Stop mourning Herod’s temple

It’s the Nine Days leading up to Tisha B’Av – the mourning period for the destruction of the first and second temples in Jerusalem – and we’re supposed to be loving, giving the benefit of the doubt, or at the very least, not hating each other.

Enter our egos.
Enter bad behaviour.
Enter assholes.
Enter wistfulness for better times.
Enter blinding anger at the other.
Enter certainty.
Enter questioning of self.
Enter no more patience.
Enter fear.
Enter fed up-ness.

It really does seem that we are given serious challenges during the Nine Days to give each other the benefit of the doubt, not to clump 10s or 100s or 1,000s of people into one group. We see horrible behaviour and it taps into our deepest resentment, the resentment that we resent experiencing. Those feelings that remind us of our animalistic side.

And then come the expressions of these feelings in online mediums where we point fingers at others, expressing our disgust, expressing our gut reactions, all that including, repeatedly, a reminder to the world: Hey World, don’t you remember it’s the Nine Days, for God’s sake?! The Nine Days are serious. Couldn’t these troublemakers wait? Couldn’t they just behave themselves this year? Can’t they just be better?

Well, no. Apparently they can’t.

And we’re left to decide how we want to deal with that.

On the one hand we are given more consciousness during the Nine Days to stop and consider how we want to react. On the other hand everything is charged because our Jewish wounds are open as we consider the horrors of our past and the horrors of our future with which our leaders threaten us if we dare not heed the call to shape up and be nice.

Enter Herod.

It is said the Second Temple was destroyed because of baseless hatred between Jews.

How ironic.

The Second Temple was built by a man who many Jews never fully accepted as Jewish, who, on the one hand chose to make his most awesome construction of all the temple for the Jewish people, but on the other hand his suspicious nature and his love for control and respect led him to do some despicable things. Despite his unrivaled talent to build, he was so problematic that he knew many Jews would celebrate his death. Because of this, he ordered to have leaders of the Jewish community killed on the day of his death in order to stop the celebrations (the orders were not followed through).

People hated him. Many/Most/All Jews hated him.

On the other hand there is an ossuary of what was most probably a simple Jew of the time on display at the Herod the Great exhibition at the Israel Museum. Engraved on it are the words (paraphrased):

Builder of the temple.

It says almost nothing else.

The family of the man buried in this ossuary was deeply proud of his contribution to the building of the Second Temple.

The Jews of the time accepted the new temple as legitimate? Why?

Such mixed feelings towards Herod the Great.

This year I am baffled as to why we mourn the destruction of the Second Temple. We could mourn the horrors surrounding the destruction, but why the temple itself?

Imagine… What if any leader of our time – political, religious or otherwise – decided to build the Third Temple. Imagine. Who would go along with it? Anyone? And what if this leader forced the building upon us, would we believe the building to be sacred once completed? And if this temple was then destroyed, would we believe it was worthy of mourning?

From the little we know, Herod was awful on a personal level. And yet one of his creations was so great – beyond anything the First Temple was – that religious, Orthodox Jews of all sects – mourn its destruction annually.

People can be horrible. But the confusing thing is that the same person who is awful can also be awesome. Many, if not all, great leaders have done terrible things. When someone is given power, they’re more opt to make the grandest of mistakes and bad decisions. They are most opt to lose their balance, lose their moral compass and become unreliable.

That does not mean the world is falling apart. It does not mean we are an evil people. It does not mean the followers of those leaders are bad. It means that we personally need to regain our own balance, react how we see fit, look at the Jewish people as individuals, and continue giving people the benefit of the doubt.

We know so little about Herod’s life. But from the little we do know, I am certain almost no Orthodox Jews of today would have accepted a Herod-like character’s temple built today. And yet we’re all mourning the destruction of a very real Herod’s temple of the past.

Unless we learn from the apparent hypocrisy of mourning the destruction of the temple of such a morally challenged person, I don’t think we’ll learn the lessons this mourning has the potential to teach us. So either we should stop mourning the destruction of the Second Temple or allow ourselves a wider focus on individuals, communities and leaders. Because as little as we know about Herod’s life, is about as much as we know about their lives too.

About the Author
Deena is a new mother, a project manager and a writer living in Jaffa.