Light from the Sidra


Exodus 35:1-38:20.Haftarah.1 Kings 7:40-50

I once heard the Chabad Rabbi, Immanuel Shochet answer questions from a Jewish audience in a North London synagogue (I think I was the only Gentile present). A questioner felt that Judaism needed to change its image and its way of worship in order to attract young people and be more relevant. Politely but firmly, Rabbi Shochet explained that we cannot decide how we are going to worship God. We can only truly worship if we do it in the way he prescribes.

While I admired Rabbi Shochet for sticking to his guns, I could not help but wonder if he understood the implications of his answer because Judaism today has chosen to worship God in a way he has not authorised.

The synagogue reading this week reviews the pattern of the tabernacle and records the manufacture of the various pieces of furniture as well as the mishkan itself. The Mishkan, or tabernacle, was constructed according to the pattern revealed to Moses by God on Mount Sinai. In the reign of Solomon, the tabernacle would become the temple but the principles governing the worship of God would remain unchanged. In the temple, God would still be approached via the altar of sacrifice and atonement would be made through specific offerings made on the altar. The altar itself, the bronze bath, the table of the bread of the presence, the menorah and the altar of incense, all had to be laid out in the pattern of a cross.

After the destruction of the temple in 70 CE, Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai transformed Judaism. Without the temple, the sacrifices and the priesthood, Judaism could not survive. Ben Zakkai ensured the survival of Judaism by changing it. According to Pirkei Avot 1:2, “Simon the Just [who] was one of the last survivors of the Great Synagogue … used to say, Upon three things the world is based: upon the Torah, upon the Temple service [of which atoning sacrifice was an integral part] and upon the practice of charity.”

When the temple was destroyed, the central foundation of the world was removed so repentance became a substitute for sacrifice. Consequently, “biblical” Judaism became “rabbinic” Judaism. However Jewish people try to explain away the change and defend it, Judaism today bears little resemblance to the religion of Moses and the prophets.

Many Jewish people respond by pointing out that Christianity has no tabernacle or sacrifice either. Even if that claim were true, it would not justify the changing of Judaism; it would just mean that Judaism and Christianity were two boats up the same creek without any paddles.

Next week I’m going to show that there was no need for Rabbi Yochanan to change Judaism because, even though the Jerusalem temple had been destroyed, the reality it symbolised was firmly in place.

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