Beit Midrash

  • Family and Society
  • The Holy Temple - Beit Hamikdash
To dedicate this lesson

The Torah study is dedicated in the memory of

Hana Bat Haim

Building the Temple Today

Just as the time for the Redemption is dependent upon Israel's merit, so the nature of the redemption depends upon Israel's worthiness. The sages teach, “If they are worthy - with Heavenly clouds; if they are not - a peasant riding on a donkey” (Sanhedrin 98a).


Rabbi Avigdor Nebentzal

1. By Human Hands
2. When Will the Redemption Begin?
3. How the Redemption Will Look
4. The Future Temple's Structure
By Human Hands
Rambam enumerates the building of the Holy Temple as one of the Torah's 613 positive commandments (Sefer HaMitzvot, Commandment 20; see also the beginning of Hilkhot Beit HaBechirah). Moreover, the great sage writes elsewhere (Sefer HaMitzvot, Shoresh 3) that any precept which is not meant to be practiced in all generations cannot be included in the list of the Torah's commandments. It is clear, then, that Rambam is of the opinion that the commandment to build the Temple is eternally binding and must be fulfilled whenever there is a need and a possibility of building it. This explains why Rambam, on the one hand, lists all of the details of the laws dealing with the construction of the Temple while, on the other, refrains from bringing the detailed laws of non-Temple altar sacrifice as they appear in the Talmud. Outer-Temple sacrifice was permanently discontinued as soon as the Temple was built in Jerusalem in the days of Kings David and Solomon.

The Talmud (Rosh HaShannah 30a and in a number of other places) informs us that there is a possibility that the Temple will be built at night or on a Festival. Both Rashi and Tosefot point out the difficulty in such an assertion: The Talmud elsewhere (Shavuot 15a) teaches that the Temple is not to be built at night, neither does its construction override Festival observance. Rashi and Tosefot resolve this apparent contradiction by explaining that there (in tractate Shavuot) the Talmud refers to the Temple when it is built by human hands. The future Temple, however, will descend complete from the heavens, as the verse indicates, "Your hands (i.e., the Almighty's) shall prepare the Sanctuary of God," and as written in the Midrash. It appears, then, that Rashi and Tosefot are at odds with Rambam on this point. Even the Talmud and the Midrash appear to make Rambam's position problematic.

Some attempt to resolve Rambam's position by drawing a distinction between constructing the altar and constructing the actual Temple itself: The text in tractate Rosh HaShannah deals with the need for an altar according to the opinion which says that sacrifices can be offered up even when there is no Temple, and the construction of the altar overrides Festival observance, and it can even be performed at night.

When it comes to building the altar at night, my own humble opinion is that this is not such a simple matter and is in fact deserving of serious consideration, for the sanctity of the altar is not to be compared with that of the instruments used in the Temple; in fact, it is on a level of the Temple itself. By what right should its construction be allowed at night any more than that of the Temple itself? "Meiri" writes that either the text in Rosh HaShannah is not halakhically conclusive, or it simply reflects the fear of an erring court.

According to Meiri's first explanation Rambam can live in peace with the text in Rosh HaShannah. The second explanation also takes the weight off of Rambam. The only problem is his own dispensation which allows for building the Temple at night, for it appears that according to the Jerusalem Talmud (Yoma, ch. 1) that if the Sanctuary is built at night it is unfit, even post factum. This being the case, if an altar was constructed at night it is not an altar at all.

Others explain (Tifferet Yisrael) that in the future non-Jews will build the walls of the Temple - and they are permitted to work even on Jewish Festival days. And even though it is forbidden to build a house on a Festival day via non-Jewish labor, it may be that the sages did not intend to include such a great religious obligation as this in their prohibition.

This, though, does not solve the problem of the nighttime. If the Temple is rendered unfit by the fact that it was constructed by Jews at night, the same should apply to Gentiles.

Yet, beyond this, it does not appear reasonable that non-Jews will be allowed to build the Temple and the altar (see Eruvin 105a, and Rambam at the end of ch. 1 of Hilkhot Beit HaBechirah where Gentiles are not listed amongst those permitted to build the Temple). In addition, the verse, "Gentiles shall build your walls" is a promise to Israel and it relates to material matters which we must tend to as a result of the curse, "You shall eat bread by the sweat of your brow." It does not, however, apply to the Torah and its commandments - and this includes the Holy Temple - which were given to the Jewish people by God as a special privilege. There is nothing particularly agreeable about a promise that non-Jews will build the Holy Temple for us.

When Will the Redemption Begin?
Regarding Israel's redemption the sages teach (Sanhedrin 78a) that, "If they merit it, it will come quickly; if they do not, it will come at its appointed time." In other words, the redemption has no set date. Its arrival depends on man's actions. This is the reason that many prophecies and much of the writings of Daniel the Prophet were written in an ambiguous manner - so that they lend themselves to varying interpretations. The same principle can be seen in the Exodus from Egypt: God made a promise that the exile would last for 400 years. The Ramban, however, adds thirty years to this figure by declaring that the counting began from the event of the Binding of Isaac. On the other hand, according to "the Paytan," the 400 years were shortened to a mere 210 as a result of prayer.

In essence, both opinions are correct. The whole issue boils down to the question of when the counting begins. If the Israelites had not cried out, God would have been willing to begin the counting from the time they descended to Egypt. The Talmud (Berakhot 4a) tells us that the final redemption could have taken place in the days of Ezra had it not been for sin. Similarly, the sages teach that God had wanted to crown Ezekiel the Prophet as Messiah (Sanhedrin 92a).

How the Redemption Will Look
Just as the time for the Redemption is dependent upon Israel's merit, so the nature of the redemption depends upon Israel's worthiness. The sages teach, "If they are worthy, with Heavenly clouds; if they are not, a peasant riding on a donkey" (Sanhedrin 98a). The Rambam writes (Hilkhot Melakhim 12:2) that there will be a war between "Gog and Magog" at the outset of the Messianic era, and then adds that "no person can know how all of these things will be until they actually take place.... Even the sages have no tradition regarding these matters..."

The Future Temple's Structure
It follows that the same principle may hold true when it comes to the structure of the Temple; there may well be a difference between a situation in which we are worthy and one in which we are not. If Israel merits being worthy, God will grant them the privilege of building the Temple with their own earthly hands; if Israel is not so fortunate and the time for the building of arrives on its own, not as a result of their merit, it will be constructed by "Heavenly hands," or the Messiah will build it. The future Messiah, after all, will be wiser than King Solomon and nearly as great a prophet as Moses.

It is also worth pointing out that "HaChinukh" (Mitzvah 95) writes that the commandment to build the Holy Temple can only be fulfilled when a majority of the Jewish people are settled in the Land of Israel. Today, there is still not a majority of Jews in Israel. This being the case, it would appear that today there is still no obligation to build the Temple.

It is possible conjecture as to whether the Chinukh believes that it is forbidden to build the Holy Temple if there is not a majority of Jews in the Land of Israel or that there is simply no obligation in such a situation. If the latter is the true, there is permission but no obligation to build today. The Second Temple was also built before the Jews of Israel were a majority; perhaps it was built at that time not because they were obligated but because it was permitted. There is also a possibility that the Second Temple was built because Jeremiah prophesied that the destruction would last for no more than seventy years. The prophets Haggai and Zachariah also prophesied that the time had come for constructing the Temple. The people therefore built according to a special provision.

As is his custom, the "Chinukh" does not bring a source for the rule that a majority is needed for building the Temple. I have heard that the source is in the talmudic tractate of Sanhedrin (20a): "The nation of Israel is obligated to fulfill three commandments upon entering the Land of Israel: to appoint a king, to wipe out the seed of Amalek, and to build the Holy Temple." Here, then, we find that the commandment to build the Temple depends upon the Jewish people's entering the land. The question remains, however, as to why the Rambam instead of mentioning this in Hilkhot Beit HaBechira (the laws relating to the Temple) mentions it only in Hilkhot Melakhim (the laws dealing with kings and national sovereignty).

The above talmudic source also teaches us that the obligation must be carried out in this exact order: first, the appointment of a king; next, the extermination of the Amalekite nation; and, finally, the building of the Temple. The question that needs to be answered is how the building of Second Temple was permitted in the time Zerubavel. At that time, neither the obligation of appointing a king nor that of wiping out Amalek had been fulfilled. A possible answer is that although there is a specified order to these commandments, it is not an essential condition to their fulfillment. This may be compared to arm- and head-tefillin: Though the arm-tefillin is supposed to be put on first, if for some reason it cannot, this does not prevent one from putting on the head-tefillin. Therefore, though the Jewish people were subjects of the Persian Empire at that time, they attempted to initiate whatever they could, i.e., building the Temple.

The author of "Yeshu'ot Malko" explains that the concept of "not having a majority of Jews in the Land of Israel" applies only in a case where Jews are prohibited by the governments under which they live from emigrating, or prohibited by the government in Israel from immigrating. The king Koresh ruled over both the Land of Israel and the lands of the exile, and he gave permission to the Jews to return to Israel. Those who did not take advantage of this freedom lost the right to be counted amongst the "majority of Jews." According to "Yeshu'ot Malko," then, there is no need today to count our Jewish brothers and sisters living in the wealthy western countries who refuse to come live in Israel. Consideration need only be given to the Jews of the Land of Israel on the one hand, and those of Russia and the Arab world on the other. According to the ratio between these two groups it must be determined whether or not the majority of Jews today live on Israeli soil.

The renown Rabbi Eliezer Yehudah Waldenburg, basing himself upon the writings of Rabbenu Gershom, understands that 600,000 Jews in the Land of Israel is automatically considered a "majority of Jews." Regarding our generation it would appear that if the sanctity of the land depends upon there being 600,000 Jews, the intention is to 600,000 like those who divided up the land in the days of Joshua, i.e., males between the ages of twenty and sixty years old and originating from the Twelve Tribes. According to this, we cannot know the number of Jews in Israel today for our purposes, for today all of us are seen as possibly being the offspring of converts. What's more, according to the Talmud (Pesachim 88a) it is likely that today the majority of Jews come from converts, while the only ones who are undoubtedly of completely Jewish background are priests or Levites.

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