Wednesday, May 06, 2009
[model of the Temple c. 66 CE from Israel Museum, Jerusalem]
This coming Saturday, Jews will read Leviticus 21:1-24:23 in the synagogue. The book of Leviticus deals primarily with the sacrifices, which were initially brought in the Tabernacle and later brought in the Temple.
The Temple was located in Jerusalem, the center of Palestine, the Jewish homeland. Palestine itself is located at the intersection of three continents, Europe, Asia and Africa, at the crossroads of the Old World. The Temple was intended to be a spiritual center for all of mankind, Isaiah 56:7.
The Temple was destroyed by Titus in 70 CE, and today its memory seems very distant, however for centuries it was the center of Judaism and large sections of the Torah and Talmud deal with its rituals.
The Temple served as a symbolic house for God. There was a table where bread was brought each week and an altar where incense was burned twice daily. There was a lamp, the menorah, visible to this day on the arch of Titus. It was lit each day. Lambs were burnt each day on the altar in front of the Temple. We demonstrated our love for God by symbolically feeding Him.
The Temple service was conducted with the greatest reverence. Only descendents of Aaron, the righteous elder brother of Moses, were allowed to be priests and they had to have no physical defects. They wore special dignified garments. They had to avoid any contact with anything considered to be unclean, for example certain dead animals. If they did have contact with unclean things, they had to wash in a pool of water before reentering the Temple. Likewise, anything having contact with the offerings had to be ritually clean. This all emphasized the great reverence which we have for God.
Today, we mourn for the loss of the Temple each year on the anniversary of its destruction. We pray daily for its restoration. We still study the sections of the Torah and Talmud which describe in great detail all of its rituals. The Temple is still very much a part of Jewish life.
In addition to this, the synagogue today substitutes for the ancient Temple. The daily prayers substitute for the sacrifices. Although lacking the level of sanctity of the Temple itself, we must nevertheless be conscious of the great awe and reverence which we must have in God’s House today.
Posted by jewish philosopher at 9:49 AM