The Sabbath and the Temple

November 1, 2013

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, November 1, 2013.

The Sabbath and the Temple

The destruction of the Temple by the Romans in the year 70 was a great tragedy.  We remember the tragedy in our liturgy and in our fast days. But… in a way, if Jerusalem had not been destroyed, we wouldn’t have the form of Jewish religion that we have today. The ancient Israelite religion was one of animal sacrifices performed by an elite priesthood, who served as intermediaries for the people in the sight of the Israelite God. The destruction of the Temple and the discontinuation of a consecrated priesthood made a different kind of religion possible: Rabbis instead of Priests, prayer instead of sacrifices, study in the hands of everyone instead of an elite few.

There are remnants of the old Temple-oriented service though – especially on the Shabbat. In the ancient Temple, there were 3 regular sacrifices a day, with an extra sacrifice on the Shabbat. The prayer services in today’s Jewish world – 3 services a day – take the place of the sacrifices in ancient times. Today in traditional synagogues there is a “musaf” service – an additional service – on Shabbat. Likewise, in traditional homes, there are two challot (Shabbat loaves) on the Sabbath table – symbolizing the additional sacrifice. 

The Shabbat service in the Temple must have been an amazing thing to watch and to hear. The priests and the Levites danced and played musical instruments on the steps of the Temple. The psalms, in fact, were not just poems… they were full musical productions and were performed on the Shabbat:


Praise God in His sanctuary…

Praise him with the blasts of the shofar;

Praise Him with the psaltery and the harp.

Praise him with the timbrel and dance;

Praise Him with stringed instruments and the pipe…

Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord.


Today in Orthodox synagogues, we no longer play musical instruments on the Sabbath as we do in Reform synagogues – a sign of mourning for the Temple; but, in all synagogues, we sing the Psalms which were sung and danced in the Temple. So . . . the Ancient Temple may not be still with us; but, there is so much that remains from the Ancient Temple Practice.

Shabbat Shalom