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Tabernacle. Temple. Synagogue

May 15, 2015

Every week, Jody Hirsh, the JCC's Judaic Education Director, provides a Judaic message that is featured at the top of the JCC's weekly email newsletter. Below is the Shabbat message for Friday, May 15, 2015.

Tabernacle. Temple. Synagogue

In ancient Israel, the Israelites in the wilderness worshipped at the Tabernacle which was constructed according the plan revealed in the Book of Exodus. In fact... more than a quarter of the Book of Exodus concerns itself with the building of the Tabernacle. Later, during the time of King Solomon, the Temple was built to replace the more portable Tabernacle. They were similar in design – although the Temple was MUCH more elaborate and grand. Despite the difference in scope, these two ritual structures were simple in design. There was an outside courtyard where the people could stand and witness the sacrifices. In those days, the sacrifices were carried out by the priests of Israel who inherited their positions and were the intermediaries between the Israelites and God. The Israelites themselves brought animals, vegetables, and even bread to the Tabernacle or Temple to be offered up by the priests. It was thought that the sacrifices, especially the burnt offerings were a gift to the Hebrew good, providing a “sweet smell” for God’s pleasure.

There were three sections to both these structures. An outer courtyard where the people of Israel would watch the priests enacting the sacrifices. Then an inner courtyard which contained ritual objects such as the seven branched menorah, the incense altar, the altar table for the sacrifice of 12 loaves of bread.  But the third section, the inner chamber called the Kodesh Kodashim – the Holy of Holies – was the holiest place to the Jewish world. It contained the Ark of the Covenant (you know... the one from the Indiana Jones movie). In the Ark of the Covenant were the stone tablets of the covenant – both the first shattered ones, and the second stable ones. This area was so holy that only the High Priest was allowed to enter – and even that was only on one day of the year – Yom Kippur. The high priest was dressed in robes, a turban and breast plate with 12 sacred stones representing the 12 tribes of Israel.

So what happened, you might ask, after the Romans destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem in the year 70. By then, the children of Israel had created an alternative place of worship which existed as an alternative to the Temple: The synagogue! And... the synagogue was structured like the Tabernacle! Instead of the outer courtyard, there is a place for the congregation to sit. The inner courtyard with the ritual objects became the Bimah – the raised staged on which the Torah is read for the Torah readings in the synagogue. And the Holy of Holies containing the Ark of the Covenant? That’s the Holy Ark at the front of the synagogue which contains the Torah Scrolls. Even the priestly clothing is transformed in the modern synagogue into the covers, crowns and breastplates of the Torah Scrolls themselves.

The Temple in Ancient Jerusalem

A Sephardic Synagogue

Shabbat Shalom