A time for tearing down and a time for building up

We reached, for the year 5769 of the Jewish computing system, the period of three weeks. This cycle begins on the eve of 17 tammuz (July 7/June 24, 2009) and shall end on Tisha Be’Av or 9th of Av (July 30/17). It is important to note the importance of Fasting for the Jewish tradition along the year. When the Temple was “alive – kayamקים” the stone of the Sanctuary were truly living and birthing to life. Since the year 70 ce., the Jewish people have survived without the main location to which Jews supposed ly had to gather many times a year and pray as a community, even if is said that the Shechinah or Divine Presence did not abide the Second Temple. This question is controversial by nature and it is also admitted that the Shechinah always accompanied and protected the Jewish people along their wanderings through the nations of the world.

It should also be noted that the destruction of Jerusalem and thus of the Holy Site par excellence is constantly recalled in the daily Jewish prayers and calendar. At the beginning of New Year/Rosh HaShanah, the fast of Gedaliah (Tishri 3) followed a bit later by the fast of Tevet 10 reminding Nebuchednezzar’s besieging of Jerusalem show how much these recurrent destructions have profoundly imprinted the soul of the Jewish identity and creed. The Jewish historic experience has been, in our ages, a constant combat to face the two destructions of the “Living Temple”. It tracks back to a very intriguing spiritual experience: the desires of the enemies to annihilate, exterminate, remove or wipe out, erase the Presence of God and therefore the existence of the living entity of the Klal Israel/Fulfillment of the community of Israel. On Tammuz 17, after a very long period of siege, the walls of Jerusalem were penetrated. This first wound led to the physical and geographical destruction and erasing process of the Temple. This happened three weeks later when the Temple was finally destroyed and the whole city of Jerusalem got plowed as if nothing could remain of the place and the activities of the prayers and sacrifices offered by the Jewish tribes in view of the redemption of the whole universe and each soul “that is inhabited by the spirit of the living God blown into their nostrils” (Rosh HaShanah prayer).

It is also important to underscore the connection that the Jewish tradition proposes with major historic events that deal with the sacrifices. On that day, Moses saw how Aaron, the High Priest and the people in the desert worshiped the golden calf.

Moreover The “zevach Tamidזבח תמיד – Perpetual Sacrifice” daily offered for centuries had suddenly to be stopped for a simple practical reason: the animals for the sacrifices could not be brought to the Temple. Whatever level of secularization or reluctance for some Jews to accept the performance of animal sacrifices, it is a very appealing mental and psycho-cultural impact that abides the Jewish soul in many ways: basically, whatever reluctance of acceptance, the sacrifice of Tamid is known as having been suspended for some two thousand years. It is very pregnant in a sociological survey of the Jewish spirituality at the moment.

When I had the privilege to work some 35 years ago with R. Leon Askenasi (Algeria, France, Israel) and discuss with Emmanuel Levinas or R. Wajda, the question of rebuilding the Temple was something like a sort of interrogation. But in Jerusalem and Israel, it was clear that the rebuilding of the Mikdash was a reality and not merely a dream or utopia. By that time, it was evident that money and sponsorships were collected in order to gather the stones. At the present, the goal became a real pending matter. On June 28th, 1967, it had been decided not to offer the Passover – Pesach sacrifice in order to avoid any misdeed and the “Devirדביר – holy of Holies” had been given back to the Muslim authorities. In fact this situation is still in force. On the other hand, more and more Jewish educational organizations focus on the Temple and the desire to pray on the Temple Mount. The situation evolved from a position of historic shock to “unexpectedly” get back to the heart of every soul and spiritual experience throughout centuries, to begin with Abraham. It developed new features and new patterns that memorize for the present time the requirement to gather into one body, i.e. the Beyt HaMikdash – Holy Temple. This implies new behaviors that ranks from community blocks, new annoucement of the the “bessurot tovotבשורות טובות – good tidings” of the ingathering of the Jewish people; it may also lead to deep rejection of “others” as an accompanying process. It allows the Jews to gather in and assemble beyond their disparities. On the other hand, it also allows to exclude those who are not the members of the Jewish people. There is a strong tendency to act as if the Jewish people exists ethnically and not basically and by nature by the grace of God alone. It is a spiritual call, it cannot become an ethnic reality. Indeed, Jews are Jews by being birthed and born to a Jewish mother. The statement is not a Biblical nor a Talmudic rule. It is in force because of the burden of history and the requirement to fix some laws to decide who can or not be considered as a Jew.

Tammuz 17 is also a special date: Apostomos, one of the representatives of Antiochus of Greece decided to burn a Torah Scroll. This burning of the Scroll is highly significant till our age for every true Jewish soul. It shows that God’s Word can be destroyed, wiped out, erased from the world of the living. The Talmud has then another very striking explanation. Even when the holiest books are burnt or seem to disappear or be reduced to nil, It remains vital and invisibly present by the process of our memories. It is quite evident that this has saved the Jews over the centuries in many parts of the world.

Interestingly, the “fighting” relationships between the Jews and the Greeks in the Antiquity developed on such matters as the destruction of cancellation of every single Jewish societal rule: Shabbat, Torah reading, circumcision. This is clearly a sign that the spirit of Judaism can be murdered and reduced to nothing, exterminated.

Finally, it is stated that an idol was placed in the Temple. Curiously enough, it is very meaningful that different possibilities were considered. Some consider that the representatives of Antiochus put an idol as a sign that they mocked the Temple and the sanctity of the place. Others would presuppose that King Hezekiah’s son, Menashe, who was a mocking the Jewish tradition an heritage had placed the idol in the Temple. Indeed, it often happened and surely continues to be real that some Jews would ridicule their own faith by a sort of confusion if not “self-hatred”.

Tammuz 17 is also an important spiritual day. We often do not clearly understand how deep we go astray from God’s path and will. When breaches show, the whole building will be tearing down. It is a very slow, not evident and sensitively high feeling, but it means a lot for a correct comprehension of Jewish fate and history. It should also be noted that prophet Isaiah had advised to King Hezekiah not to give birth to his son Manashe because of the “upcoming burden of times”. This warning was about the same by the time of prophet Jeremiah. Both prophets were aware of the “pending destruction process of the Jewish people” and the tragic events, hungers and mishaps that would affect the collectivity and they wanted to prevent any sufferings from the part of the children. The same attitude showed at the end of World War II. After the Shoah, a lot of Jewish families were highly reluctant to give birth because they were afraid by what had happened. This fear was a bit too “irrational” because mainly based on the tragedy of overall persecution throughout Europe. The commandment to birth babies correspond to the period that preceded the Exodus from Egypt. It is said in the Talmud that “women started to birth on a daily basis!!!” because of the urgent necessity to overcome death and trust in God. There was no ethnic competition at that time…

The three weeks from Tammuz 17 to Av 9 constitute a time of fasting, of turning (back) to God, of physical constraints. It is rooted in the period of summer, a time of heat, torrid and affecting nights and days of spiritual combats. It is called “Beyn Hametzarimבין המצרים – (period) between the straits = between the narrow places” as written in the Book of “Eychaאיכה or Lamentations” that is read on the day of Tisha Be’Av (“kol rodfeiah hisigu’ah beyn hametzarimכל רודפיה השיגוה בין המצרים = all her pursuers overtook her in the narrow places, places of anxiety) (Eycha 1:3).

Indeed, the situation is special and recurrent in the history of the Jewish people. Interestingly, it is possible to compare the period and the time of life endangering with Jesus’ words in the garden of Gathshemane that corresponds to a prelude to his passion and “destruction”. He said: “Venafshi nivhalah meodונפשי נבהלה מאד – my whole being is stricken with terror” (while the Vulgate has: “anima mea turbata est valde”). In a different context, the Jew Jesus came to feel the same as the spiritual limits or marks of human capacities supported and attested throughout the Jewish history of Revelation.

Tammuz 17 shows the way to the full destruction and erasing of the holiest place for the Jews. The destruction of the Temple witnesses to a non-reversible event. For the Christian tradition, Jesus’ “destruction” on the stake induces something of a parallel experience. The real question between Judaism and Christianity is where the Temple is as perfectly described in the Gospel according to John. John focuses on the Temple and insists on the fact that Resurrected Jesus of Nazareth is the new Temple; Moreover, that being the “rebuilt revived Temple” God makes in each human and those who believe in him “a Temple of the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 3:16 – 2 Corinthians 6:16).

The Book of the Lamentations and the Selichotסליחות recited during this time of the year in Judaism show the incomparable shock and trauma that truly in-depths affected as a sort of spiritual and mental impact the Jewish soul before and after the total “killing, murder and erasing” of the Temple. Thus it is understood that besides the trauma something more subsisted. It is certainly due to the insights of Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai who was clairvoyant enough to ask emperor Vespasian to allow the Jewish community be gather in into a small town Yavneh/Jamnia, which permitted to save Jewish teaching.

Still, the survival of a Jewish steadfast place of studies in accordance with the teachings of the Avot and the Sages included something more that should be taken into account nowadays. In the Jewish tradition, teaching is compulsorily a huge part of what opens up to the people and also to the nations the Divine Presence of the Most High in this world and the world to come. Teaching relies on memory. Memory – as already said in many notes and articles – is based on life transmission and birthing of the souls, sustaining the bodies, nurturing the community and preserving, developing it. It is possible to compare the Sifrei Torah to a Divine Presence as the Word is living and present, in someway similar to the presentation and reading of the Gospel in the Church. At least, in both cases, memories substantiates “hic and nunc” the Presence of the Lord. It is considered as a sacramental presence in the Orthodox and Catholic Church(es) and it is indeed a point of “thanksgiving – zevach todahזבח תודה” that may be paralleled with Greek “evlogia” and to some extent the “eucharistic” joy, i.e. a full rejoicing and thanksgiving action.

The Church rested on the Sacraments. Jesus declared when showing the Temple to his disciples: “I can destroy the Temple of the Lord and rebuild it in three days” (Matthew 26:61; comp. Mark 14:58, John 2:19. Jesus is recalled these words when he is on the Cross: Matthew 27:40 & Mark 15: 29). Intriguingly, Saint John does not account the Last Supper (of the Seder Pesach, Hagadah shel Pesachסדר.הגדה של פסח). Instead, it is more than significant that he mentions the washing of the feet which was a major Temple and hospitality action (John 13:8).

There is a striking point: true, the Zevach Tamidזבח תמיד ceased to be offered everyday substantially and a visible way. On the other hand, it should be possible at the present to dig out the spiritual elements that have been accompanying the Jewish communities throughout the ages. The Christian communities often consider as something of the past that the Temple was standing in the middle of Jerusalem and that this period is over, eventually and mainly replaced by the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth “true man and true “God” (Narsai sequence in the Assyrian and Chaldean Churches).

Some messianic groups scattered all over the world would consider that the ingathering of the exiled would hasten their own redemption as Christian believers and that it would culminate with the “rebuilding of a third Temple”. Let’s say that this view is more or less expressed by some Evangelicals and some “Protestant” congregations. It can hardly be positively considered as a valid possibility by the Catholic Church that only approach Jewishness and usually updates Judaism according to her own patterns and creeds, which is definitely normal.

The Eastern Orthodox Church (I avoid the plural) have firstly to recover from the tragedy of their history before being positively open to envision the role of Judaism, Israel and the Temple. It is hardly time to discuss the matter within the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches. The only possible thing is to endeavor some timid approach and proposals of mutual taming actions and studies.

It is possible to pave the way to theological considerations and reflections as being full members of the Jewish society in Israel. This is a challenge. Most believers stay “aside”; some prefer to systematically show some sort of solidarity by exerting some unconscious process of replacement. It is still unforeseeable immense and thanksgiving reality to envision Jerusalem as the One and only Holy Assembly, Kahal rav, Klalקהל-כלל ישראל-כל בית ישראל. Saint Paul’s “All Israel shall be saved” (Romans 11:26) might not be interpreted as a prospect, but an eschatological reality that is both to felt among the Nations and inside of Jewishness, beyond what we may be able to apprehend, fathom, perceive, acknowledge or realize in our generation.

This is why, in some unfathomable way, the Tamidתמיד is present in the daily sacrificial prayer of the Klal Israel, in particular memorized during the Morning prayer of Shacharitשחרית. This prayer allows in some way to “embody” the vision and presence of the Tamid offering (permanent daily sacrifice). Is it possible to make some parallel with some historical elements that do or did exist in the Churches. For three centuries, the Japanese Church survived by baptism performed by lay people and basic prayers. The same happened in a different manner in Korea because of the absence of ordained clergy. As confirmed by the Eastern Orthodox Churches, they could still say “Christos is in our midst – He is and will be unto the ages of ages”.

It would require many explanations and to keep our minds in deep humbleness to go forth on this narrow path. At this stage, there is no first or last. A perception of that nature obliges to apprehend history and eschaton without any notion of privileged fulfillment anywhere and toward anyone. This is an immense task. But this task can be launched at least because of the developing process of consciousness that “universal” and “universality” is not a mere dream but a reality. Subsequently, diachronic and synchronic factors may help to get closer to what “eternity” means, just as Tamid did and invisibly enlightens memories.

av aleksandr [Winogradsky Frenkel]

July 16/3, 2009 – 24 deTammuz 5769 – כ”ד דתמוז תשס”ט

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s