Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Herzl and the Third Temple

Another topic in this novel [Altneuland] is how Herzl's copes with the question of religion in the Jewish state. It is common knowledge that Herzl belonged to that segment of intellectual Viennese Jews who were very distant from traditional Jewish observance. In his first political pamphlet, "Der Judenstaat" ("The Jewish State"), Herzl made it clear that the rabbis would have a respected status in the synagogue - but not in the political arena. In "Altneuland," however, the picture is more complex and more interesting: Although the leaders of the New Society are all individuals with modern views, one of the central scenes in the novel is a description of the Passover Seder night ceremony in Tiberias, conducted by the New Society's president.

The depiction of Jerusalem is particularly fascinating. In it, the Old City is transformed into a historical reserve whose filth has been removed and from which the authorities have now banned the beggars of all nations and faiths who occupied every open space there, and whose presence so troubled Herzl during his only visit to the country in 1898. However, in the center of the new part of Jerusalem, a glorious structure proudly stands: This is, incredible as it may sound, the Third Temple of Jerusalem "which had been totally rebuilt because the time had come for its reconstruction. It had been built in accordance with the building procedures of ancient times, that is, with hewn stone ... Once more, the pillars, cast in copper, stood in front of Israel's holiest of holies. The left column is called Boaz and the right one Yakhin. In the front courtyard were a mighty copper altar and a wide basin of water that was called `the Copper Sea,' just as in ancient times, when King Solomon ruled the land." While it may be surprising to come across such a passage in Herzl's writings, it should be pointed out that the Temple is built in the new part of Jerusalem and not in place of the mosques on the Temple Mount in the Old City. Despite the altar mentioned in the above passage, Herzl does not state that animal sacrifices have been reinstituted. The description of Friday night services at the Third Temple - where there is a separate section for women worshipers, of course - is more reminiscent of a modern synagogue service in Vienna or Budapest than a ceremony based on Talmud tractate or any other ancient rabbinical source. Alongside the Temple there is the Hall of Peace, an international center for the resolution of disputes - a sort of League of Nations at a time when no such institution existed.

Herzl's somewhat conservative liberal position is very apparent here: Religion has a respected public position in an enlightened, tolerant society.


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