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For the week ending 12 June 2004 / 23 Sivan 5764

Where was the Temple?

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman - www.rabbiullman.com
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

From: David in Ann Arbor

Dear Rabbi,

In a recent article you wrote that the mosque of the Dome of the Rock is not necessarily built on the site of the Temple. Would you please explain, because I have always heard that the rock under the golden dome is the "even ha-shatia" or foundation stone which was in the Holy of Holies in the ancient Temple. Thank you.

Dear David,

Indeed, the Holy of Holies of both Temples was built around the even shatia or foundation stone. Its name refers to the idea that it was from this stone that the world was created, and as such is the foundation from which the world "spread forth". It was on this stone that the Holy Ark containing the Ten Commandments rested in the first Temple, and upon which the high priest placed the holy incense when he entered the Holy of Holies once a year on Yom Kippur (both Temples). When King Solomon built the first Temple, he designed a secret labyrinth of underground passageways and chambers in which King Yoshiyahu later hid the Ark, the Tablets, the staff of Aaron, the manna, and the special anointing oil which remain hidden to this day.

The theory that the Dome of the Rock is built on this stone is well grounded. The famous Jewish explorer Benjamin of Tudelo (Spain, 1100s) wrote, "On the site of the Holy Temple, Omar ibn al Katub built a large and beautiful dome". This appears to be the opinion of Rabbi Ovadia of Bartenura (1400s, born in Italy and buried on the Mount of Olives opposite the Golden Gate), who wrote, "I investigated the location of the even hashatia and many say its under the dome built on the site of the Temple". Finally, the renowned sage of the Land of Israel, Rabbi David ben Zimra, (1479-1573) stated explicitly that the rock under the dome is the foundation stone of the Holy of Holies.

Nevertheless, based on ancient texts, archeological finds and scientific studies, some rabbis of the last hundred years have suggested that the Temple was actually located on the vacant part of the Temple Mount opposite the Western Wall.

First, the Zohar suggests, as understood by one of its classic commentators, that the foundations of the Temple remain hidden and that no building will be built there until the restoration of the Third Temple. Also, a disciple of the Arizal states that the writings of his master refer to this idea, explaining the matter in great mystical depth. But there are sources other than the esoteric.

The Talmudic sages record that the huge, open courtyard of the Temple was washed by opening an aperture to let water from an aqueduct run into the courtyard and out the other side. This aqueduct originated in Solomons pools in Bethlehem, made its way to the present day Jewish quarter, and on to the Temple Mount via Wilsons bridge. [In recent times, the Turks used this aqueduct, and much of it remains intact today.] The problem is that this water source entered the mount many meters below its current level. This suggests that the original level of the mount was much lower, and the rock under the dome was not in the Temple, but part of a rocky high place outside of it. What was this rocky high place?

Our Sages describe that there was a high point on the north of the Mount upon which was built a fortress to protect the Temple from invasion. This fortress, originally built by the Hasmoneans and later enlarged by King Herod, was called Antonias fortress. It has been suggested that the rock under the dome is the top of the high place that was originally exposed, upon which the fortress was built. It overlooked the Temple to the south, which would place the Temples location opposite the Western Wall. Josephus refers to this fortress and says it was built on a rocky hill that was steep on all sides. He also describes secret, underground passages to the north and south of the Antonia. Interestingly, early archeological research revealed long and narrow passageways north and south of the Dome of the Rock. But these are only a few of the underground caverns discovered below the Mount.

About a hundred years ago, archeologists found about thirty such spaces. Oddly, all of the caverns in the area of the Dome of the Rock are relatively small and symmetrical, whereas those to the south of the dome are very large, deep and asymmetrical. Some of these chambers were reported by the archeologists as having decorated ceilings, ruling out the possibility of their being cisterns. This suggests that the ruins of the Temple and its underground chambers are not in the area of the dome but rather opposite the Wall. Recent electro-magnetic and infrared tests have revealed other, previously unknown spaces under the mount, which may also have resulted from the same phenomenon. Somewhere in those deep, hidden recesses may be the holy objects hidden and lost so long ago.

On the verse, "you shall inquire after His dwelling and come there" (Deut. 12:5), our sages instructed: Inquire and find. This teaches that G-d will not reveal the secret of the Temples location through a prophet until the Jewish people make an effort to inquire and search for it. Only then will He send a prophetic spirit from above to reveal it. In the merit of our inquiry, may we deserve to see the building of the Temple speedily in our day.

Sources:

  • Yoma 54b
  • Rambam, Beit HaBechira 4:1
  • Beit HaMikdah HaShelishi, Shalom Dov Steinberg, pp 159-183
  • Shut HaRadbaz, 4:648,691
  • Bartenura, Darkei Tzion
  • Nitzutzei HaZohar on Zohar p. 480
  • Emek HaMelech (intro ch. 9) in the name of R. Moshe Vital from the Arizal
  • Tosephta, Pesachim 4:10
  • Yoma 2a
  • Josephus, War of the Jews 5.5.8, Antiquities 15.7
  • Sifri 8

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