Respecting Jewish holy places in Israel

One of the ideas central to Judaism is that there are places holy to Jews.

Modern Orthodoxy respects the special theological status of Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel, of Jerusalem, of The Temple Mount, Har Habayit, and of the Cave of the Patriarchs. Modern Orthodoxy also teaches practical, real-world respect for Klal Yisrael, and thus supports Zionism, the national liberation movement of the Jewish people.

The siddur of Modern Orthodoxy maintains traditional prayers in which Jews ask for the ingathering of the exiles back into Israel, and expresses the messianic hope for the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem, explicitly calling for the return of animal sacrifices within the Temple.

Zionism is the political manifestation of the radical notion that Jews should be free. Dig that.- Chloé Simone Valdary

Ultra-Orthodox Judaism has a more chequered history on the subject:  Theologically they greatly value Eretz Yisrael, Jerusalem, The Temple Mount, and the Cave of the Patriarchs. But while theoretically talking about Klal Yisrael, they long ago separated themselves from the rest of the Jewish community – condemning secular Jews, non-Orthodox Jews, and to a significant extent, even Modern Orthodoxy. Most of ultra-Orthodoxy opposed Zionism, until the 1980s. Even today many ultra-Orthodox groups are not Zionist, and without Zionism, Jews worldwide would be cut off from our holy places.

Since rise of classical German Reform Judaism, in the 1800s, most Reform and Progressive Jews initially rejected Zionism, the land of Israel, and all of Judaism’s holy places. Only after the Holocaust did the Reform and Progressive movements adopt Zionism – and to their credit, by the time of the 1967 Six Day War, these movements had firmly become Zionist, respecting the land of Israel and city of Jerusalem. But their universalist philosophies had no place for respecting the Kotel, Temple Mount or Cave of the Patriarchs in practice opposed spiritual reflection in regards to this topic.

The siddurim of Reform/Progresive Judaism, from the 1800s until the 1940s, generally deleted all prayers for the ingathering of the exiles back into Israel, and rejected the messianic hope for the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem, especially rejecting any return of animal sacrifices within the Temple. From the 1940s until today, various newer Reform prayerbooks gradually restored elements of the traditional liturgy, in various ways.

Historically, the Conservative/Masorti Jewish movement has had a deep love of Zionism and Klal Yisrael, and their Zionist theology and politics were notably more prominent than other Jewish denominations.

Conservative Judaism respects the special theological status of Eretz Yisrael and of Jerusalem. But it essentially overlooked respect for the The Temple Mount itself, Har Habayit, הַר הַבַּיִת‎‎. , and the Cave of the Patriarchs, מערת המכפלה.

The siddur of Conservative Judaism maintains traditional prayers in which Jews ask for the ingathering of the exiles back into Israel, and expresses the messianic hope for the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem, while editing the text in regards to the return of animal sacrifices: While the tefilot call for a Temple rebuilt, the sacrificial services are recalled, but not asked for.

Rabbi Elazar said: Doing righteous deeds of charity is greater than offering all of the sacrifices, as it is written: “Doing charity and justice is more desirable to the Lord than sacrifice” (Proverbs 21:3).
– Babylonian Talmud, Sukkah 49

     Rabbinic views on forgiveness without Temple sacrifices

Kotel Temple Mount Jerusalem DAVID SILVERMAN and GETTY IMAGES
David Silverman/Getty Images

The Western Wall, HaKotel HaMa’aravi – or just ‘Kotel’,  הַכֹּתֶל הַמַּעֲרָבִי . This is second holiest site in Judaism. This wall is the last remaining part of a once larger retaining wall; it was built as part of the expansion of the Second Jewish Temple. It is the location closest to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem that Jewish people traditionally had access to for the past 2,000 years, and has been a site of pilgrimage and prayer ever since.

The Temple in Jerusalem, Beit HaMikdash, בֵּית־הַמִּקְדָּשׁ. The central point of ancient Jewish worship, located on the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem. These successive Jewish temples stood at this location. For 2000 years all siddurim have included prayers asking for the rebuilding of the Temple.

The Temple Mount, Har Habayit, הַר הַבַּיִת‎‎. The place where the Holy Temple in Jerusalem once stood. It’s Hebrew name literally means “Mount of the House [of God].” This is the holiest site in Judaism.

Rabbis Leon A. Morris and Rabbi Joel Levy write:

For many modern Jews, sacrifice is an anathema. Those ancient forms of worship seem primitive and outmoded. The notion that God is to be found in one central place alone is objectionable. Yet we may not want to discard the conceptual basis for the Temple — that proper human action allows God to dwell among us, while sin distances us from God’s presence.

Furthermore, the texts and liturgy centered on the Temple and its sacrifices loom large in classical Jewish sources. From the names of our daily, Shabbat and festival services, to our table rituals such as netilat yadayim, the memory of the Temple ritual remains central.

That centrality has allowed us through an expansive interpretive tradition to ascribe the importance that sacrifices once had to prayer, to study, and to eating a meal. Imbuing those more ordinary sorts of acts with sacrificial import requires keeping alive the memory of the Temple.

The interpretive and imaginative possibilities for our own age rely on the very concrete referent of the Temple as a focus of our present religious lives.

Strains within Orthodoxy paint a vivid and real picture of their messianic vision for the Temple Mount – a vision which is chillingly supremacist and anachronistic. But that should not cause us to turn our backs on the Temple as a religious image, but rather to redouble our efforts to paint a messianic vision for this country that actually reflects the values that we know to be true.

What might a Temple look like that was the focal point of our yearning for human dignity, equality and compassion?

– Haaretz, We Cannot Give Up the Western Wall to ultra-Orthodox ‘Forces of Darkness’, 6/27/16



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