A Tale of Two Temples: The Temple in Jerusalem
As this article is written, the day of Tisha B'Av (9th of Av) approaches – the date of the Hebrew Calendar in which Jews mourn the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. In fact, according to Jewish tradition, it is the date when both Temples have been destroyed – the First Temple, built by King Solomon and the Second Temple, built by Zerubbabel, governor of the Judah Province of the Persian Empire.
Why were there two temples – and just what exactly was the Temple in Jerusalem? The basic answer is that the Temple was a spiritual center of worship and prayer for G-d. Such a center existed long before the construction of the First Temple: the Mishkan (Tabernacle) that accompanied the Israelites throughout their Exodus from Egypt and the conquering of the land of Canaan. Yet the construction of a permanent structure of worship has been ordered by G-d to Moses himself at Mount Sinai: "And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them" (Exodus, 25:8). The Temple was not supposed to be a place of G-d physical presence, as in Pagan beliefs, but rather a place that symbolizes the deep spiritual connection between the people and G-d.
The First Temple was built by King Solomon, although preparations and plans for the Temple began in the days of his father, King David. Among the Temple's great treasures was the Ark of Covenant, which travelled with the Tabernacle and finally found its permanent home with the construction of the Temple.
The Bible describes the First Temple as a grand structure, reflecting the glory of G-d to the whole world. Kings Jehoash and Josiah of Judah have both led great projects of renovations at the Temple, but as relationship between the Kingdom Judah and the Kingdom of Israel began to worsen, the status of the First Temple as a place of worship for all Jews has weakened considerably.
The First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians on 586 BC, 410 years after its construction. The destruction and the exile forced on the people of Israel are considered to be one of the first major tragedies in the history of these people. But with the fall of the Babylonian Empire, Persian King Cyrus the Great has allowed the Jews to return to their homeland and rebuild the Temple. On 515 BC, the Second Temple was completed – not as grand as the structure that preceded it, and without the Ark of Covenant which was lost, but nonetheless a renovated place of worship. King Herod the Great has led a renovation project that turned the Second Temple into a new grand structure on 20 BC, gaining fame and renown all across the ancient world. This structure, however, stood for less than 100 years before being destroyed by the Romans during the siege of Jerusalem.
Many Jewish customs and holidays are related to the Temple. The Holidays of Sukkoth, Passover and Shavuot are the Three Pilgrimage Festivals on which people would come to the Temple in Jerusalem to participate in celebrations and ceremonies. The holiday of Hanukah celebrates the rededication of the Second Temple after its desecration by the Greeks. Today, the only remaining part of the Temple in Jerusalem is the structure's Western Wall on the Temple Mount; it is the place where Jews come to mourn the destruction of the Temple – and hope pray for the construction of a new Temple to come.