Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Mikdash Me’at- The Small Sanctuary How We Come Together as Jews Lecture 9 of series


Mikdash Me’at- The Small Sanctuary

How We Come Together as Jews


We have covered the people, the concept of Torah, God, the relation of the human to human, the relation of the human to existence. Now , we ask—how do we , as Jews, get together with each other and with God.


So in the beginning was the family gathered under tent, the head of the family slaughters lamb goat, and as the story of Noah lets us know , the blood is returned to the earth. in some sense, that ancient family gathering remained a common Jewish practice although without the poor lamb in the middle. For example, at the Shabbat table, we have two loaves of Hallah, to remind us of the two loaves that were placed in the presence of the ancient ark. we have the cup of wine because in antiquity no meal began without an offering of wine to the gods. For that reason it is still common practice for Jews to drink only wine that has been made by Jews to guarantee that it was not used in offering to a Pagan God. We have transferred that to the kiddish for one God. But now let's move to the theme of getting Jews to worship together.


First act of worship. Sacrifice; Minchah-Gift.Cain. Gen 4:3 p 14

 And it’s a flop! A bloody flop! UL’MINCHATO LO SHA’AH!

Next act of worship:10 generations later. Noah after the flood.8:20.p 31 This time, it works-we get the promise of the rainbow!


Start with Exodus- we have instructions for sacrifices.

Right after 10 Commandments, 20:24 - Mizbeach adamah.

׃With Me, therefore, you shall not make any gods of silver, nor shall you make for yourselves any gods of gold.׃Make for Me an altar of earth and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your sacrifices of well-being, your sheep and your oxen; in every place where I cause My name to be mentioned I will come to you and bless you.

Here is the essence of worship in the world of Temple Judaism. I give something of mine to God, God gives something to me in return-blessing. But it is even more- not all the sacrifice is burnt-the bulk it is eaten. Who eats together? Family! We ate the sacrifice in the ancient Temple in the presence of God- He got the “ reyach Nichoach”, the beautiful smell, and we ate. What better metaphor for a sense of union with God. ( PS- who still does that? The Catholics. Communion.  The wafer and wine- the body and blood of Jesus, who is the lamb, the korban.)


Who is the first person to offer a “bracha’ a Blessing for someone? Not one of ours!

Gen 14:18 


וּמַלְכִּי־צֶ֙דֶק֙ מֶ֣לֶךְ שָׁלֵ֔ם הוֹצִ֖יא לֶ֣חֶם וָיָ֑יִן וְה֥וּא כֹהֵ֖ן לְאֵ֥ל עֶלְיֽוֹן׃. 19 יט

וַֽיְבָרְכֵ֖הוּ וַיֹּאמַ֑ר בָּר֤וּךְ אַבְרָם֙ לְאֵ֣ל עֶלְי֔וֹן קֹנֵ֖ה שָׁמַ֥יִם וָאָֽרֶץ׃

וּבָרוּךְ֙ אֵ֣ל עֶלְי֔וֹן אֲשֶׁר־מִגֵּ֥ן צָרֶ֖יךָ בְּיָדֶ֑ךָ וַיִּתֶּן־ל֥וֹ מַעֲשֵׂ֖ר מִכֹּֽל׃

Melchizedek, King of (Jeru)Salem,..blessed him(Abraham) and said" Blessed is Avram to God on High, Creator of Heaven and Earth.


A true prayer  There is one incident in which we have a true personal prayer. Moses, when Miriam is stricken with leprosy. אֵ֕ל נָ֛א רְפָ֥א נָ֖א לָֽהּ׃ (פ) Number 12:13 

Notice-five words. “God, please, heal, God, please, her.”  Rabbis see this as an ideal prayer. Short- to the point. So why is our prayerbook so long? It all depends on what pray means.

Is there any in the Torah itself that we must say? Shma Yisrael.Deut 6;4  Every Jew is to say it morning and evening, walking by the way, lying down- but is it a prayer? Or is it a lesson to be memorized ?

Is this a reference to an obligation to pray?

ואכלת ושבעת וברכת את־יהוה אלהיך על־הארץ הטבה אשר נתן־לך Deut 8:10   After you eat, you give blessing. That is the basis for birkat hamazon, but we don’t have any text.

So, in the first Temple period, no need for organized prayer-the Temple sacrifice brngs the people together and creates the closeness to God for the community.

But-586 BCE, The Babylonians destroy the Temple, the bulk of population,c eratinly of the upper classes, exiled to Mesopotamia.

What can be done Without a sacred Temple? Especially on an alien land?

What is happening – people gathered in small groups, at feet of religious teacher, like Ezekiel,11:16

    לכן אמר כה אמר אדני יהוה כי הרחקתים בגוים וכי הפיצותים בארצות ואהי

להם למקדש מעט בארצות אשר באו שם

Mikdash Me’ay- a small sanctuary

It is possible that there were such gatherings going back even to the time the first Temple was standing. There is the phenomenon of “ bnai neviim”, for example, followers of the neviim, who gathered around figures like Elijah . Recall, the north had its own sanctuary- Shechem- and still kept up local sanctuaries as well. These were rejected by loyalist to idea of Yahweh. Ex. Amos- denounces the priest & the sanctuary. Hints in Psalms

Prophets- reflect the idea that cultic worship is insufficient: Even while Temple is standing:

Isaiah 57:3 Fasting and sack cloth does not work. 6: To loose the binds.is the answer. P, 961-962

Hosea 6:10 כִּי חֶסֶד חָפַצְתִּי, וְלֹא-זָבַח; וְדַעַת אֱלֹהִים, מֵעֹלוֹת

 Or, even when Temple is rebuilt:Isaiah 66:3 שוחט השור מכה-איש, זובח השה עורף

 כלב, מעלה מנחה דם-חזיר, 

 מזכיר לבונה מברך אוון

Jeremiah 39:8- He refers to destruction of “ Bet haam”-House of the People( Temple Bet Am)-alongside the Temple. Would indicate some structure relating to worship parallel the Temple ( doesn’t refer to destruction of the king’s castle, for example)

Isaiah 56:7- Envisions rebuilding of temple- and now associates it with concept of prayer:

Bet-tefilati-my house of prayer and “ bet tefil;ah lechol haamim- A house of prayer for all peoples, now together with the sacrifices..

7ז והביאותים אל הר קדשי ושמחתים בבית תפלתי--עולתיהם וזבחיהם לרצון על מזבחי  כי ביתי בית תפלה יקרא לכל העמים

It is clear that with return of the people from Babylonian captivity that the idea of local gathering places for prayer and study became well rooted.

Mishmarot ( Watch) and Maamadot ( Stand)- division of the priests as representatives of 24 local districts( Mishmarot). Took turns in sending delegation to Jerusalem to officiate at daily sacrifice.The folks back home would gather at the same time, recite psalms and other prayers, study Torah.

We now that by time of start of Christianity, synagogues with some formal service were well established around the middle east as well as in Eretz Yisrael, even in Jerusalem. In Jerusalem, every group of Jews had a synagogue by “ landmanschaft”-country of origin-Major synagogue in Alexandria, Egypt –larger than all the Jews who left Egypt”(!). Antioch- when we were no longer at war with the Antiochene’s , we had a synagogue there. Rome. Christian scriptures- Capernaum-Kfar Nachum.

Something else is happening in parallel:

A distancing from the Temple- power gravitates to the Temple in the absence of monarchy- At its height- Shimon Hatzadik- so glorious that legend has it that Alexander the Great bowed in worship and the Greeks thought the Jews had the perfect government-“ theocracy”. By the time of Antiochus- however, the priesthood became a corrupt institution-sold out to highest bidder. That was at core of Maccabean revolt. But that institution became corrupted as well, by vestment of title of King with title of High Priest.

With Roman takeover, High priest again fell into disrepute

Rabbinic attitudes: High Priests.

With regard to the prominent priests and those like them, Abba Shaul ben Batnit said in the name of Abba Yosef ben Ḥanin: Woe is me due to the High Priests of the house of Baitos, woe is me due to their clubs. … The power of these households stemmed from the fact that the fathers were High Priests, and their sons were the Temple treasurers, and their sons-in-law were Temple overseers [amarkalin]. And their servants strike the people with clubs, and otherwise act inappropriately.Talmud Pesachim 57a


The destruction the  Temple now cleared the ground for the great expanse of judaism through the synagogue . The synagogue would become the Temple and the people, not the priests, would become the kohanim!


So what do we mean by “synagogue”.

Greek term-A gathering of the people. Approximation for: Bet Knesset=House of Assembly.

The people need a place to gather for public and religious affairs.The Greeks would use a term, like “Knesset” gathering-the term : Ecclesia”, which becomes translated to English “ Church”.

In Arabic- prayer by bowing down-a key act in Islamic prayer-leads to Masjid- Mosque-

In all three, connotation, not just of a place for prayer, but also “assembly”- for general communal needs. For example, before Motel 6, there was the bet Knesset- there would be small rooms along the side of the building, where travelers could get a bite to eat and a place to sleep. Hence, Kiddush Fri in the synagogue, for those staying later to eat and sleep.

 What other terms-

Bet Midrash- The House of study- midrash- doresh-inquiry. That’s why we go to “shule”-Yiddish, from German, Schule. which means school. Therefore, traditional synagogue seats, would have a shelf inside to hold the siddur and tallit, and then a top on which one could put the book being studied.Just like the “shtender” that we have for Joe. Seating in pews, as we have it, is our borrowing form our Christian neighbors. More originally, there would be no chairs, rather,cushions for seating on the floor. The equivalent word in Islam is “ madrasa”, a cognate of “midrashah”, a school.

So-what do we do in shule

Nice company?

Letter to editor Bintel brief of Der Forwerts. Century ago. Why do you go to shule? Avraham-I go to talk to God. Yitzhak- I go to talk to Avraham! Synagogue- Greek- for Bet Knesset-House of Gathering. Well known that humas heal in company. (.Example from whales and dolphins)


 Kiddush,  Oneg Shabbat. Ancient Temple- the people shared their meal with God and with each other. Companion-Latin- shared bread.  Earliest synagogues were also the local motel for travelers! .Concept of “ seudat mitzvah”.

Intellectual stimulation?

Torah reading, drashah. Bet Midrash- House of Study. Shule- from “school”. Traditional synagogues were not intended to be designed like churches- structure- to observe miracle-Catholic. Or to listen to preacher “ex cathedra”.( Cathedra dMoshe) hence, cathedral. Centered instead, around Bimah- studying, The pew had a student’s table. It had a cabinet to store the books.

Bet tefilah-House of prayer.

Why not pray alone? Nothing beats a community—Rabbis emphasized: Al tifrosh min hatzibur-do not cut yourself off from the public ( because they’re not good enough).

Prayer in Minyan-kiddush Hashem. Public=Tzibur- tzadikim-beynoiim-rashaim. There is not public without including all 3. The collective prayer, form a common prayer text, bonds Jews together, across miles, and across ages.

 Please click on these links for a tour of some synagogue world wide.

Synagogues of antiquity:

Time of judges


Ancient synagogues









Famous world synagogues

My father’s











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