Today’s Rituals: Reminders or Replacements?
Very few Jews have the courage to talk about the most important subject in the Jewish religion: that is, the question of the Temple, the high priest, the altar and the place of sacrifice. Gershon Salomon is a man of such courage. This 53-year-old scholar is the founder and head of a group called, The Temple Faithful.” His credentials as an Israeli patriot are impeccable, beginning at age eleven when he was arrested by the British authorities for putting up Zionist posters during their occupation of Israel. He has stood up for what he believes to be true ever since. In 1958, while a paratrooper officer, he was wounded and spent a year in the hospital. When he finally returned to his unit, he had to walk on crutches. Salomon is no rabble rouser. He served for ten years on the Jerusalem City Council. Even now, he’s completing his doctoral studies on Kurdish national movements.
However, in October of 1990, he announced that he intended to lay the cornerstone for the Third Temple. And that pronouncement so inflamed the Jerusalem Muslim community that the Temple Mount riot ensued which led to the killing of many Arabs and Jews. Admittedly, Salomon says that he would remove the Muslim presence from that site; his idea is to move the Dome of the Rock and the al Aksa Mosque (which have stood on the mount since the 7th century) and possibly have them transported to Mecca. He also wants to increase the Jewish population of Jerusalem, and by that he means in the Old City.
One must take Salomon seriously. Nine thousand people are on his “Temple Mount Faithful” membership list. In addition, there are two talmudic schools located near the Wailing Wall that are teaching their students the specifics of service in the Temple. Another organization, the Temple Institute, led by Rabbi Israel Ariel, has researched and reconstructed many of the ritual implements. Former chief rabbi Shlomo Goren, who is in charge of yet another Temple Mount group has vowed, “I cannot leave this world without assuring that Jews will once again pray on the Mount.”1
Sympathy for the rebuilding of the Temple is burgeoning and yet this kind of activism is puzzling.
Certainly, I believe you have to work actively as an agent of God for the Redemption to occur. I totally reject the approach of Jews waiting passively for the Messiah.2
What shocks so many Jewish people is that there are a substantial number of Bible-believing Christians who completely and totally agree with Salomon’s view and see the rebuilding of the Temple at Jerusalem as a sign or a harbinger that the Messiah (Jesus) is about to return. Most modern Jews have significantly departed from a Jewish religion that held a hope for a coming Messiah—a Judaism that was sacrifice-centered and looked to a time when the Temple would be restored. Its destruction in 70 C.E. and the acceptance of ritual substitutes played a major role in that shift.
Temple and Synagogue
While the Temple yet stood, the Jews in the diaspora were able to participate in the ritual sacrifices vicariously, through the system of ma’amadot. There were 24 ma’amadot (lay representatives) appointed as servers of the daily Temple offerings throughout the year. Not all Jews could journey to the Temple, but those who stayed behind held prayer services to coincide with the time of the Temple sacrifice.3 By the Second Temple period the synagogue and its prayer rituals had already achieved a role in the religion of the Jewish people.
After the Temple was destroyed, a religious council met at Yavneh, under the leadership of Yohanan ben Zakkai, to salvage and reconstruct a Judaism without a Temple. They naturally turned to the synagogue to fill the gaping void in the religious life of the people. As Richard Sarason, Jewish studies scholar, noted:
The destruction of [the sacrificial system in 70 A.D.] was obviously a devastating blow to the traditional Judaic world view. Rabbinic Judaism, significantly, preserves the morphology of the defunct Temple cult—its concern for order, punctiliousness, and repetition—and applies it metaphorically to the daily life of the Jewish people and the individual Jew. While the sacrifices cannot now be performed, they can be evoked and performed symbolically in word and deed, through study, observance, and prayer.4
The rabbis of Yavneh never expected the permanent demise of Temple sacrifice. They believed it would be rebuilt and resumed. Accordingly, they modified the synagogue liturgy to reflect the Temple rituals. In this way they provided the people with a continuing reminder of the centrality of the Temple to Jewish religion. The synagogue would keep the memory of the Temple alive in the collective consciousness until such time as the Temple would be restored. This is demonstrated in the many parallels in worship between the synagogue and that of the original Temple.
Times of Worship
The synagogue services were planned to correspond with the times of the ancient Temple sacrifices. These times were deemed especially propitious for prayer5 and would also serve to remind the people of the “temporarily” suspended Temple ritual.
The Shaharit service (literally “morning”) corresponds to the morning Temple sacrifice. The afternoon service, Minhah, bears the same name as did the afternoon sacrifice in the Temple. The Musaf (literally “additional”) is an additional portion of the service that is recited on the Sabbath and on festivals. It is a reminder of the special musaf sacrifices that were to be offered in the Temple on those days.6
In the morning service a specific Psalm is read for that particular day, preceded by the phrase, “This is the _____ day of the week, on which the Levites in the Temple used to recite…”7 This is a direct reference to the Temple, and to the specific Psalms that were recited each day after the morning sacrifice.
The Sacrificial Rites
The daily synagogue service includes an extensive description of the sacrificial rites, and the laws of these rites are recited.8 This encompasses a substantial part of the daily service in the Siddur. Biblical and Mishnaic passages which rehearse the Temple rites are read because according to the Talmud, Tractate Megillah:
The Talmud relates in a poetic vein that Abraham was worried about the fate of his descendants. How will they be forgiven for their sins when the Temple is no longer in existence? God answered him: “I have already fixed for them [in the Torah] the order of sacrifices. Whenever they will read the section dealing with them, I will reckon it as if they were bringing Me an offering, and forgive all their iniquities.”9
The actual act of prayer, called Avodah she ba-Lev (“Service of the Heart”) is viewed as a surrogate for the Temple Sacrifice.10 This can be seen very clearly in the central prayer of the synagogue, the Amidah.
The Amidah, or the Eighteen Benedictions, is recited daily in the synagogue, and consists largely of prayers for the restoration of Zion, the rebuilding of the Temple and the resumption of sacrificial rites.11 The pivotal theme of this prayer revolves around the Beth Ha Migdosh, as is evidenced in the following section of the prayer:
Be pleased, Lord our God, with thy people Israel and with their prayer; restore the worship to thy most holy sanctuary; accept Israel’s offerings and prayer with gracious love. May the worship of thy people Israel be ever pleasing to Thee.12
Before the Temple’s destruction, the recitation of the Amidah in the synagogues very likely corresponded to the Temple sacrifice. Once the Temple no longer stood, the rabbis considered this central prayer a replacement for the sacrifices commanded in Numbers 28-29.13
Rabbi Isaac says:
At this time we have neither prophet nor priest, neither sacrifice, nor Temple, nor altar—what is it that can make atonement for us, even though the Temple is destroyed? The only thing that we have left is prayer.14
Accordingly, the Amidah is recited twice daily, in the morning and afternoon services which, as mentioned, correspond to the times of the Temple sacrifice. It is not mandatory to recite this prayer in the evenings, because the Temple sacrifice was not offered then. This points once more to the centrality of the Temple sacrificial rite in the Jewish prayerbook.
The fact that the congregation rises and faces east is a reminder of Zion and the Temple that once stood there. This custom is based on Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem,
Hear the supplication of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place. Hear from heaven, your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive.
1 Kings 8:30
Even in Jerusalem itself, synagogues are so oriented that when worshippers stand, they face the Temple mount.
The shofar is sounded on Rosh HaShanah just as it used to be sounded in the Temple for this holiday. The shofar, which was originally intended to call the people to a holy convocation, became symbolic (among other things) of the ancient Temple ritual.
The procession with lulav and etrog for Sukkot was also practiced in the Temple. There was an additional sacrifice commanded to be offered on this festival, which is now reflected in Musaf service in the prayerbook.
On Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the mahzor contains elaborately detailed descriptions of the Temple sacrifices specified for this occasion. This portion of liturgy which is recited at various times during the day is known as the Avodah. The Avodah recalls the Temple rites that were performed by the High Priest. It is a detailed description of the preparation of the High Priest for the Day of Atonement, his various washings, and his sacrifices for himself, his fellow Levites, and for all Israel.
The Avodah mentions the ancient custom of bowing three times when the High Priest uttered the Ineffable Name. That Name is no longer recited, not even on Yom Kippur—but the people still prostrate themselves and kneel at this point in the service. This is the only time in Jewish liturgy when actual kneeling or prostration is customary.15 In some congregations, all the members perform this rite; in others, only the worship leader. It is, nonetheless, a remarkable reminder of a discontinued Temple practice.
In some traditions, the worshippers remove their shoes on Yom Kippur as a sign of humility and affliction of the soul. This was done by the priests in their Temple ministrations. It reminded them of Moses and Joshua, who were commanded to remove the shoes from their feet when they were on holy ground.16
On Yom Kippur, a few Jews practice kapporot, the slaying of a fowl as a substitute for the Temple sacrifices. Many rabbis throughout the ages have denounced this rite. According to halachah, it is wrong to make sacrifices beyond the prescribed Temple rituals. Some rabbinical authorities even viewed kapporot as a heathen custom with magic implications.17 Nevertheless, its popularity with the common people has preserved this tradition. The religious Jew waves the fowl three times around his or her head after reciting:
This is my substitute, this is my exchange, this is my atonement. This fowl will go to its death, and I shall enter a good long life and peace.18
The Aron HaKodesh, the Holy Ark in which the Torah scrolls are kept, is a direct reminder of the Ark of the Covenant which traveled with the Israelites in the desert, and was placed in the Holy of Holies when the Temple was built. The doors of the Aron Kodesh are a symbol of the veil that separated the Holy of Holies from the Holy Place in the ancient Temple.
The Ner Tamid or Eternal Light, that burns in every synagogue before the Ark, is a reminder before the people of the eternal light that burned in the Jerusalem Temple.
It has been suggested that the women’s gallery, which can be found in orthodox congregations, had its precedent in the Ezrat Nashim, or Women’s Court in the Temple,19 although it is doubtful that the separation of men and women goes back to Temple times. The Women’s Court in the Temple, was, in actuality, used by both men and women, except on the festival of Sukkot, when the women and men were separated.
The practice of wearing tallit and tefillin during prayer, although claimed to be Biblical in origin, were also seen as a fulfillment of the requirement to wear special garb during prayer as was done in Temple times. Because prayer has temporarily taken the place of the Temple sacrifice, the rabbis taught that the person who prays must wear special clothes, as did the priest who offered the sacrifices in the Temple.
The origins of Jewish liturgical music are shrouded in mystery, but we do know that music played a central part of the service in the Jerusalem Temple, with specially appointed musicians and singers participating in the rite. The Talmud implies that it was not unusual for the members of the Temple choir to move from singing at the altar to the synagogue service that was conducted on the Temple mount.20 After the destruction of the Temple, however, musical instruments were officially excluded from the synagogue service.21 These will not be restored, the rabbis tell us, until the Temple is rebuilt.
It is known that Psalms were recited in the Temple service. According to some, the responsive reading of the parallelism in the Psalms lends itself to rhythmic recitation. Thus, it is believed that a number of traditional prayer chants and melodies go back to the time of the Temple.22
The yarmulke, or head covering, has been said to symbolize the head covering that Aaron was instructed to wear when he ministered in the Temple. However, there is little evidence that Jews (other than the High Priest) wore head coverings in the Temple Court or even in the early synagogue.
The Temple for Today?
The Temple sacrificial rite retains a special significance in many aspects of traditional synagogue and liturgical Jewish worship today. Indeed, the synagogue and liturgy have kept alive the memory of the Temple in the minds of Jewish people. Abraham Millgram notes:
The synagogue proved itself a most effective preserver of the ancient sanctities in the national memory of the Jewish people. During the millennia of exile the Jews gathered daily in their synagogues and prayed for the restoration of the Temple. They symbolically performed the Temple rites and scrupulously safeguarded the identity of the Temple functionaries. They thus kept themselves in constant readiness for the resumption of the sacerdotal rituals in the rebuilt Temple.23
The memory of the Temple sacrifice still burns brightly in the collective experience of our people. That memory is sustained by the daily prayers and repetitions in the traditional synagogue service. Yet it has not been able to fill the void in the worshiper’s heart, as it has not availed to truly cleanse the conscience of the worshiper. When God instituted the sacrificial system, it was instituted for all time. Perhaps that is why people inherently sense their need for propitiation before God. A cursory reading of the Torah reveals that the Judaism of today is not only twenty-five hundred years away from the Bible, but is also missing the essential ingredient.
What flour is to bread, the sacrificial system is to the religion revealed in the Jewish Scriptures. It is not a garnish. It is not a flavoring. It is the very substance out of which the Jewish religion was constructed. We can forever design our own substitutes, but they cannot satisfy our yearnings the way God’s own provision can.
Though some rabbis might minimize the revealed system of worship and its requirements, can the individual Jew neglect what God says? Can there be a “proper” Judaism without a priesthood, an altar, a sacrifice and a place on earth where God meets the individual? Isn’t it ironic that it takes the New Testament to tell of the new altar, the everlasting sacrifice and the new high priest through whom gentiles as well as Jews are made holy?
When Messiah came as high priest of the good things that are already here he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made…He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption.” (Hebrew 9:11,12)
- Ostling, Richard & Levin, Marlin, “Time for a New Temple?,” TIME magazine, New York 10/16/89.
- Sofer, Barbara, “Mission on the Mount,” The Jerusalem Post International Edition 3/13/91 p. 11.
- Birnbaum, Encyclopedia of Jewish Concepts, 1977, p. 377.
- Sarason, Richard, “Religion and Worship: The Case of Judaism,” pp. 51-52.
- Millgram, Abraham. Jewish Worship. Philadelphia: Jewish Publ. Society, 1971, p. 84.
- Beckwith, Roger T., “The Daily and Weekly Worship of the Primitive Church in relation to its Jewish Antecedents,” The Evangelical Quarterly, Vol. LVI, England: Paternoster Press, 1984, p. 72.
- Birnbaum, Philip, translator. Daily Prayer Book: Ha-Siddur Ha-Shalem. New York: Hebrew Publishing Company, 1977, Morning Service, p. 40.
- Some of the passages recited are Numbers 28, Talmud Yoma 33a, and Mishnah Zebahim 5.
- Meg. 31b; Millgram, p. 85.
- Dauermann, Stuart. The Jewish Prayer Book: A Missiological Perspective, 1990, p. 21.
- Millgram, p. 86.
- Birnbaum, Prayer Book, p. 90.
- Petuchowski, Jakob J., “The Liturgy of the Synagogue: History, Structure and Contents,” Approaches to Ancient Judaism, 4, ed. by W. Green, 1983, p. 12.
- Tanhuma Vayishlach 9, in Heinemann, p. 20.
- The “bending of the knee” during the Amidah service is not considered actual prostration.
- Exodus 3:5, Joshua 5:15.
- Winter, Naphtali, ed., The High Holy Days, Keter Books, Jerusalem, 1973 p. 51.
- Millgram, p. 339.
- Suk. 53a.
- It is only recently that the Reform and Conservative movements have introduced musical instruments into the synagogue service.
- It is also thought that origins of early Christian plainsong are in the Temple as well.
- Millgram, p. 86.