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Solomon's Temple and the Shabbat

June 7, 2013

Every week, Jody Hirsh, the JCC's Judaic Education Director, provides a Shabbat message that is featured at the top of the JCC's weekly email newsletter.  Below is the Shabbat message for Friday, June 7, 2013.

Solomon’s Temple and the Shabbat

In the old days, when Solomon’s Temple stood in Jerusalem, the Temple itself was the focus of Shabbat observances. Daily sacrifices of animals and vegetables and even bread were offered by the Priests – a total of 3 per day – but on the Shabbat, there was an extra sacrifice. The sight of the priests ascending the altar to perform the sacrifices must have been a sight to see. In addition, the Priests and Levites performed psalms on the steps of the Temple – the psalms were actually liturgical songs sung and danced with the accompaniment of musical instruments, even on the Sabbath.  The pageantry, the ritual, and the excitement of the Temple service, is almost impossible to imagine. All that is over now, ever since the Temple was ultimately destroyed by the Romans in the year 70 CE. There is no longer a class of Priests who offer sacrifices, no grand altar, no bread offering, no more the division of the Temple into Outer Court, Inner Court, and Holy of Holies, no grand vestments of the High Priest: Robe, breast plate, crown, no choirs of singing and dancing Levites. But is it really over?

After the destruction of the Temple, those specific rituals discontinued, and the mantle of spiritual leadership passed from the priest, who no longer could function, to the Rabbis . . . a new type of leader who stood for study and prayer. The rabbis were obsessed with preserving Jewish life even without the Holy Temple, and they did, in fact, transform Jewish life. They took the public rituals of the Temple and gave them new life by transforming them into home and synagogue rituals. The three sacrifices became the 3 daily prayer services familiar to traditional Jews. The extra sacrifice on Shabbat became the musaf service in the synagogue on Saturday morning. The altar became the Sabbath meal table at home. The sacrifices became the challah loaf served on the newly conceived dinner table altar. The three part division of the Temple became the congregation, the bimah and the ark of the synagogue. The vestments of the High Priest became the mantle, breastplate and crown that adorn the Torah Scroll. And  what about the grand psalms? They became the psalms recited in the synagogue Shabbat services and the Zmirot (songs) sung at the Shabbat Table – especially after the meal. The rabbis after the destruction had a knack of transforming the rituals of the destroyed Temple into the rituals of home and synagogue that have lasted 2000 years.

Coming in a few weeks: Special foods for Shabbat. If you or your family or community has special food that you eat on Shabbat particularly, let me know! Write me at jhirsh@jccmilwaukee.org

Shabbat Shalom.