THIRD TEMPLE MOVEMENT
1967: Israel gained control over the Temple Mount/Haram ash-Sharif compound during the Six Day War, inspiring messianic fervor amongst religious Jews.
1974: Gush Emunim (Block of the Faithful), a right-wing messianic organization, was founded to encourage religiously motivated Jewish settlement in the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan Heights.
1984: The Jewish Underground attempted to blow up the Dome of the Rock in order to initiate the rebuilding of a Jewish temple on the Temple Mount.
1987: The Temple Institute was founded as a non-violent educational organization dedicated to building the Third Temple.
1990 (October): The Third Temple Movement announced that it would lay the “cornerstone” of the Third Temple, leading to riots on the Temple Mount.
1990s: Rabbi Shlomo Goren, the former Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Israel, began to promote Jewish pilgrimage and prayer on the Temple Mount.
1999: The Temple Institute finished the construction of a one-million-dollar golden candelabra for the the future Third Temple
2000 (September): Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon visited the Temple Mount, provoking the Second Intifada.
2000: Women for The Temple was founded.
2004: The “nascent Sanhedrin” was officially established (a rabbinic supreme court which Temple activists believe will rule over Israel when the Third Temple is rebuilt).
2010s: The Temple Institute and its partner groups began organizing Third Temple “practice rituals” for the general public, where Jewish priests (Cohanim) practice animal sacrifices and rituals in preparation for the Third Temple.
2011: Increasing numbers of religious Jews began entering the Temple Mount/ Haram ash-Sharif on guided pilgrimage tours.
2012: The Temple Institute moved to its current prominent location across from the Western Wall where it displays reconstructed Temple vessels.
2012: The first Passover animal sacrifice reenactment took place in Jerusalem.
2013: Third Temple activist Yehuda Glick carried out a hunger strike when police banned him from entering the Temple Mount.
2013: Following the example of Yehuda Glick, Third Temple activists began to speak about Jewish access to the Temple Mount as a matter of “religious freedom” and “human rights.”
2014 (October 29): Third Temple activist Yehuda Glick survived an assassination attempt on his life.
2015 (Fall): During the Jewish high holidays, large numbers of religious Jews entered the Temple Mount with leading activists of the Third Temple Movement further inflaming tensions with Palestinians.
2015 (Fall) to 2016 (Summer): A wave of stabbing attacks was directed at religious Jewish targets and became known as “The Third Intifada.”
2016 (April): Third Temple activists were arrested for attempting to bring live animal sacrifices to the Temple Mount for the Passover holiday.
2016 (November 7): Ministers from the Likud and Jewish Home parties announced the establishment of a new “Temple Lobby” dedicated to advancing the issue of Jewish visitation and prayer on the Temple Mount.
The Third Temple Movement is a messianic movement dedicated to the building of the Third Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount/Haram ash-Sharif compound, the renewal of a Jewish priesthood, and the reestablishment of a theocratic Jewish kingdom in Israel (Feldman 2017; Chen 2007; Inbari 2009; Gorenberg 2000). This movement remains a highly contentious and politically provocative movement in the Middle East, often credited with playing a role in sustaining cycles on violence on the ground in Israel/Palestine. For Jews, the Temple Mount is believed to be the site of the First and Second Jewish Temples, a juridical and spiritual center, where ancient Israelites offered animal sacrifices to God. According to Jewish prophecy, a Third Temple will be rebuilt on the Temple Mount when the “Jewish exiles” return to the land of Israel, initiating a new messianic era.
For Muslims, the Haram ash-Sharif compound is home to the Al-Aqsa mosque and is considered the third holiest site in Islam. It is believed to be the place where the prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven. Since the British Mandate times, the Haram ash-Sharif has been an important site and symbol of Palestinian autonomy and resistance to Zionism. In addition to its religious and political significance, Haram ash-Sharif is an important site for educational activities and charitable work within the Muslim Palestinian community. For Palestinians, and Muslims worldwide, the growing Third Temple Movement represents a direct threat to the Islamic nature of this holy site and an obstacle to establishing a just peace for the region.
The Third Temple Movement’s origins can be traced back to the early years of Israeli statehood with groups such as Brit Hachashmonaim, a militant Religious-Zionist youth movement, that saw national renewal as dependent on the reestablishment of a Jewish theocracy and the rebuilding of a temple on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The Temple Movement then gained momentum after Israel’s victory in the the 1967 War, which was interpreted by religious Zionists as a sign that messianic times were approaching. When the Israeli government returned the mount to the Jordanian Waqf following the war, this population experienced a sense of disillusionment, no longer viewing the secular state as a vessel for redemption. In the years following the war, there was a burgeoning of messianic activist groups committed to taking matters into their hands in order to fulfill Jewish prophecies regarding the rebirth of a Jewish nation in the Land of Israel leading up to messianic times (Inbari 2009:33-39).
Inspired by the events of 1967, Gush Emunim (Block of the Faithful), a messianic right-wing settlement organization, was founded in 1974 in order to help extend Jewish settlement into the West Bank, the Golan Heights, and the Gaza Strip. In the 1980s, following the growth of the religious settlement movement, members of the Jewish Underground were arrested for plotting to blow up the Dome of the Rock on the Haram ash-Sharif compound in order to initiate a regional war, which they hoped would result in Israeli seizure of the Temple Mount and the building of the Third Temple. A leading organizer of the plot, activist Yehuda Etzion, would later be released from jail and go on to help found the “non-violent” contemporary Third Temple Movement, focused on changing public opinion and leveraging political power to gain control over the Temple Mount. Since the early 1990s, the The Third Temple Movement has rebranded itself as a nonviolent initiative, focusing on public reenactments of Temple rituals, such as animal sacrifices, and the recreation of sacred Temple vessels.
The leading organization behind the “nonviolent” model of Third Temple activism is The Temple Institute, which was founded in 1984 by Rabbi Yisrael Ariel. Ariel previously served as paratrooper in the Israeli brigade that took control over the Temple Mount during the1967 war, an experience that inspired him to devote his life to the building of the Temple (Inbari 2009:31-49). The Temple Institute’s current mission statement describes the Temple as an “educational” organization, dedicated to teaching the Israeli public about the importance of the Temple through “research, seminars, publications, and conferences, as well as the production of educational materials.” The Institute also promises to “do all in our limited power to bring about the building of the Holy Temple in our time” (The Temple Institute website 2017).
Today, The Temple Institute continues to raise money for the construction of “Third Temple vessels,” such as priestly garments, golden instruments, and sacrificial altars, which they believe will be used when the Third Temple is built. The Temple Institute showcases these vessels in its touristic gallery space across from the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem, where it also carries out an ongoing project to train Cohanim, Jewish men who descend from a priestly linage, [Image at right] so that they will be ready to take up priestly service in the future Third Temple.
To support its work, The Temple Institute receives national service volunteers (non-combat army duty) from the Israeli state, and substantial annual funding from the Ministry of Culture, Science and Sports, the Ministry of Education, and the Ministry of Defense to support its projects as well as donations from Jews and evangelical Christians abroad (Ir Amim and Keshev 2015).. Although the Israeli government and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu do not explicitly endorse the Third Temple Movement, the state continues to provide resources for the Temple Movement and facilitate the organized entrance of Jewish activists onto the Temple Mount for pilgrimage tours by providing them with police protection for their activities (Feldman 2017).
Since the 1990s, Third Temple activists have been encouraging religious Jews to ascend the Temple Mount as an act of religious piety, and a form of nationalist activism that publically asserts Jewish claims to the Temple Mount. Since 2010, with the advent of popular social media platforms, The Third Temple Movement has been able to carry out a more coordinated and nation-wide campaign to bring religious Jews to the Temple Mount, publicly breaking with a long standing rabbinic tradition which forbids Jewish pilgrimage to the site (for fear that Jews will desecrate the site by entering in a state of ritual impurity). By bringing increasing numbers of Jews to the Temple Mount to pray, through the format of a guided pilgrimage tour, the movement aims to reconnect Jews to this holy site and put increasing pressure on political leaders to take steps towards extending Israeli control over the mount, which is currently under the jurisdiction of the Jordanian Waqf (although Israeli soldiers patrol the compound and may enter at any time). According to agreements between Israel and Jordan, Jews are technically not allowed to pray or perform Jewish rituals when visiting the mount. When religious Jewish visitors do attempt to pray in a visible or vocal way they are forcibly removed from the mount by Israeli police.
Organized pilgrimage tours to the Temple Mount are usually led by high ranking Third Temple activists and rabbis, who lead their group through ritual purity preparations, provide the historical and theological content during the tour, and assist participants in praying discreetly on the mount (Feldman 2017).
Pilgrimage tours have been successful at gaining support for Israeli sovereignty over the mount and normalizing the idea of building the Third Temple within Israel’s more mainstream religious-nationalist demographic. The image of Jews being arrested and forcibly removed from their holiest site has enabled the Third Temple Movement to claim that Jewish access to the Temple Mount is now a matter of “religious freedom” and “human rights” and, therefore, the Israeli state, as a supposedly democratic institution, should back Jewish access to the mount (Fischer 2017; Feldman 2017).
Third Temple activist Yehuda Glick has been a leading proponent of the human rights framework. In 2014, Yehuda Glick became a household name in Israel when he survived an assassination attempt by Mutaz Hijaz, a Palestinian man from East Jerusalem. This attack helped to reinforce Glick’s message that Jews were innocent pilgrims on the Temple Mount, up against a discriminatory state and an intolerable Islam that refuses to share this sacred space and acknowledge Jewish connections to it. While Third Temple activists strategically use secular human rights discourses to gain support and access to state resources, they ultimately wish to replace the secular state entirely and establish a theocracy.
Alongside promoting Jewish pilgrimage to the Temple Mount, the Third Temple Movement has focused on public reenactments of Temple rituals. The Passover sacrifice event, conducted annually since 2012, is the largest of the Third Temple Movement’s ritual reenactments that take place in conjunction with Jewish holidays. These ritual events are referred to by activists as targilim, meaning exercises, because they allow activists to practice Temple rituals so that they will be ready to implement them when the Temple is rebuilt. These practice rituals serve an educational role for the movement, galvanizing support from members of the general religious and right-wing public who may not be Third Temple activists, but generally support the idea of extending Israeli sovereignty over the mount and asserting a biblical Jewish connection to the Temple Mount. In general, recent surveys have found that the Passover sacrifice event is viewed favorably by the Israeli public. The religious newspaper Arutz Sheva found that among 681 readers surveyed, about sixty-eight percent believed that reinitiating the Passover sacrifice was a “worthy and good” endeavor.
Since the 2010s, the Third Temple Movement has grown considerably, gaining popularity amongst Israel’s religious-nationalist demographic and secular right-wing nationalists. Recent surveys indicate that as many as thirty percent of Jewish Israeli society supports building a Temple on the Haram ash-Sharif and fifty-nine percent agree there should be a change in the status quo, such as extending Israeli control over the site or establishing separate visiting hours for Jews and Muslims, as was done at Abraham’s Tomb in Israeli-occupied Hebron. Since 2015, increasing numbers of Knesset members have openly supported the Third Temple Movement and attended guided pilgrimage tours on the Temple Mount with leading Third Temple activists (Verter 2015). On November 7, 2016, ministers from the Likud and Jewish Home parties announced the establishment of a new “Temple Lobby” dedicated to advancing the issue of Jewish visitation and prayer on the Temple Mount (Newman 2016).
Since the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE by the Romans, the Temple has maintained a central place in Jewish theological debate and worship, through its evolution in the form of prayer. The Temple is an important part of the liturgical prayers that religious Jews pray three times a day. The daily prayers themselves are likened by rabbis to substitutions for the daily sacrificial offerings that were once on the Temple Mount. For example, instead of temple priests washing their hands and sacrificing an animal, observant Jews wash their hands and say a prayer before eating bread. The bread becomes a substitute for the animal sacrifice and the stomach functions as the “sacrificial altar” inside the Jewish body, where the digestive fire transforms the physical substance of the bread into spiritual sustenance. This diasporic Jewish practice of sublimating the Temple and animal sacrifices into prayer and ritual, fits with the predominantly passive messianic approach of pre-Zionist Orthodox Judaism (the idea that one must wait patiently for the coming of the Messiah and the Third Temple rather than “force the end” through physical means) (Inbari 2009:7).
In contrast, Third Temple activists take a more active messianic approach, believing that one must take practical steps to physically rebuild the Temple and bring the messianic era, rather than wait for divine intervention to initiate the process. This ideological stance can be understood as an extension of twentieth century religious-Zionist theology, which stems in large part from writings of Rabbi Avraham Isaac Kook (1865-1935). Kook interpreted the creation of the State of Israel, through the physical labor of secular Zionists, as a necessary part of the messianic process, where material and spiritual labor were equally important for redemption (Mirsky 2014). Actions from man in the earthly realm were necessary to awaken and inspire action from the divine realm above. Kook taught that redemption began with individual action and extended outward to all of humanity and the universe. From this perspective, even secular state Zionism becomes a holy vehicle for the initiation of Jewish prophecies (the return of Jewish Exiles to the Land of Israel and the rebuilding of the Temple leading up to messianic times).
For Third Temple supporters, largely members of Israel’s religious-Zionist demographic who follow the theological interpretations of the Kook school of thought, the Third Temple is seen as the logical end point of Zionism. Now that Jewish settlement in the Land of Israel and national revival (in the form of a modern nation state) has been completed, Temple activists believe that the next step in fulfilling prophecy involves a revival of biblical Israelite culture and ritual practice. To this end, Temple activists believe they must physically rebuild the Third Temple on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem in order to reinitiate a Jewish priesthood and the offering of animal sacrifices as described in the Torah and rabbinic commentaries. The rebuilding of the Temple, they believe, will occur alongside the establishment of a theocratic Torah state, ruled by a supreme court of rabbis called the “Sanhedrin.” The rebuilding of the Third Temple and the establishment of this theocratic state will complete the Zionist process of national revival, ushering in messianic times and redemption for all of humanity. Third Temple activists believe that the entire world will come to recognize the Third Temple as the one true House of God and will also visit the future Third Temple as pilgrims.
As the Third Temple Movement popularizes the idea of a renewed biblical kingdom, it raises the question of the relationship between Jews and non-Jews in impending messianic times. To reinforce the idea that the Third Temple Movement is a universal project for all of humanity, Third Temple activists have reached out to non-Jewish communities, such as evangelical Christians, bringing them in as ideological and financial supporters. Attempts to universalize the Third Temple, as a redemptive project for all mankind, have also led to the growth of Bnei Noah (The Children of Noah) communities, a new Judaic faith practiced by non-Jews who support the Third Temple Movement and messianic Zionist theology.
It is important to note that Third Temple activists do not believe that they are doing anything new or innovative in terms of Jewish theological interpretation or ritual practice, but simply reviving their ancient culture and practicing their commandments to the full extent (of the 613 commandments in the Torah, the majority pertain to Temple service and the offering of animal sacrifices). Third Temple activists often argue that, just Jews continue to follow Torah commandments, such as circumcision and kosher laws, the commandments regarding the Temple and sacrifices are equally important and must also be upheld now that Jews have returned to their homeland and have the possibility of carrying out all commandments specific to the Land of Israel. In order to make this biblical culture a reality, Third Temple activists are willing to strategically use the secular resources of the Israeli nation state (funding, police protection, and political representation) even though their ultimate goal is re-instate a ethno-theocratic kingdom (Feldman 2018).
Today, there are at least twenty-nine different Third Temple activist groups, including specific groups for men, women, and youth, that can be grouped under the broad umbrella of the “Third Temple Movement.” The proliferation of these activist groups, and the overall decentralized nature of the Third Temple Movement, has contributed to its growth across the country and its ability to reach supporters across age, gender, and ethnic demographics. [Image at right] The group “Women for the Temple” works to organize Orthodox Jewish women to participate in Temple Mount pilgrimage and various Temple “crafts,” such as preparing the bread sacrifices for ritual reenactments. The group “Returning to the Mount” caters to teenagers and young adults in their early twenties, while “Students for the Temple” organizes college students around the country in support of rebuilding the Temple, appealing to religious young adults as well as secular nationalists.
Each activist group is dedicated to a different front of temple activism, such as training Cohanim (Temple priests), preparing sacred Temple vessels and architectural plans, lobbying Knesset members, or organizing demonstrations in Jerusalem. Although they are dedicated to different aspects of Temple building, these twenty-nine groups work collaboratively, aided by the use of social media, to continue bringing larger numbers of Jews to the Temple Mount on guided pilgrimage tours. The different groups also collaborate on Temple sacrifice reenactment events and annual conferences where rabbis, politicians, and activists strategize and outreach to the larger public.
While ideologically unified around the idea of building the Third Temple, each Third Temple activist group differs in the extent to which they will rely on state resources and cooperate with the Israeli police. More official and well-funded organizations like the Temple Institute work to maintain cordial relationships with state authorities, right-wing politicians, and government ministries who fund their activities. To maintain their image as a “nonviolent” and “educational” organization, the Temple Institute refrains from speaking openly about the destruction of the Islamic Haram ash-Sharif and does not explicitly advocate violence against Palestinians. In contrast, youth activists, such as the young men and women who are part of the group “Returning to the Mount” see the stance of the Temple Institute as capitulating and ultimately holding back the movement. These youth activists take a different approach, openly engaging in confrontations with Muslim worshippers and Israeli police on the Temple Mount. On the Mount, young activists often carry out provocative acts, such as prostrating themselves in prayer or revealing an Israeli flag, acts which quickly result in their expulsion from the site and a temporary ban from the Temple Mount.
While the Temple Movement does not have a rigid hierarchical structure, there are leading rabbis (predominantly Orthodox Ashkenazi men) whose theological and political interpretations guide the movement. These include Rabbi Yisrael Ariel (Founder of the Temple Institute), Rabbi Chaim Richman (Director of the International Department of the Temple Institute, Professor Hillel Weiss (Leader of the Passover Sacrifice Event), Yehuda Etzion (Former Leader of the Jewish Underground), Yehuda Glick (Third Temple Activist and Knesset Member), and the rabbi members of the so called “nascent Sanhedrin” (which aims to become a supreme court enforcing Torah law in Israel following the rebuilding of the Temple.) The ideas of these leading rabbis are reinforced and spread by dozens of additional rabbi supporters who function as the heads of religious-Zionist communities and seminaries throughout Israel, especially in West Bank settlements. Rabbis who support the Third Temple Movement bring their seminary students on pilgrimage tours to the Temple Mount, training a new generation of young men and future rabbis in Third Temple theology, reinforcing the idea that building the Temple is the destiny of the Jewish people and the endpoint of the Zionist project.
It is impossible to quantify exact numbers of Third Temple activists because of how diffuse the movement is. While there are hundreds of active members within the twenty-nine activist groups, the numbers of ideological supporters (both secular and religious) as well as Temple Mount pilgrimage participants, certainly numbers in the tens of thousands. And there is evidence that movement will continue to grow. Religious day schools across the country now welcome groups like The Temple Institute to provide educational “Temple heritage” programming for children. The Temple Institute has also become a popular touristic destination for Israelis and international visitors, who visit the gallery of Temple Vessels and are presented with a peaceful and utopian version of the Third Temple project, where the building of the Temple is presented as an important obligation of the Jewish people and the entire world. In short, the Third Temple Movement has been successfully woven into the fabric of religious-nationalist society and even secular-nationalist society to a certain extent, making it difficult to track where it begins and ends in terms of concrete numbers.
The most immediate challenge of the Third Temple Movement is the role that it plays in provoking cycles on violence on the ground in Israel/Palestine as increasing numbers of religious Jews, rabbis, politicians, and Third Temple activists enter the Temple Mount/Haram ash-Sharif on a daily basis. From the Palestinian perspective, the growth of the Temple Movement represents an immediate threat to the sacred Al-Aqsa Mosque and Haram ash-Sharif compound, the last remaining public space where Palestinians feel a sense of autonomy in Jerusalem. In 2015-2016, fears that Al-Aqsa was in danger of Israeli annexation led to a wave of stabbing attacks where young Palestinian men targeted religious Jews on the street. This period of violence became known as the “Third Intifada.” Police reports from this time connected the attacks to a pervasive fear among Palestinians that the Israeli government was taking active steps to annex the Haram ash-Sharif compound by allowing larger numbers of religious Jews to enter.
As the Third Temple Movement continues to popularize the idea of biblical revival and a theocratic state, it further invalidates the claims of Palestinians to the land from the perspective of Orthodox Jewish law. In this imaged future messianic theocratic state, operating under Torah law, Jews would have exclusive access to citizenship.
Today, Israel arguably operates as an ethnocratic state (Yiftachel 2006). Although Israel formally extends the category of citizenship to Palestinians within the green line, access to political power, economic resources, and immigration rights is dependent on Jewish nationality. The Third Temple Movement thus represents the evolution of a ethno-theocratic model where Jewish right to the land is based, not only on the idea of a historical connection that is argued to predate a Palestinian one, but is grounded first and foremost on the God given right of Jews to the land as derived from the Torah. Third Temple activists and rabbis often explicitly state that they reject the idea of secular democratic statehood, because these ideas are “foreign” to Jewish culture. To complete the processes of redemption, Jews must throw off the yoke of European assimilation and reclaim their ancient and “indigenous” version of statehood.
With the failure of the Oslo peace process, ongoing Jewish settlement, and daily violence, the idea of ethno-theocratic statehood has gained traction, leading to the unlikely alliance of secular nationalists and Orthodox Jewish Zionists in the Knesset who support the idea of annexing the Temple Mount, as an act that will once and for all ensure Israel’s complete sovereignty over the land (Persico 2017).
Image #1: Jewish men who descend from a priestly lineage (Cohanim) practice reviving ancient Temple rituals in preparation for the building of Third Temple.
Image #2: Women for the Temple lead a group of Jewish children to the Temple Mount to teach them about the importance of building the Third Temple.
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