The Mishkan and Jewish Unity

This past Shabbat just finished the book of Shemot/Exodus, and a major theme of the last 5 weeks is the building of the mishkan, the “Tabernacle,” a dwelling place for Gd.  Ki Tisa, in the middle, contains within it the story of the sin of the Golden Calf, which some commentaries say proved the need for a physical dwelling place for Gd (even though He is of course everywhere).

Over Shabbat I thought about what the purpose of the mishkan was, beyond the fulfillment of some human need for a specific place to worship Gd.  Certainly it’s more than that because it nor its predecessor, the Temple, have been around for almost 2,000 years.

One of the things it is, certainly, is a place for Jewish unity.  While its replacement, the synagogue, or בית כנסת, literally a “house of gathering” is a smaller version of this, too often it is used as a sort of division into different sects and streams of Jewish life.  (This brings to mind the familiar joke of Jews needing a synagogue you go to and the synagogue you don’t go to.)  When asked “Where do you go to shul (synagogue),” it’s usually some sort of effort to figure out a level of religious preference.

The rebuilding of the Temple is supposed to be a yearning (We ask for it in several prayers, multiple times daily), and many opinions hold that we won’t be able to rebuild the Temple until there is Jewish unity.  That sounds nice, but what does “Jewish unity” really mean?  Everyone practicing the same way, from Jews of a Yemenite heritage, to Jews from Russia, to Chassidim, to Jews who don’t observe anything, to Jews who strive to observe anything?  Or are we to just accept that all of these ways can be valid, even though accepting one way is often implying by default that another way doesn’t work (at least for a particular person and perhaps in general on philosophical grounds)?

I have a feeling that day will not be soon.  “Unity” seems too big and ambiguous, not to mention impossible today if it’s anything like my definition.

On Monday, March 15, the Hurva synagogue will be rededicated after years of restoration.  The structure of the building was destroyed by the Jordanian army in 1948 during the War of Independence.  While reports that the restoration is a lead up to the Jews returning to build the Third Temple on the Temple Mount is causing tension in the Old City, I certainly wasn’t informed about this plan.  I’m also not so sure that I want the Third Temple to be rebuilt.  If the ideal form of prayer is of the heart, why do I need a Temple and sacrifices?  It’s a funny thing, really, how central the rebuilding of the Temple is to Jewish prayer, but I wonder how many Jews are with me, pretty okay without all that the halachic ramifications of what having a Temple again would entail.

The bigger question though, is regarding this concept of Jewish unity.  It sounds nice, but in what form would that take place?  While the dispersal across varied lands has caused unspeakable suffering and loss, of life and of heritage and tradition, and even frustration and not being able to find the true source for some customs and traditions, the diaspora created a rich mosaic of Jewish culture.  If there are “70 faces to the Torah” how are we to get back to 1, and wouldn’t that be at a another tremendous expense?

I know that I’m supposed to want to return to the Temple, but I’m a practical person.  Is it really best for all of world Jewry to live in Israel, right now?  That’s just physical unity.  Religiously, I don’t see us all figuring out whether or not or how to make sacrifices.  Most Jews simply would not care.

This past Shabbat, the Shabbat before Rosh Chodesh, we said a blessing for upcoming new month (begins on Tuesday).  This upcoming month being Nissan, by some accounts the beginning of the Jewish calendar and the month of Passover, I find this section of the blessing particularly fitting:

He Who performed miracles for our forefathers and redeemed them from slavery to freedom — may He redeem us soon and gather in our dispersed from the four corners of the earth; all Israel becoming comrades. Amen. (Artscroll translation)


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Ilene Rosenblum is a writer and marketing professional living in Jerusalem.

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