Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Why hasn't the Third Temple been rebuilt?

Why hasn't the Third Temple been rebuilt? I think the answer is pretty simple, and can be boiled down to four small words. We don't want it. That's the truth, isn't it? If we wanted the Temple built, we'd get it done. We made the desert bloom and gathered in the exiles, fought off the whole Arab world with their European friends and turned a backwards farming community into a high tech society. Putting up a building should be easy.  Why haven't we done it yet? Because the Arabs are already there, with their own holy headquarters? So what. We tear down Arab buildings all the time. We can reduce the Dome of the Rock to rubble in an afternoon. Are we concerned this will incite war and international sanctions? So what? We can handle a war, we can handle sanctions, and if the Temple is as valuable and important as we tell ourselves it is, why do we doubt that our efforts will be blessed? Its simple math, isn't it? If the songs, and stories, and prayers are true, God wants Israel to bring him animal sacrifices at a Jerusalem Temple. Until we do, something is not right in the world. So how might an effort to restore that be met with anything but success?

I propose the fact that we're perfectly content to leave the Temple unbuilt is awfully strong evidence that we don't particularly want to see it restored. For all our prayerful talk, for all our fasting and weeping, we're not that eager to go back in time to the era of Temples and Priests and Kings. That's perfectly understandable. Animal sacrifice, lets face it, is a bizarre way to worship. The Priests, if we're being honest, were a corrupt, robbing, parasitic band of aristocrats. And Kings? Has there ever in human history been a decent king? The whole idea of a king is immoral and unjust and if you don't believe me, look at the book of Kings and see that even the best Jewish kings were louts. David overtaxed the people, dragged them into stupid wars, and thought every beautiful woman he spotted was his personal possession. Solomon traded whole cities for lumber. His son was a brutal creep, whose first big idea was taxing his subjects to death for the sake of his own glory. His grandchildren were worse, and their grandchildren were still worse. Who wants a second helping of that?

I'm speaking from a skeptical position, of course, but even those Jews who, pace the evidence, believe with their whole hearts that a rebuilt Temple guarantees greater peace and greater happiness for all mankind, even those Jews are entirely uninterested in starting the construction project. Take my rabbi, for example. He lives in America, and has absolute faith that his Judaism is incomplete. But what does he do about it? Absolutely nothing. He's still here, and does nothing with his time or money to encourage the rebuilding of the Temple. The rabbinic leadership in Israel is even worse. Presumably, they also think we need a Temple, but unlike my local shul Rabbi they have the clout to compel the government to act or to inspire their own followers to force a change. Why don't they? My answer: They're happy with how things are, and like my local rabbi, they are comfortable with their power, their homes, and their lot in life. Perhaps they also worry that rebuilding the Temple, and establishing a priesthood, will cost them some power and require them to make changes in the way they live and they way they think. In short, rebuilding the Temple means risking what they have on an uncertain outcome, and because what they have is pretty neat, they're content to leave things alone.

So let's stop pretending. We don't want a Temple, or sacrifices, or kings or priests. What we want is more or less what we already have: freedom, security, wealth and opportunity. The Rabbis and politicians, obviously aren't willing to trade that for a an old building, and a loosy-goosy promise about the supernatural and spiritual splendor that's supposed to come with it. And, if we're being honest, neither are we.

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