The Miqdash – Temple Talk

The Holy Tora states: “And let them make me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them” (Shemoth 25:8). This is a commandment like any other – as evidenced by the fact that it is listed in Rambam’s Sefer Hamiswoth (Positive No. 20), Sefer Hakhinukh (No. 95), as well as in all other such works – and is incumbent upon the Jewish people as a whole (Rambam, Sefer Hamiswoth, after listing the positive Miswoth).
As with all the commandments, it is our duty, not Hashem’s. We thus find in the Rambam’s Mishne Tora (Hilkhoth Melakhim 1:1): “The Nation of Israel was commanded to attend to three things upon their entering the Land: to establish a monarchy…to wipe out Amaleq…and to build the Temple, as it is written ‘you shall search out a place for Him, and to there shall you come…'(Devarim 12:5)”.
Once the site for the Miqdash was fixed in the days of Shemuel and King David, it is immutable (Mishne Tora, Beth Ha’behira 1:3). This need not, and cannot, be done a second time. ‘All’ that remains to do at a time such as the present is to rebuild the physical structure, and reinstitute the Temple Service that all religious Jews pray for thrice daily. This is precisely what occurred when our forefathers returned from the Babylonian Exile (‘Ezra Chap. 3); they immediately commenced rebuilding the Temple. (See Mishne Tora, Beth HaBehira 1:4).
The building of the Second Temple by the Babylonian exiles upon their return, (despite not being politically independent, not having their own king, nor having merited to witness the days of the Mashiah), was not in the least bit unusual. It was the obvious and natural course of action for normal Jews to embark upon: Hashem commanded us to do this, so, needless to say, as soon as it became feasible (the King of Persia had given his permission), our ancestors set about doing His Will. If all external obstacles are removed, the commandment, which was always in force, awaits our attention. And it is our duty, as Jews, to give it our fullest attention – it is simply incorrect to imagine that the commandment is somehow ‘on hold’ until further notice, or until the advent of the Mashiah.
In the words of the Rambam: “One should not imagine that the Mashiah must produce miracles, or bring about radical changes in the world…as certain fools claim…The truth of the matter is as follows: that the laws and statutes of the Tora shall never, ever change; one may not add nor detract from them…” (Hilkhoth Melakhim 11:3).
The famous giant of Tora R. Aqiva Eiger once (approx. 190 years ago) asked his illustrious contemporary the Hatham Sofer (R. Moshe Sofer) if it would be possible, (assuming the Ottoman Sultan to be agreeable), to offer the Qorban Pesah (Pesah Sacrifice) – which would involve, at the very least, building an altar on Har Habayith. The Hatham Sofer’s reply was a resounding ‘Yes!’ (Responsa of Hatham Sofer, Yore De’ah No. 236).
Many representatives of Establishment Orthodoxy – rabbis of both the Haredi and National-Religious presuasions – with whom I have broached the subject become noticably uncomfortable when asked the simple Question “Why do you consider the Miqdash to be beyond the scope of Judaism today?” Some mention awaiting the Mashiah; others raise the issue of Tumath Meth (ritual impurity resulting from contact with the dead).
My response to the former is as mentioned above: our ancestors from the Babylonian Exile rebuilt the Temple despite the lack of a Mashiah, or even a king. The Rambam does not mention having to await the Mashiah. Such a view is in fact quite the opposite of the Rambam’s express approach to such matters. “And if you should suggest that the Mashiah shall do this – that is impossible, as I have already explained in the introduction that the Mashiah neither adds nor detracts from the Tora” (Commentary to Mishna, Sanhedrin 1:3). The Rambam’s intention is clear – the Mashiah plays no role in ‘activating’ or performing the Miswoth.
With regards to the Question of Tuma, the Halakha is explicit: when all or most of Am Yisrael are ritually impure, all public sacrifices (including the Qorban Pesah) are nevertheless offered. The Tuma is overridden (Hilkhoth Biath Ha’Miqdash 4:9-13).
And yet, despite all Halakhic indications to the above effect, the stand of Establishment Orthodoxy is a vague and numbing complacency. To claim that any commandment – and particularly this most central of Miswoth – is for some inscrutable reason inoperative, is to negate these words of the Rambam, and deny the veracity of the Halakhic decision of the Hatham Sofer. No Tora scholar would deny the possibility of opposing views within the world of Tora – it is however my view that a reasoned and well-documented Halakhic standpoint, divergent from the above-mentioned opinions, simply does not exist.
In the absence of cogent Tora reasoning to the contrary, I would suggest that the fundamental cause of this phenomenon is inertia. Establishment Orthodoxy is simply stuck in the rut of Galuth Judaism, and lacks the ability to disengage itself from the form of Tora observance to which we became accustomed in our long and bitter Exile. No-one really knows why we continue as we do – it is simply by default. Many in the Tora world have been led to believe that change, of any sort, (even Tora-ordained change for the better), is simply beyond our ken.
The tragic, heart-rending truth is that even if the Moslems were to voluntarily vacate Har Habayith tomorrow, Establishment Orthodoxy would not know what to do with the Temple Mount. In its heart, Establishment Orthodoxy recognizes this. The Moslems and the Israeli authorities are, in reality, convenient distractions, serving to obviate the need for serious Tora discussion. Thus many Jews are quite content with the present state of affairs. Conferences and dinners will not change this situation.
The Arabs are not the problem; nor is it a Question of political machinations and interests. The Question is deep-seated and fundamental: do we possess the vision and direction to live a complete and authentic expression of Tora?
The problem is within ourselves. As is the solution.