Thursday, April 11, 2002
It seems a red heifer has been positively identified in Israel. This is not good news. As Rod Dreher points out in his most recent NRO column, the horrors that could be unleashed by this unsuspecting cow are incalculable. For a rundown on the history of the rabbinate's approach to the building of the 3rd Temple, see here. It's a bit long, and comes from a pro-build-the-Temple perspective, but quite interesting. The most important thing to note is that the mainstream rabbinate has consistently and strongly endorsed the opinion that the 3rd Temple will be built by divine and not human hands, and that we are therefore forbidden from taking harmful actions (such as blowing up the Dome of the Rock) to try to precipitate such action. The tough part about this stance is that religious Zionism started with Rav Kook's conclusion that political Zionism was evidence of God working through the mundane world to bring the Messianic Age. Once you accept that premise, and the implicit presumption that one can observe the Divine Plan in prospect and not only in retrospect, how can you draw the line at the Temple? Rav Kook's opinion on the specific question of the Third Temple is, I believe, not known, but many of his followers - including his son - took his doctrines to more radical conclusions than he ever did in his life. At the furthest extreme of these radicals are the groups currently agitating to build the Third Temple.
Israel watches these people very carefully, as it should. But it is equally important for the rabbinate to take a strong stand against them. Any attempt to lay the foundations for the Third Temple would be a catastrophe of the highest order. It would be a 9-11 perpetrated by Jews, and would result in the destruction of Israel, without a doubt. There is ample rabbinic precedent for a strong condemnation of any such attempt. Even if it were permitted to build the Temple (i.e. if it is to be built by human hands) it is inconceivable that it would be permitted to risk millions of lives to do so by force. This is not something that needs to be talked about loudly in the public square, but it is something that needs to be acted upon forcefully through the channels where it will do the most good: within the camp of religious Zionism, through their institutions.
For a primer on Jewish millenarianism and the difficulty this raises for traditional Jews in assimilating the existence of a Jewish State in mundane time, I strongly recommend Messianism, Zionism, and Jewish Religious Radicalism by Aviezer Ravitzsky. More on the book another time.