Jewish tradition holds that the destroyed Temple in Jerusalem will be rebuilt when the Messiah comes. To commemorate Tisha B’Av, which fell on Aug. 14 and marks the destruction of the first and second temples, Beth Joshua Congregation in Rockville brought area rabbis together to discuss what is the Messianic Age?
“I like the idea of bringing different types of people together and have civil discourse, and be able to talk to each other because we are a community,” said Rabbi Uri Topolosky, who leads Beth Joshua, an Orthodox congregation.
About 250 people — many of whom were fasting — heard panelists Maharat Ruth Balinsky Friedman, who is Orthodox, Rabbi Adam Raskin, who is Conservative, and Rabbi Baht Weiss, who is Reform.
Weiss, an associate rabbi at Temple Beth Ami in Rockville, said that “What is the Messianic Age?” is “a funny question to pose to a Reform rabbi, since the movement does not believe in the coming of a Messiah.”
She recalled that while she was working at Congregation Rodeph Sholom in New York City, its rabbi published a book titled “There’s No Messiah and You’re It.”
“He did it to grab one’s attention, and I wished it was not packaged in such an off-putting manner. But it shows [an aspect of] the Reform movement. The Mashiach [Messiah] is not something we ever talk about. We omit references to it in the Birkat Hamazon [grace after meals],” she said.
Raskin, rabbi of Congregation Har Shalom in Potomac, said the moral teachings of the Bible are more important than the stories they are based on.
“I think whatever people think about the temples as buildings, and their importance, what resonates for me is how we understood the cause for that destruction,” said Raskin. “It’s on us for not respecting each other, and that’s a timeless message, and that’s beyond dreaming about the next temple, or mourning the destruction of that edifice. We still have this issue of factionalism, this issue of needing to be more united,” he said.
Friedman of Ohev Sholom — The National Synagogue in Washington said the first time she thought about the Messianic Age was as a child, when the idea of reviving the dead was voiced in prayers.
“What’s the word ‘dead’ doing in the siddur [prayer book]? It would always pop out at me,” she said. “It’s like when you see someone in a dream. You are not physically with that person, but at that moment, you feel like you are with them.”
Friedman said applying the Mashiach is best understood with the metaphysical world. After all, “God didn’t make it, or at least we were partners in the process.”
At the end of the program, Topolosky voiced satisfaction with the interdenominational discussion.
“These conversations should happen in synagogues all of the time,” he said. “We can do more. There could be many more voices there, and broaden the conversation even more, and be able to think with intellectual honesty and spiritual wholeness.”
He added that he looked forward to next year’s Tisha B’Av discussion, which he hoped will be more inclusive with the addition of a Christian minister.