To boldly go where too few have gone before
Beber and the Tayelet
This past week I was overjoyed to be able to be in the same place at the same time as the following kids on the Beber Poland/Israel trip (in order of the photo):
Julia Bessen, Joey Schuster, Zach Ellis, Andrew Tuvlin, Yours Truly (notice I’m the shortest), Isaac Wolff, Abigail Geller, Max Strull, and Ethan Grossman.
Based on the number of tour buses parked along the Haas Promenade on the southern part of Jerusalem, you’d think there would be at least 500-800 tourists taking in the gorgeous panoramic view of the old city, Mounts Scopus and Olives, French Hill (where I used to live when I was younger than the kids in the attached photo). You’d be mistaken.
Every time I walk by the Promenade, I will usually see a few people but nowhere near the number I’d expect from the number of buses. There were so many buses the afternoon I came to meet up with the Beber summer kids from Louisville, I was worried they might not have a place to park themselves! Yet during the time I waited I only one saw one bona fide group, around 30-50 orthodox women with an animated guide explaining all the sites to be seen from the Western edge of the Tayelet including the Arab villages in the foreground.
As I walked up to the entrance, around half an hour before the time I was told the bus would arrive (one never knows how early or late a tour bus will be based on traffic, pit stops and many other factors), I was immediately informed of what direction Mecca was as I witnessed two Isalmic men doing their 2nd or 3rd of 5 daily prayers (called Salah) on the lawn near the Tayelet. The Tayelet is very near the Arab villages of Jabel Mukaber and Tsur Baher as the Jewish neighborhood goes almost right up to the 1949 Armistic line.
On Friday night, my wife and I had dinner with Professor/Rabbi Benjie Segal, proud parents of 5, grandparents of 17 (I think), two of which are quite recent. Benjie’s brother David lives in Louisville and last year when he came for a visit he taught from his then new commentary on the book of Psalms. Their house is on a street that’s so close to the Armistice fence we could see it from the window behind our host as he chanted kiddush. A couple of years ago, in the midst of the kidnappings and the Gaza War, there were some disturbances but things have been relatively quiet since then. As we walked to the shabbat dinner, realizing we were early, we stopped at the promenade and various parks on the way and witnessed many Arab families out on a Friday night, kids playing soccer, parents watching, smoking, picnicking.
But Tuesday afternoon, the place was largely vacant but for the tour bus collection, the orthodox women’s group and a few stragglers like myself.
Right at the time the counselor told me the bus made it’s U-turn to join the tour bus caravan and found a spot just beyond the edge of the promenade.
The kids were happy, excited, having a great time. They ran into some of the ‘Brits’ who apparently shared a hostel with them in northern Israel earlier in their trip. One of the kids wanted a picture taken of her jumping for joy, asking the caption be -- “How I responded when I saw the Brits!” A special relationship indeed.
Two sets of twins shared what their other halves were doing while they were traveling the globe and seemed happy for their parallel adventures.
One, who had been to Israel with his family before, shared with me the insight that each experience had its highlights. Whereas the family trip allowed for a more serious ability to take in the more serious museum teachings, there was nothing more fun that white water rafting with ones peers.
We didn’t have time for the traditional early ‘kiddush’, ‘hamotzi’ and ‘shehecheyanu’ for which the leadership had brought a bottle of grape juice and huge challah and great spirits. The bus was originally supposed to arrive around 4 p.m. so they were running a little late for the rest of the programming for the evening.
It was fine -- they would find plenty of time to signal a formal appreciation of their arrival in Jerusalem later.
For now, it was back on the bus!
On The Beaten Track
When I was in both Barcelona and Madrid I noticed a few streets where there was poetry. In Barcelona on various walls of a street which remembered a beloved poet. In Madrid on the sidewalk with a similar purpose.
In New York City riding the Subway one can find poetry where commercial enterprises have chosen not to hawk their wares.
In a previous post, I shared a 7 part story which one can find walking through downtown Jerusalem complete with huge murals and story plaques.
In the neighborhood where we’re staying there are a number of poems on signs along the street which I’ve tried to gather over the weeks we’ve stayed here. I thought it might make sense to put them all in one place. Most of these are on Emek Refaim, the closest large street to where we are staying.
I don't think
I'll stay here long.
One should find another place
But I've become accustomed to this place
For here my life has passed before me.
Near the end of the road is a small park which I think was supposed to be dedicated to one of Israel’s most decorated poets, Yehuda Amichai. Nearby there is a new roundabout with a far nicer tribute but without the poem!
He's sad to be the mayor of Jerusalem.
How can a person be a mayor for a city like this?
What could he do?
Build and build and build.
And at night the stones of the mountains all around will creep up
Like wolves come at night for the dogs
Who have become human servants.
There must be
How it's possible
To maintain the body
When the soul
Asks to leave
What does a man get
From a parked car?
The delusion that he can move, the hope
That there's somewhere to go, hesitation
Whether the time has come to move, concern
That the time to move has passed
Then, after an overnight in Tel Aviv in which we went to Museums and Galleries and had a great coffee with Julie Lamb (!) we were walking back from Machaneh Yehuda in Jerusalem and I saw this in a car window:
Guard me from drivers
Who pass me on the right
Who curse my soul
And endanger my body.
And if you're really gracious and merciful
You'll guard them from my curses.'
Finally, the graffiti which I found at the top of a large set of outside stairs which is now my profile picture:
2nd Temple; 3 Stages
There’s this thing called ‘Opportunity Cost.’ It means that every choice we make entails the ‘cost’ of not doing something else. Tonight I had a very specific such cost to consider.
There are two sets of lectures on each of the next few Monday nights during the 3 weeks of mourning over the loss of the Temple, the Drei Vochen, as my Bobbe and Zaide likely called them. One is at the Avi Chai Center with Dr. Isaiah Gafni and the other is at the Begin Center with a variety of speakers. Each offered compelling topics worthy of study.
I chose Dr. Gafni and I can’t say I made the ‘better’ choice because I didn’t hear the one I missed. All I can say is that I learned a lot and am very glad I went. Next week I may or may not choose his follow up talk but it won’t be due to any lack of erudition on his part.
His primary thesis is that the building of the Second Temple occurred in three stages: 515 BCE under the direction of Persian Emperor Cyrus; 164 BCE by the Hasmoneans and 19-17 BCE by King Herod.
515 BCE Cyrus
The most profound change that occurs to distinguish the 2nd Temple from the first is the enhanced role of the High Priest, a fact which plays a great role in the first two stages of its reconstruction and a slightly smaller one in the third.
Here’s why: When Cyrus gives the Jews the right to rebuild the Temple in 538 BCE he doesn’t allow for the reestablishment of any kind of independence or even political autonomy. In fact, Dr. Gafni pointed out that it’s very possible that the reason we don’t hear from Zerubavel, a descendant of David, after one or two mentions because he was somehow disappeared or dissuaded from his secular governor-like role.
In a sense, the rule from Cyrus was: High Priest, yes. King/secular ruler, don’t hold your breath. This is a huge break from the 1st Temple period when the King reigned supreme and prophets were numerous and vocal. Of course, there were High Priests but, unless you are a winner of the annual Israeli Bible quiz -- can you name 5 of them? 3? 2?
The 2nd Temple period won’t see any kings (until Herod, more on that later) and few prophets. According to rabbinic tradition, prophecy ends with the reign of Alexander the Great in the early 300s BCE.
Although many scholars from the 19th century doubted the authenticity of Cyrus’ granting of religious autonomy to the Judeans, the likelihood is supported by the fact that he reinstates Marduk as the Babylonian high god in almost the same language in a cylinder which can be found in the British Museum (and a replica in the entry to the United Nations).
Why did it take 20+ years to build the Temple from 538-515 BCE? Perhaps because Cyrus was still fighting Egypt during some of those years that may have delayed the consecration.
According to Nehemiah the first annual tax is instituted in the maintenance of the Temple during this early period, a 1/3 shekel. The 1/2 shekel from the Torah was initially a one time gift; only later was that text used to demand a more regular gift from the Jews of the world to the upkeep of the sacred structure. Nehemiah sees to the building of a wall around the city to protect it as well as a tithing of Persian Jews to come and settle the land by lots. A very different kind of Purim from Persia.
The importance of the High Priest is even more pronounced by the 4th century Greek historian Hecataeus of Abdera who rewrites Judean history, assuming we never had a king and claims that the High Priest has always been in charge of law making, judging and communal guardianship. He says that the people would all fall on their faces when the High Priest proclaimed a law! Since, as a Greek, he couldn’t legally enter the sacred precincts to see a Yom Kippur rite, he either snuck in or, based on hearsay, assumed that 2nd Temple Jews did a lot more prostrating than they actually did. Even though his ‘history’ is faulty, he represents a correct assessment of the Judean power structure as it appeared in his time.
164 BCE Hasmoneans
It never occurred to me before but based on Dr. Gafni’s description of the first third of the 2nd Temple period it makes perfect sense that the Maccabees were a priestly family. After all, from where else would leadership come if there hadn’t been a king since 586 BCE and no tradition of prophecy since 312 BCE? A later Hasmonean who is now considered a king even among the Judeans, Janeas or Alexander Yanai, will have the Greek of his coinage declare him as Alexander the King whereas the Hebrew will designate him Yonatan Kohen Gadol.
Although we assume that the Hanukkah story begins with a bad king taking away our rights, that’s a much later part of the story and distorts a great deal of what happens earlier.
Starting with Cyrus already and throughout the Hellenistic and even Roman period there is a good deal of emperial money going to help build the Temple. So when the High Priest Onias has a disagreement with one of the captains of the Temple, a man named Simon, the underling approaches Seleucus the emperor and advises him that some of the money that had been used for the Temple was left over in the treasury. Since Seleucus had armies to pay and feed, he sent his messenger Heliodorus to get it back. The hen pecked messenger went back empty handed, the Judeans arguing that there were many different funds in the Temple coffers and that, indeed, the King shouldn’t worry he had been over-charged for the Temple expenses.
When Seleucus dies, Onias’ brother Jason decides to outdo the previous agitator Simon. He offers the new king Antiochus a total of 440 talents of silver in order to gain the High Priesthood for himself. He goes one step further and asks that he be able to establish a gymnasium and a body of youth for it so that Jerusalem can become a Greek Polis, Antioch. At this point, the priests start getting diverted from their jobs to go watch the goings on at the newfangled gymnasium.
The first two acts of treason that put the Temple at risk are monetary -- in the first case, an agitator tries to get the Temple treasury sacked. In the second, the brother of the High Priest decides to bribe his way into the role AND convert the holy Judean city into a Greek one.
It’s worth noting that the first time in history the ideas of Hellenism and Judaism as ways of life first appear in the 2nd book of Maccabees which was written in Greek.
Three years later, Jason sends Simon’s brother Menelaus to complete important financial business and he outbids Jason for the job by 300 talents of silver. It’s only after Menelaus becomes High Priest that the dominos start to fall that will lead to the final desecration and revolt.
When Judah and his brothers take the Temple back and restore it, they tear down the altar that had been defiled and store it on a convenient place on the Temple hill until a prophet might come and tell them what to do with them. From 164-152 BCE none of the brothers will even be a High Priest, let alone King until Jonathan manages to get Alexander Balas to appoint him. What many don’t appreciate is that the Greeks still have some significant control even after the Temple is liberated.
In fact there is still a garrison of Greeks in a citadel that is not peacefully evacuated until Simon takes over in 142-141 BCE. At that point Judea achieves real independence and Simon becomes leader and High Priest forever until, as it said regarding the defiled stones, a trustworthy prophet should arise. Simon becomes King in all but name.
19-17 BCE Herod
Is Herod Jewish? Technically probably yes. But as a Jewish King, clearly not. He cannot be a descendant of David as he is the grandson of an Idumean convert to Judaism. He is a King appointed by Rome to rule over Judea because they trust him but they know how brutal he can be. Augustus famously said of Herod: ‘Better off is the pig of Herod than his sons.’ Herod wouldn’t slaughter a pig as he kept kosher but he would kill anyone (including his sons if necessary) if he feared their power.
When Herod tells the Judeans he will rebuild the Temple, he goes so far -- according to Josephus’ reconstruction of the speech -- as to accuse Cyrus of not rebuilding the 2nd Temple to the same glorious height and glory of Solomon’s. Since Herod’s Jewish, he can be trusted to do so. It’s no accident that during the time of Herod, Rome’s greatest enemies were the Parthians, the geographic successors of the Persians. Throwing Cyrus under the bus was killing two birds with one stone -- it gave him points with the Judeans and the Romans.
The story goes, and is recorded in both Josephus and the Babylonian Talmud, that God helped in Herod’s rebuilding of the Temple, that no rain fell by day but only at night.
I can’t say I’m a great advocate of a rebuilding of the 3rd Temple. I observe the fasts of the 17th of Tammuz and 9th of Av because we still have important issues of war and peace to work out with our neighbors and when those issues are settled, may they be speedily in our day, I will turn them from fasts to feasts as Zechariah prophesied.
That said, I always enjoy a greater handle on the history that has helped shape who we are as a people.