by Rav Herzl Hefter

Rabbi Yohanan said: the Holy One Blessed Be He said, “I shall not dwell in the Celestial Jerusalem (Yerushalayim shel ma’alah) until I dwell in the Earthly Jerusalem (Yerushalyim shel matah)

”There is a well-known dispute between Maimonides and Rabbi Avraham Ben David (the Raavad) regarding whether the Temple Mount has sanctity today. The Rambam (Hilchot Bet HaBehira 6:14) states that “Shlomo sanctified the courtyard [of the Temple] and Jerusalem for that time and for the time to come.”According to the Rambam the Temple Mount today has sanctity. To this R. Avraham Ben David famously responded, “This is based on his own reasoning and I don’t know upon what what he is basing himself. The Mishnah states that if there is no Temple there then [the fruits of the second tithe, ma’aser sheni] should be left to rot. From this we see that the first act of sanctification [of the Temple by King Solomon] was not for all time…therefore one who enters there today does not incur premature death (karet).”
I wish to focus upon the Raavad’s position. Rav Soloveitchik said that according to the Raavad destruction and sanctity are mutually exclusive.

I wish to propose an intermediate position which perhaps the Raavad (and R. Soloveitchik) would endorse.

The Rambam states in the following chapter(7:7)

Even though the Temple is now in ruin because of our sinsa person must hold its [site] in awe, as one would regard it when it was standing…. as [implied by Leviticus 19:30]: “You shall observe My Sabbaths and you shall revere My Sanctuary.” Just as the observance of the Sabbath [applies] for eternity, so too, the reverence for the Temple must be eternal. Even though it is in ruin, it remains holy.”

The Rambam in this chapter discusses the obligation to relate to the location of the Temple with reverence. I believe that the Raavad would not fundamentally disagree with this Halacha. That is to say that even though one may hold that there is no (ritual) sanctity to the location of Temple (practically means that one who enters Temple Mount today would not be punishable by premature death) nevertheless the laws of holding the location in awe (Morah Mikdash) would still apply.

How can this be so? On the one hand no ritual sanctity and on the other an obligation to hold the location in awe? The answer is as follows: ritual sanctity depends upon the actual ability to perform the Temple rites. The obligation to revere the Temple Mount, however, is generated by the fact that it is the location where the Temple once stood (and will one day again stand.) Ritual sanctity is a
function of the present – and at present there is no Temple – while awe is inspired by the weight of the past and the hope for the future.

There is a certain realism in this approach. Jerusalem with the Temple at its heart calls forth an intense relation with God on the national level. This scorching kedushah (sanctity) does not, and one could claim that under the present circumstances, should not characterize our collective relationship with God today. We, along with The Holy One Blessed Be He, do not yet dwell in the Celestial Jerusalem.

Does this mean that there is no significance to Jerusalem as long as the Holy Temple does not stand?

My suggested reading of the Raavad tells us that there is great significance to the Jerusalem of the present, the Earthly Jerusalem. Presently we dwell in the Earthly Jerusalem, Yerushalayim shel matah, where the holy and secular are intertwined. We have the Kotel and we have pubs. We are blessed with beautiful boulevards and walking paths alongside poor neighborhoods. We are inspired by the past and the future but must be firmly grounded in the present. Our purpose must be to perfect the Earthly Jerusalem, transform it into a city in which God would desire to dwell. Then with the proper humility we will be blessed to experience the Celestial Jerusalem.