My sanctuary, the pride of your power” Ezekiel 24:21

The Temple: To rebuild or not to rebuild? The arguments pro are political; the arguments contra are religious.

The book of Leviticus details many doubtful rites for Temple observance. It was impossible for all Jews to gather in the Temple thrice annually for the major festivals: the journey was too long. Visiting the Temple to slaughter every animal was similarly impractical. Women recovering from childbirth or undergoing unusually strong menstruation could not undertake an arduous trip to the Temple to bring sacrifices. The priests could not slaughter thousands—theoretically even hundreds of thousands—of animals during festivals.

Josephus quotes Hecataeus on the original size of the Second Temple as 150 by 50 meters. A structure of that size could not accommodate more than a few thousand people during a festival. The shortage of space can be explained in many ways, most easily by people entering the Temple for a short time only and generally staying outside it, but the size clearly doesn’t provide for the movement of hundreds of thousands of worshipers with sacrificial animals. The Mishna, written within the living memory of the Second Temple, conjectures about the rites and Sanhedrin procedures rather than stating them matter-of-factly.

The major attribute of the Temple’s holiness, the Ark, was gone already from the Second Temple, making it largely devoid of sanctity. The Temple was repeatedly desecrated, the priests were as corrupt then as the rabbinical leaders are now, and it is overall difficult to expect the Divine Presence to descend into the Holy of Holies. I can’t imagine God being attracted to a golden menorah donated by the Ukrainian magnate Rabinovich. An element of holiness was lost. Or was it? The Bible depicts Jews as prone to paganism then as to atheism now, with ancient rulers as evil as Shimon Peres, and prophets as rare as decent rabbis today. The laws of the Torah retain their applicability precisely because modern people remain morally similar to their ancestors. Herod the Great, with his pagan views, hardly imagined the Temple as a divine abode, but invested huge efforts into embellishing it. The Diaspora Jews did not bring the Temple sacrifices, but duly remitted a half-shekel or more for the upkeep of the Temple.

The Temple is a political institution. It asserts the Jewish character of the state, limits the authority of secular rulers, and unifies the Jewish nation. It is not really significant for our purposes whether the Divine Presence would reveal itself to a modern high priest: it is enough that the high priest exists. Israel leans to the left because there is no visible right; most rabbis are no more religious than the average MK. The Temple, sacrifices, and hereditary priesthood will create enormous pressure for the right end of the Israeli political spectrum, fully offsetting the influence of Kadima, Peace Now, Avodah, and Histadrut. The Temple will stake the land for the Jews: it’s hard to talk about Arab civil rights while the smoke of sacrifices rises to heaven. The construction of the Temple will necessitate a major nationalist breakthrough: razing the Islamic structures on the Temple Mount. It’s hard to seek peace with Arabs by giving them Judea or the Golan Heights after you’ve just razed the Aqsa.

The Temple will rally the Jews. The lawgiver installed the system of sacrifices to answer the deepest human urge for a clear-cut absolution of guilt. Sacrifices signified an individual’s return to moral purity: repent, restitute, bring sacrifices, and stop worrying about the transgressions of the past. Don’t be sorry for the sheep: we’ll eat them instead of the cows. Sacrifices will reassure the Jews that absolute moral purity exists and can be striven for.

The Temple will provide the sense of Jewish continuity, the connection with ancient roots that the beaches of Tel Aviv utterly lack. The Diaspora Jews will formally unite with Israelis by sending annual contributions to the Temple. The world will see the Jews again as an odd religious crowd rather than secular colonizers of Palestine.

Israel needs a political party with a single goal: rebuilding the Temple. The other goals can be inferred from that one. Let the Supreme Court try to ban the party or the MKs to ostracize it.

Forget about religion. Rebuild the Temple.