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What is the Holy Temple?

by Rabbi Mendy Hecht


Library » History | Subscribe | What is RSS?


A. The Holy Temple, a.k.a. the Beit Hamikdash (pronounced BAYt hah-MIK-dahsh), was the football-stadium-sized, multi-level, indoor-outdoor structure that was the nucleus of Judaism, its’ most sacred site. It stood atop Jerusalem’s Mt. Moriah. The First Beit Hamikdash was built by King Solomon in the year 827 BCE and destroyed by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar in the year 423 BCE. The Second Beit Hamikdash was completed in the year 349 BCE by Jewish returnees from the Persian Exile, led by Ezra and Nechemiah. In the year 11 BCE, King Herod completed dramatic renovations to the dilapidated Temple, but armies of the Roman Empire destroyed it in 69 CE, when the current Exile—the Roman Exile—began.

B. Very little architectural data about the First Beit Hamikdash has survived, unlike the Second, about which much was recorded. Both consisted of a tall, majestic, ornate and geometric hall surrounded by sweeping, stepped courtyards and castle-like stone walls. The outermost walls described a rectangle from a bird’s-eye view, within which were the stepped courtyards and the hall in the upper center. Within its wide courtyards were vast outdoor floor spaces for the thousands of pilgrims attending the tri-annual holiday services (Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot), a mighty altar where thousands of animals and birds were humanely sacrificed, and storage and staff facilities for the hundreds of on-duty Kohanim and Levi’im. The hall housed a small incense altar, a ceremonial bread rack, a Menorah, and the Holy of Holies—the small square room at the back of the hall formed by a wall-to-wall cloth partition, behind which was stored the Ark of the Covenant. The Holy of Holies was a space so ethereal that the laws of physics were suspended within its confines. It was only entered by the High Priest, the most spiritual human being, on Yom Kippur, the most spiritual day of the year.

The problem with the word “temple” is that Indiana Jones got to it. Today, whenever I say “temple,” I guarantee you’ll picture jungle, torches, hieroglyphics, dark foreboding stone entranceways...
C. The Temple’s centrality to Jewish existence is reflected in the fact that many mitzvahs are Temple-related: daily and weekly sacrifices, holidays and holiday sacrifices, personal, voluntary and obligatory sacrifices, agricultural tithes, qualifying criteria for the Kohanim and Levi’im, Temple rituals, and the dos and don’ts for all of the above—we’re talking around 180 mitzvahs.

What was/is the significance of the Temple?

1. The Confused Temple

The problem with the word “temple” is that Indiana Jones got to it. Today, whenever I say “temple,” I guarantee you’ll picture jungle, torches, hieroglyphics, dark foreboding stone entranceways; jungle, terrifying supernatural forces and more jungle. And don’t forget rats, skulls, firepits and the occasional mummy. And jungle.

2. The Real Temple

With the jungle of pop-culture temple jingoism slashed and burned out of the way, let’s talk G-d’s take on temples. Today, when you want spirituality, you look inside yourself or at the world around you, and go to a rabbi to tell you what it is you’re looking at. Spirituality is wherever you want to find it. Once upon a time, though, spirituality was sparsely scattered here and there, and concentrated in one physical place. When you wanted to get spiritual, you went to that place: the Temple. The Holy Temple was the place where G-d’s presence throughout the universe could be physically sensed. When the Temple stood, G-d was real to everyone. You didn’t have to look anywhere to find Him—you just traveled to Jerusalem and connected to Him at His Temple. The Temple was a symbol of G-d: majestic, grand and awe-inspiring because G-d is majestic, grand and awe-inspiring. It was a shrine to G-d and all the things that “G-d” means: responsibility, morality, ethics, love, compassion, humility. It was a place where one found spirituality: the Kohanim silently serving in awe of G-d beyond words, the Levi’im singing boisterous songs of love for G-d, the pilgrims fine-tuning their relationship with G-d, the sights, the sounds. You didn’t have to be Jewish to go to the Temple—kings and peasants from every country and culture traveled long distances just to experience it all. The Temple was the single-most important structure in society, offering structure to society. Then it got destroyed.

TAGS: Temple


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Description of our personal temple

Posted by: Last Moses, Ashland, NH on Dec 31, 2004

I, along with other Jews, have often pondered if there would be another temple built by men in the Holy City. Your vision of each person's personal temple and each person's ability to interact with G-d without having to go through another man or woman is truly inspired by the Almighty G-d, Who is the G-d of all who sincerely seek Him. Thanks.

Editor's Comment

This in no way precludes the basic Jewish belief that the messiah will ultimately rebuild the physical Holy Temple in Jerusalem.


Posted by: BabyGurl2009, Waldoboro, ME, USA on Mar 14, 2005

This stuff really is interesting but it confuses me because it's a lot to take in at once. Just wanted to say that..Thanks!


History » The Holy Temples » About

The Messiah. Moshiach is the person who will usher in an era of peace and tranquility for all of humanity when there will be no jealousy or hate, wars or famine. This is a fundamental Jewish belief.
A seven day autumn festival commemorating the miracle of the Heavenly Clouds which enveloped the Jews while traveling in the desert for forty years. On this holiday we dwell in makeshift booths and shake the Four Species.
Yom Kippur
Day of Atonement. This late-autumn high-holiday is the holiest day of the year. We devote this day to repentance and all healthy adults are required to fast.
Plural form of Kohain. Priests of G-d. This title belongs to the male descendants of Aaron, brother of Moses. The primary function of the Kohain was to serve in the Holy Temple. Today the Kohain is still revered and it is his function to recite the Priestly Blessings on certain occasions.
Early summer festival marking the day when the Jews received the Torah at Mount Sinai in the year 2448 (1312 BCE).
Candelabra. Usually a reference to the nine-branched candelabra kindled on the holiday of Chanukah.
Established by King David to be the eternal capital of Israel. Both Temples were built there, and the third Temple will be situated there when the Messiah comes.
Son of King David, and succeeded him on the throne of Israel in the year 836 BCE. he was the wisest man to ever live. He built the first Holy Temple and authored several books of the Bible.
1. A Hebrew priest and scribe, who, together with Nehemiah, revived Judaism in the 4th century BCE. He was instrumental in the building of the 2nd Temple. 2. One of the 24 books of the Bible, which describes the events of Ezra's lifetime.
Passover. A Biblically mandated early-spring festival celebrating the Jewish exodus from Egypt in the year 1312 BCE.
1. Usually a reference to the Holy Temple which was/will be situated in Jerusalem. 1st Temple was built in 825 BCE and was destroyed in 423 BCE. The 2nd Temple was built in 350 BCE and was destroyed in 70 CE. The 3rd Temple will be built by the Messiah. 2. A synagogue.
1. Name of Patriarch Jacob's third son. 2. A Levite -- a Jew who is a patrilineal descendant of Levi. Levites had special duties in the Holy Temple, and are still accorded special respect.
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.