Alexander A. Winogradsky Frenkel

The slow process of soon and speedily

"Things will be OK. Till now, we are here" (c) Dita Shnitzer
"Things will be OK. Till now, we are here" (c) Dita Shnitzer

On the 9th/10th Av 3829, the Beyt HaMikdash/Temple of Holiness, was destroyed, plundered by the Roman soldiers led by Emperor Titus. The kelim/כלים (instruments)  were brought in triumph to Rome. One year later, Trucus Rufus ended up the work of capture by plowing the Temple Mount, apparently erasing all marks of sacredness from the site and the city of Jerusalem.

1950 years have passed and Tisha BeAv became the central memorial day for the destructions of the two “Batim\בתים “. The Beyt HaRishon/First Temple had been exterminated in 5173/72 as Nebuchadnezzar first ruined the Temple, inhabited by the Shechinah/Divine Presence. It was built by King Solomon to definitively fix God’s housing in the city that linked the “Shalayim\”שליים: the “Peace of Above and the Peace on earth/nether world”.

For the pagan world, it consisted in eradicating the Jewish nation and the House where they were worshiping a God Who both attracted and galvanized the jealousy of other empires and personal ambition inside the local rulers. In terms of history, the construction of the First Temple showed the Jews settling in the Land of Canaan/Israel. Again, they switched from a nomadic culture inherited from the wanderings through the wilderness and arrived, for the ages to come, at the place where the Avodah-עבודה/Divine Service should be performed perpetually. Thus, the Mishkan-משכן/Tabernacle would no more be on a journey but reside forever in a meaningful site.

This notion of installation of the Shechinah-שכינה[Divine Presence] in a stable location is a real question: how and why the Only-One God, life-giving and Redeemer of the worlds and galaxies, should abide in a non-movable place that would moreover gather in all worshiping forces and priestly call of the Jewish communities at the gates of an odd wilderness in the Middle-East?

A very intriguing transfer occurred from the time the Israelites built the Mishkan/Tabernacle in the desert and could carry it everywhere they journeyed and the moment when David was told by God that he would not build the House, but his son Solomon. Both committed sins, and transgressions usually some mixture of sex and leadership with idolatry, thus reducing the existence of the Living House. It may be strange, even bizarre: the stones of the Temple stood as a wide building, a compound that is and remains a living body. The House was visible and “qayam/קים”, alive. It is hidden, concealed, destroyed and still “qayam”, full of life though not visible in our generation.

The Beyt HaSheni\בית השני has also been restored, but not to the full as a consequence of the decree promulgated by the non-Jewish Messiah Cyrus allowing the Jews to go up to Jerusalem and rebuild their God’s House. It should be noted that it is the last word of the Jewish canonical TaNaKh that ends with this prospect: “Whoever is among you of His people, may the Lord His God be with him! Let him go up/vaya’al-ויעל” (2 Chronicles 36:23). But the Shechinah was told not to abide in the new restored Temple, which means that the People could indeed pray, offer sacrifices, pray, and intercede to the Master of the Universe and gather, assemble. The Divine Presence is the One that “dwells” (meaning of Shechinah/שכינה), but in the Second Temple, She had taken a leave or seemingly was migrating from place to place, accompanying the Jewish People in its turbulent dispersion.

Tisha BeAv is considered as the “saddest day” in Jewish history (Taanit 6b) because God’s Batei Mikdash/Holy Temples were more than stones. They were existent, living, source of life. There was the beating heart and soul of the children of those who had come out from Egypt, the “prison-border land”.

In both cases, the Temple only lasted for two periods of ca. 400 years, which is terribly limited in terms of history. R. Yeshayahu Leibowitz used to say that, on the Temple Mount, the Al Aqsa Mosque has been constructed more than 1300 years ago, thus spending more time on the Mount than the two Temples of Jerusalem. Though this is true, the symbol is not the same and the Temple Mount implies the Presence of the invisible Only One living God Who spoke to Moses.

Forty-five years ago, I was working with one of the most intriguing and brilliant re-builders of the post-Shoah Jewish communities. We usually met for long working sessions abroad and then in Jerusalem. The city had been under Israeli control only for a few years. By that time, the local inhabitants and the Churches (not to speak of the Muslims) were in shock and convinced that the Jews would “be kicked out or leave speedily”. The local Churches had never had any special reflection on any sort of spiritual development and deployment of God’s prospects and looked astoundingly dazed at the new situation. It is good to read the Books of the Prophets, but it does not mean that one trusts that they are still open to upcoming prophecies.

True, the problem of belongings and properties is a constant challenge for the faithful. All the local Churches have sold and bought properties (churches, monasteries) throughout the ages. They had entrusted some land and buildings to other Christians while their people were facing wars, hunger, or epidemic diseases in their homelands. In return, it allowed some Churches to seize or steal large portions (dunams) of “holy places” for their temporary benefits. Some Churches refused to give them back to their original owners and this is a major issue among the traditional Churches at present.

This has raised conflicts that are still pending at the Courts of Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian Territories. But nobody could even think that there should be guaranteed “certificates of property” as far as it deals with God. And the Ottoman rulers had been in place for two long periods of 400 years.

It could not suffice to go to the Kotel/Western Wall that we had seen as a sandy and dusty place in Iyyar 5727/June 1967. There should be a move that would lead to require more, i.e. to ask for the re-observance of the daily sacrifices and the rebuilding of the Temple. Don’t say this is weird or ridiculous or that we are World Wildlife at the present, i.e. against animal sacrifices. This deals with the irrational part of human nature and identity, conscience, and understanding. Indeed, the very first steps were taken at that time by collecting the money in order to shape again the Kelim/instruments, the great Menorah, and so forth.

We were just convinced that, in some unexpected manner, this huge issue would powerfully develop in Israeli society over the coming years. We were not members of any specific group. We were simply describing what history had always shown: the return en masse of the Jews to Eretz Israel in conformity with some blessing from the Nations (as Cyrus represented Persia) includes the necessity to positively reckon on the Temple’s primacy in both the Jewish and the non-Jewish life, as by the time of the destruction of the Mikdash in 70.

Today, the question grew into a serious concern and became a harsh political issue. This had and still has nothing to do with our ways of thinking four decades ago. Faith and religion in Israel are systematically patterned in narrow boxes or niches. Judaism is much more diversified. Still “tevot\תיבות – boxes” are apparently very convenient. From Noah’s Ark to the boxes protecting the tefillin and, in some way, the Temple housing God’s Shechinah, there is a permanent trend to “lock without locking up” the Divine Presence or Her related instruments with manually controlled places or objects. The vessels, instruments, and tools to be used in the Temple are comparable to clothes and would erroneously be considered more significant than the Presence Herself. No, they hide and uncover, reveal and serve the All-Present One.

There might be a sort of constant misunderstanding or confusion today. We witnessed some slowdown in the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the entrance of the Israel Army into the Old City and their taking over the Temple Mount. It did allow free access to anybody to the Western Wall and the State of the Jews exercises, for the first time since AD/CE 70, such control that remains somehow unfathomable for a lot of non-Jews and former colonialists.

It imposed legal checking systems on the Churches, which was totally unheard of or unthinkable for these communities. 5727/1967 marked a turn in the Jewish conscience that will require decades of patient dialogue with the other faith bodies and vice versa. Most people are not aware of it. In 1958, the Swiss Catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar had written a short book: “Einsame Zwiesprach mit Martin Buber/Lonely dialogue with Martin Buber” in which he explained how Jews and Christians barely dialogue for very short periods of time throughout the ages. It is still the case, “people speaking without talking… Yes conversations that are based on “false friend’s translations”.

For the first time in history, Jews can enter a Christian place freely, without fearing being rebuked, attacked, or killed. Things are not always secure. I speak with a lot of Israeli Jews who have been kicked out of some monastery though some common sense prevails nowadays and we have to live together, whatsoever. We just cannot leap over centuries of hatred and estrangement, we definitely cannot compel – not even the Jews and Israelis – to get aware, accept, comply, and agree with what happened only fifty-six years ago in Jerusalem and the region. Again, any political point of view about this issue is biased and vain by nature.

The Old City of Jerusalem tracks back to the very roots of what deals with the Jewish faith before the time of King Solomon’s First Temple.

On the Feast of Rosh HaShanah, the Jews are told to remind that they were strangers and they say: “My father (Abraham) was a wandering Aramean” (Deut. 26:5). The point of stability in a definite location is the Land of Canaan remembered throughout the journeys. Without any reference to any other religion, Judaism has been and is still confronted with hatred and will of extermination, as if their own being could impulsively drift the Nations to a mental, spiritual, and physical extermination and erasing process of Israel.

Sadly enough, this alien desire for annihilation goes along with some crude and recurrent self-hatred shown by the Jewish communities who would tend to trespass on or capture God’s Commandments, Mitzvot, and rulings and erase, and destroy them, which in turn damages the density of the Community.

Thus, the First Temple was ruined, according to the Sages, because of a “conscious hatred – sichliyut\שכליות”. “Sechel\ שכל= wit, intelligence, awareness”; from radical “achel\ אכל= to consume) means “destruction: “I created the angel of death to work destruction (mesakel/משכל)” (Numbers Rabba 16:24).

Destruction is, volens nolens, the source, the well, the pit full of dead bodies and dried bones. They are done, reduced to ashes, period! Still, the prophetic, messianic message is that “revival, resurrection”, reinvigorating the dead – [mechaye hametim-מחיה המתים] only performed by the One Father in heaven, can correct, remedy, cure, heal destruction and reinstall these destroyed skeletons into the world to come and even reunite them with the souls.

Are humans so spaced out that they can hate each other with full awareness of their ruthless wickedness? Thus, the Shechinah visibly left because of a humane pretense to replace Her. As regards the Second Temple, it was destroyed by a “sinat chinam\שנאת חינם – baseless hatred or rather an irrational hatred”. There are definitely times when humans lose any sense of physical and spiritual orientation. They would desperately need some coaching and guidance. We are able to match with incredible up-to-the-minute instruments, and reshape injured bodies with exoskeletons… true, and it is still so easy to kill with short tongue slips, silence, and all sorts of gadgets.

The Temple was frequented by the Jews as also a lot of international Gentiles and proselytes, later by the first Christians (Acts of the Apostles 2:46). “Churban\חורבן” is the usual word, common in Yiddish (pronounced “Chirb’m”), used instead of “Shoah” which makes sense as it means “Temple destruction”. It is a “desolation that devastated the vineyard” (Kilayim 4, 29c).

Indeed, we may be in a situation of a fully confused destruction process. On the one hand, “Churban” applies to the murder and physical eradication of the Beyt/Temple as the living and acting Mishkan or Dwelling of God.

The Churban is a very specific Jewish concern that will require time. Again, we are without schedules or delays. The destructions of the Temple constitute the first and major element of the Jewish memory that also extended throughout history to the will to wipe out the Jews. The 9th of Av was commemorated at the time of the First Temple.

On this particular day, I would presume it would be good to disconnect Tisha BeAv from the Shoah\שואה (Holocaust, Katastropha\καταστροφα-катастрофа in Greek/Russian).

On the 9th of Av, we can think of Jesus’ words: “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up… He was speaking of the temple of his body”. (John 2:19). The Christians might pre-suppose that the time of the Temple is over and that the Churches are not concerned by the destruction of the Temple. None of the Churches that christened Europe where the Churban-Shoah took place asked together and clearly for forgiveness or made any common and overall spiritual attempt to make an act of penance… And though the Latin Catholic Church rejects the notion of “deicide” applied to the Jews, it did not clearly erase it. It cannot because it questions the identity of Jesus of Nazareth and should require the full and common agreement of all the Churches, which, at present, is not possible.

Neither would they or even can they fathom that the Temple should be built (again) after the daily century-long prayers and expectations of the Jews. The misunderstanding continues as the Christians would consider that the Holy Sepulcher – an Empty Tomb or Place of Resurrection (Anastasis) has unconditionally replaced the Living House where Jesus himself used to come daily (Matthew 26:55). After World War II and the Genocide (Dr. Raphael Lemkin), the Nuremberg Trial, only the Western Churches (Latin Catholics, Protestants, and Anglicans) considered reviewing the “survival and present identity, service” of Jewishness and Israel. The rebirth of Hebrew and the ingathering of the exiled in the modern State of Israel is a permanent interrogation of who is first and/or last… The question does not surface at all in the Eastern Orthodox Churches that only came out from the catacombs and dictatorship thirty years ago.

In Jerusalem, there are “two” Temple mounts. The one that is linked to the whole destiny and revelation of the Jewish People, from Abraham and Mount Moriah through the Ninth of Av, the dispersion till nowadays.

Then, on the opposite side of the City, there is the Empty Tomb or Taphos-τάφος in Greek, also called Anastasis-ἀνάστασις [Place of resurrection]. The process is definitely parallel to what “destruction” means in Hebrew: the Christian creed is also based on the “destruction” of the one who is considered the Messiah and who, according to the tradition – was crucified at the Golgotha. Jesus of Nazareth was “destroyed”, and put to death. Destruction follows the same movement as in Judaism – nothing to do with mutual rejections, rational or irrational ones between these and those! Destruction and death seem to “sow” the seeds of some everlasting life, accepted by the Pharisees, denied by the Sadducees, and confessed by the Christians.

Destruction always appears more visible than any sign of revival and resurrection.

There are stumbling times, periods of hurricanes, mental, philosophical, psychological, just human drifting away from reality and expectations, creeds. Destruction has prevailed over Jewish history. The miracle “sign” in Hebrew as in Greek) is that it continues to shed life, survival, healing, and repair. Is it something that is transmitted via DNA memorizing features? By cultural struggle for life? Is it just given because the Divine Presence preserves and maintains hope beyond hope?

At present, we witness how destruction, rational and irrational hatred, and groundless enmity exterminates the two components of the Slavic tribal nations of the Russians and the Ukrainians by means of an insane fratricide war. It is a brotherly foolish destruction developed by some individuals who say that they are true believers. Christendom has been brought to Kyiv/Kyev exactly 1035 years ago this year when Prince Vladimir was baptized in the Dnieper on July 28, 988, at least celebrated on that day after the Julian calendar (15/07 Gregorian cal.). There were hardly any true Russian nations, nor even clear Ukrainian ones.

It is a paradox, but life overshadows the most tragic aspects of our history.

On the 9th of Av, we may become aware, in any way, any time, anyhow, i.e. in unexpected ways, that God might “soon and speedily reverse history,  comfort or have mercy upon the community of Israel and thus remove the veil of pretense that blindly freezes any believer. Faith implies enjoying the dynamics of being together. And to go up, “vaya’al\ויעל”!

About the Author
Alexander is a psycho-linguist specializing in bi-multi-linguistics and Yiddish. He is a Talmudist, comparative theologian, and logotherapist. He is a professor of Compared Judaism and Christian heritages, Archpriest of the Orthodox Church of Jerusalem, and International Counselor.