Ever since the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E., Jews have prayed to be restored to the land of Israel. But to do what?
The High Holy Day prayerbook, or machzor, that we use at Temple B'nai Brith puts it one way. Ve-sham naaseh l'fanecha et korbanot chovoteinu: "There we shall bring Thee our offerings...." This is a vision of a rebuilt Temple, with priests, Levites, and sacrifices of animals and grains, all at their appointed times, the same way the Temple operated two thousand years ago.
The Sabbath prayerbook, or siddur, that we use puts it very differently. She-sham asu avoteinu l'fanecha et korbanot chovoteichem: "There our ancestors sacrificed to you with their offerings...." This is a vision of a renewed community in the territory of Israel, a community that remembers its history but does not repeat it.
I have great difficulties with the first version. I purposefully attend an egalitarian synagogue: why would I pray for a hierarchical Temple? Although I eat animals, I cannot see slaughtering them as any way to glorify God. Then there is the difficulty that the Dome of the Rock, one of the most sacred sites in Islam, stands on the Temple mount. Jews could only rebuild the Temple on its historic foundation by committing a horrific crime against our fellow children of Abraham. God forbid!
But the second version has its problems too. For two thousand years, Jews have offered prayers instead of sacrifices. This is the hallmark of the kind of Judaism all of us know, rabbinic Judaism. Without the substitution of prayers for sacrifices, there might be no Judaism today. But prayer is portable. Wherever ten adult Jews come together, we can pray and study, mourn and celebrate.
We simply do not need a Temple in Jerusalem any more. So, the reference to the Temple in our prayerbook seems like an empty piety, a reference to a past that we both respect and repudiate.
I am not happy with "There we shall bring thee our offerings." I am not satisfied with "There our ancestors sacrificed to you." It gets me thinking: in an age when a State of Israel exists, what would it mean to be restored to our homeland? To do what?
Two thousand years is a long time, and Jews have planted roots all over the world. I am still going to live where I have made my life, in Somerville, Massachusetts. But with family who live in Israel, and a Jewish identity that originates there, perhaps I could pray:
- There we shall finally recognize women as equally empowered with men in all branches of Judaism.
- There we shall unite Jews who have been separated first by history and then by ethnocentrism and racism.
- There we shall create a just, inclusive, and democratic society where Arabs, Jews, and others can live in peace, whether or not they are religious, and whether or not they are heterosexual.