When I speak in World Religions classes at universities, I invariably have to answer a
question about peace in the Middle East, with a question about the Temple Mount hot on its
heels. Whatever I say about peace, coexistence, and national self-determination is very nice, but
how can we have peace when the Dome of the Rock sits right on the site where our Third
Temple is supposed to go?
Fortunately, I am not God, and as such, I do not need to legislate property disputes
among the faithful. However, for those who concern themselves with the coming of the Messiah
and the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem, I suggest that peace in the Middle East will not go
far enough. Rather, we need to make peace amongst ourselves.
The Second Temple was destroyed, according to the Talmud, because of “baseless
hatred” between Jews. “Baseless hatred,” or sin’at hinam, means hating someone for who they
are, for their beliefs and practices, or for disagreeing with you over a “big idea.” Many of the
Jews living in Roman-besieged Jerusalem (67 C.E. to 70 C.E.) broke themselves into factions
based on how they believed they should deal with the Roman occupation. These Jews could not
agree on how to respond to the Romans, and on that basis, they refused to work together. Worse,
they took out their frustrations on one another by burning one another’s grain supplies--within
the walls of a besieged city! This is what Jewish tradition calls “baseless hatred,” and this is
blamed for either causing or helping the Romans to destroy Jerusalem.
Looking at ourselves today, we are not prepared to respond if the Third Temple were to
fall out of the sky tomorrow. I am afraid that we would turn on one another immediately, as we
argued about all the most “pressing” questions: Who would be the new High Priest? How
should the sacrifices be offered, and would we offer all of the sacrifices (as some rabbis
maintain) or only the incense and grain offerings (as some rabbis maintain)? Who should be
allowed inside the Temple--women? the news media? converts? Should we charge admission?
How do you need to prove that you are a Cohen or a Levi in order to be accepted to work there,
and what if you are a Cohen or a Levi who does not want to work there? For whose
grandparents (of blessed memory) would the new front steps of the Temple complex be named?
Forgive me for repeating myself, but I say this to myself often. The worldwide Jewish
community is still guilty of that same “baseless hatred” that lost us the Second Temple. If we are
willing to fight with other Jews, to exclude other Jews, to judge other Jews for their Jewish
choices, to stand against the rights of other Jews or against their access to our holy places and
our synagogues, then we do not deserve the Third Temple, and it will not matter whose holy site
shares its future footprint.
Bring on Middle East peace! Let us take this opportunity to dive deeply into the
problems of Israel’s religious and ethnic minorities. Let’s make another Camp David
Accords-sized leap forward in Israeli-Palestinian relations. It will be great training for when we
are finally ready to make peace with ourselves.
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