Yerushalayim -- but I fear they are far and few between. Occasionally I meet them up on the mountain.

24th June, 2010    

  Follow theKuch on Twitter

  Your name:  
  Your email:
Please enter your comments to Menachem:


Please feel free to and don't forget to stop by my site to look at my latest (and classic) photographs.


Previous posts:


And don't forget to look at my latest (and classic) photographs at