Why learn about the Temple and the sacrifices?

First: They were the primary basis of Jewish worship. Knowledge of the Temple and sacrifices helps us better understand where we pray today, and why.

Second: Jewish sources declare that studying the details of the Temple and sacrifices is as if one were building the Temple and offering the sacrifices!!

Third: We face Jerusalem in prayer because of the Temple. Pesach, Sh’vu’ot and Sukkot were trips made to the Temple. Part of the Yom Kippur Liturgy is specifically about the High Priest’s offering in the Temple. Hanukah pertains to the rededication of the Temple. Purim? The “vessels” at Ahashverosh’s feast were believed to have been plundered from the First Temple.

Thus, reading about the Temple and sacrifices is essential to a full appreciation of Judaism.

Fortunately, there are now several books that aid us in this.

The Holy Temple of Jerusalem[1] is a book of 96 pages, more than half of which are text. Although the large, colorful, illustrations might be useful for young children, the text is meant for older students and adults. The book describes the Temple’s materials and personnel, and the daily and holiday procedures there. The subject is detailed, but the writing is factual and enjoyable. It would be an excellent resource for a synagogue course on the high school, college, or adult education level.

The Light of the Temple[2] is 128 pages, with emphasis on the illustrations. Where “The Holy Temple of Jerusalem” focuses on the sacrifices, this book focuses on the Temple itself. But where it overlaps the subject matter of “The Holy Temple,” “The Light of the Templeshows, rather than “tells” us, by reproducing paintings and engravings from historical and modern masters, craftwork, illustrations, and photographs of a model, made by The Temple Institute, of the Temple and utensils.  This is a beautiful, interesting, informative book.

Rabbi Dov Levanoni’s “The Temple: A Description of the Second Temple According to the Rambam[3] is an “advanced course” of about 184 pages, based on  Mishnah Middot of the Talmud, which describes the Second Temple, and on the Rambam’s (Maimonides’) commentary.

Rabbi Levanoni developed his own model of the Second Temple. He desires to lift the spiritual state of the world through making it easier to “learn the laws pertaining to the Temple by means of…pictures, plans, reliefs and models…” According to Midrash Tanchuma, we’re thereby credited as if we actually built it. This, he believes, will hasten the redemption of the world.

The first section, in both Hebrew and English, is about 64 pages, roughly half of which are photographs (of the model he developed) or illustrations. The remainder, Rabbi Levanoni’s own text, describes the dimensions and placement of the various sections, compartments, utensils, etc. of the Temple thoroughly and carefully.

Mishnah Middot, in Hebrew and English, including both the Rambam’s own illustrations and numerical references to the photographs, also helps make this book even more of a coming-together of the best in traditional scholarship and modern publishing. A Hebrew-only section of Maimonides’ “Laws of the Beit Ha-Mikdash,” with a commentary (plus the above Mishnah), comprise the remainder of the book.

You’ll go back to it again and again, each time learning more.

The Tabernacle of Israel[4] is about the Mishkan – the forerunner and “template” of the Temple. In 1921, Rev. George de Charms, a Swedenborgian minister, worked with his 7th and 8th grade students to construct a scale model of the Mishkan, or “Tabernacle,” as described in Sh’mot/Exodus. The model still exists in Glen Cairn, PA. I visited it in the mid 1990’s. Rev. de Charms didn’t rely on Jewish sources to solve questions of interpretation, nor are Swedenborg’s allegorical interpretations based on our tradition. Still, the text and photographs can be informative for us, even if we don’t consider everything in the book authoritative. For example, I found my personal visit to see the model, before the wide-spread availability of online and printed materials about the Mishkan/Temple, very illuminating.

From Sinai to Jerusalem [5] is written from a more “archeological” approach, as is “In the Shadow of the Temple,[6] which is about the subsequent history of Jerusalem, as revealed by archeology. It should be noted, of course, that this is a constantly developing body of knowledge. Dr. Helen Rosenau’s “Vision of the Temple: The Image of the Jerusalem Temple in Judaism and Christianity[7] shares some of this archeological emphasis, along with  an unusual discussion of aesthetic themes.

The Temple: Its Ministry and Services[8] was written by a 19th century Jewish convert to Christianity. At the outset, it must be stated that he makes many subjective, negative comments about rabbinic and Talmudic tradition. These are unacceptable in a work that otherwise wants to be taken seriously for its objective approach to facts. That being said, the author was well-versed in Jewish tradition, and provided abundant citations. I was able – with effort – to ignore some of his more blatantly inappropriate comments in the interests of gaining what information the book could provide me.

The Splendor of the Temple[9] presents the work of Alec Garrard, “…a lay preacher in Norfolk, England…” who has constructed a 1:100 scale model of Herod’s Temple in incredible detail. “Each ‘brick’ of his model was baked in [his] family oven.” Put simply, I’ve never seen anything like this before. Some photos of his work can be found online, but not all. I must admit to disappointment in the quality of the photo-reproduction by Kregel Publications, who were reprinting an earlier edition by a British publisher that I was unable to contact. One Hebrew inscription, on p. 42, was even printed upside-down. I emailed the publisher about this, but received no response. This is a shame, as it tends to undercut the seriousness with which Mr. Garrard otherwise approached his project. Mr. Garrard, like Mr. Edelsheim, also occasionally inserts a subjective, pejorative comment that must be ignored if one is to make use of the otherwise valuable material in the book. It’s enough to say that this is probably the closest we can come to appreciating the aesthetic glory of the Temple building itself.

Both Mr. Edersheim’s and Mr. Garrard’s books also make reference to the Temple as it relates to the Gospels. I personally have no problem reading about this, but my experience has been that some people who are doing Jewish learning are very uncomfortable with such references. There’s plenty to be gained from both books. As the song says: “Take what you need and leave the rest.” [10]

This list is by no means all-inclusive. There are others books on this topic, and there’ll be more still. But  perhaps it can serve as a beginning for anyone who wants to make a serious study of this subject. This includes Christians of various churches, for whom Temple-imagery and metaphors are an essential part of their history and liturgy. This is also true, if less so,  for Muslims, even though Islam rose around 500 years after the destruction of the 2nd Temple.

See also:

Please feel free to add a comment, if you know of other resources.


[1] Richman, Chaim; The Holy Temple of Jerusalem; The Temple Institute (Rav Yisrael Ariel, founder); 1997
[2] Rav Yisrael Ariel and Rav Mehachem Makover, editors; text by Chaim Richman; The Light of the Temple; Art, History, Service; The Temple Institute; 1998
[3] Rabbi Dov Levanoni; The Temple; A Description of the Second Temple According to the Rambam; Brit Chalom (Shalom) Editions; 1997
[4] De Charms, Rt. Reverend George; The Tabernacle of Israel; Pageant Press International; 1969
[5] Rittmeyer, Leen and Kathleen; From Sinai to Jerusalem: The Wanderings of the Holy Ark; Carta (The Israel Map and Publishing Co., Ltd.); 2000
[6] Ben Dov, Meir; In the Shadow of the Temple; Ina Friedman, trans. (from “Hafirot Har Ha-Bayit”); Keter Publishing House Jerusalem, Ltd; 1985
[7] Rosenau, Helen;  The Vision of the Temple: The Image of the Jerusalem Temple in Judaism and Christianity; Oresko Books Ltd, London; 1979
[8] Edersheim, Alfred; The Temple: Its Ministry and Services; Hendrickson Publishers, Inc.; 1994
[9] Garrard, Alec; The Splendor of the Temple; Kregel Publications; 2000
[10] lyric from “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.”