July 11, 2018
Sholom Ber Crombie in #1126, Beis HaMikdash, Feature

Doctor Michael Ben-Ari, even before he served as a Member of Knesset (MK), is first and foremost a researcher of the Mikdash (Holy Temple) with every fiber of his being. He has been living the subject of the Mikdash for over thirty-five years, during which he has made many discoveries that shed new light on the topic. He is a veritable fount of encyclopedic knowledge in every aspect of research on the topic, including descriptions of the practices there and how it figured in the lives of the people living then. Additionally, he does not hesitate to dispute various accepted accounts that cast a negative light on the period of the Second Temple and the events that occurred in its final days. * Part 1 of 2

Photos by M. Hechtman(This interview took place nine years ago, when Doctor Ben-Ari was serving in the Knesset):

I met with Dr. Michael Ben-Ari in his small, modest office in the Knesset building for a fascinating conversation about the tremendous research work that he published as his doctoral thesis, with a focus on really drilling deep down into the heart of the subject of the Beis HaMikdash. He has been involved in the field for over twenty-five years, and established through his own efforts the Midrash L’Yeda HaMikdash, which eventually merged with the Machon HaMikdash. He researched many topics in the field, including its form, its beauty, and even its destruction.

Just about every detail of the Mikdash is brought to life in a tangible form in his work, literally, as if he had researched a current day structure in Yerushalayim. He did not leave any nook or cranny unclarified. Even the drainage system of the Beis HaMikdash has an entire chapter in his research. Quoting the Rebbe about the importance of learning about the structure of the Beis HaMikdash, he explains that this too is a part of the construction, and in order to understand the larger picture, one may not skip over any detail.

“To learn about the structure of the Beis HaMikdash means to truly understand how it was constructed in all of its parts and components, and how it operated.”

In the months that have passed since he joined the Knesset, he has been forced to devote most of his day to public service, but he has not neglected for a moment his main occupation of Mikdash research. I saw this clearly with my own eyes when I went to meet with him. Until we actually began to discuss the topic at hand, what I saw before me was an MK who was insanely busy. The phones did not stop ringing, and he barely managed to free himself up from all of his responsibilities.

However, the moment that he opened his mouth to begin discussing the Beis HaMikdash, it was as if he was transported to another world, and completely forgot about the surrounding tumult and political events. Suddenly he had all the time in the world. When I pointed that out to him, he responded with a smile, “Absolutely. This is my main occupation before anything else. I research the Beis HaMikdash out of a sense that within every Jew there needs to be a hope and yearning for the Eternal Home in all its glory.”


Dr. Ben-Ari built his magnificent research work by drawing on all portions of the Torah. The style of his work is unique, relative to that of other researchers. Instead of opening up the books to find material relating to specific points of a specific topic, he first studies all the sources that touch on the topic even in the most tangential manner, and looks to see how we can learn from all of those sources.

For example, before he began his research, he studied the entire Mishna thoroughly, and broke all of the information related to the Beis HaMikdash down into many topics from which he draws much of his material. This approach has enabled him to extract many details from those sections of the Talmud and Talmudic sources that do not deal directly with the subject of the Beis HaMikdash.

To cite one example: In Meseches Sota it discusses the woman who is made to drink the purifying waters. From the language of the Gemara there it is possible to extrapolate a lot about the place from where they took the water, how it was constructed and what it looked like. He gives another example of this approach from the work of Josephus, who describes the battle that took place in the Beis HaMikdash until its actual fall.

There he recounts how the Kohanim would exit the Beis HaMikdash, strike at the Romans and immediately retreat back inside. Throughout the entire account, there is no mention at all of the Soreg wall, which surrounded the entire courtyard; this would indicate that it did not serve as a barrier of note, which might hamper leaving from or entering the Beis HaMikdash, but was a low decorative fence that could easily be vaulted, to the point of not earning any mention as a barrier.

Another interesting point connected to the construction of the Beis HaMikdash and its eventual destruction that he deduced relates to the steps that were built in the front of the Temple, in that they were also meant to make it inaccessible to the war machines of the time. These steps served as a sort of defense system against weapons of destruction such as battering rams, and prevented them from reaching the walls to try to tear them down.

In his research, Dr. Ben-Ari tries to discern the reason behind every detail of the Mikdash. For example, out of all the types of people who went to the Mikdash to be purified, a special chamber was built only for the Nezirim. It was called Lishkas (the chamber of the) HaNezirim. This special treatment was not provided for a woman who had given birth or others who were required to bring sacrifices.

A possible reason he gives is based on the fact that only Nezirim had to leave the Heichal after bringing the sacrifice, in order to cut and burn their hair. Then, they had to return to the Beis HaMikdash to finish the purifying process and cook their Shlamim offering. That is why a special chamber was built for them in which they could do all the purification activities after bringing the sacrifice.

This was unlike the others who were obligated to bring sacrifices. They were finished in the Mikdash once they brought their sacrifice. This reason might also explain why a mikva was built in a special chamber for the Metzora’im, even though the Mikdash had another three mikvaos.

Dr. Ben-Ari devotes another section of his research to the immersion of the paroches, which was nearly twenty meters (over 65 feet) high and a tefach thick. That’s a huge, heavy piece of material! It was said – using hyperbolic terms (based on the Yerushalmi) – that 300 Kohanim had to carry it.

“Have you ever thought how you immerse something that big?” he asked me. I admitted that I hadn’t. Dr. Ben-Ari had detailed answers for everything. He showed me a diagram that delineates the pits of water on the Temple Mount, and pointed at one of the pits whose location is in the area assumed to be where the Azara was located. You can see that it’s a long and narrow mikva that would be suitable for immersing the paroches.


The conversation with Dr. Ben-Ari was fascinating. He exposed me to different perspectives on the construction of the Beis HaMikdash. Although his research was from an academic perspective and was even the basis for his doctorate, as a G-d fearing person his research is based on Torah sources and he examines everything from a Torah point of view. Unlike other researchers, he does not try to bend the statements of Chazal, but proves how they are accurate sources to the extreme, and it is entirely unacceptable to question them.

There are researchers who try to undermine the words of Chazal?

“Unfortunately, this approach comes from a flawed view that academia is a field that is in direct contradiction to the field of Torah study. I work with the Rebbe’s approach. He taught us that not only shouldn’t we feel threatened by academia, we should use it to strengthen our Avodas Hashem. One can prove on a research level how everything the Sages said in connection with the Mikdash, and in general, are incredibly accurate if one scrutinizes all the sources in an objective, meticulous way.

“The academics that negated the statements of the Sages did so based on the fact that there are events described in several sources in different ways. However, they did not understand the simple fact that all the sources are describing the same events. It’s just that each of them talks about it from a different orientation. Each of the eyewitnesses latched onto something else in what is being described and focused on it, but if you look at what is being told correctly, you see how they are all dealing with the same event.

“Take, for example, the Simchas Beis HaShoeiva. One source might tell of the women who watched the dancing nation while another source tells of Chassidim and ‘men of deeds’ who capered about all night. Obviously, they are not describing different events but a different aspect of it. From a preponderance of sources we can prove, even on a rigorous academic level, how all the sources of the Sages are true and not one word is extraneous.”

Surely you are familiar with the Rebbe’s instructions about learning about the Beis HaMikdash.

“As someone who has had the merit to research the topic from every angle, I am amazed by the exactitude in the Rebbe’s request, in which he asked that we utilize the days Bein HaMeitzarim to learn Inyanei Beis HaBechira as they are written about in the tractates Middos and Yuma. There is a chiddush here that not many are aware of, since generally, when people want to learn about the Bayis, they go directly to the topics having to do with the destruction and not with the Bayis itself.

“As a result, many people, instead of learning about the Bayis, learn about the churban as it is brought in the Midrash and Agados. When learning this, one can fall into despair over the destruction and exile. When learning the sources that the Rebbe cited, it uplifts a person and engenders longing and anticipation for the building of the Mikdash. Whoever learns the tractate of Middos about the construction of the Bayis in its glory sees what majesty there was in the Beis HaMikdash and the intensity of k’dusha that overtook whoever entered its gates.

“We can learn this from Hakhel, for example. (The interview was conducted in a Hakhel year.) The Rebbe spoke so much about Hakhel. This was an incomparable and unparalleled historic event in Jewish history that took place only in the Beis HaMikdash. Picture the Chassidim in B’nei Brak dancing together with the stall owners from the Machane Yehuda market and the elite of northern Tel Aviv… Something in the order of that magnitude happened only at Hakhel, when the entire nation came to ‘see and be seen.’

“Not for naught does the Gemara emphasize the mitzva of ‘being seen,’ since being seen by the king united all types, but it was also necessary ‘to see’ together, all the people as part of one grand mosaic, in the grand Hakhel event. Even during the time of the second Beis HaMikdash, when the Jewish people were divided and there were actually three political factions that stood apart from each other – the king, the Kohanim and the chachomim – with Hakhel, they united.

“Learning the description of Hakhel inspires a longing to see the Bayis and its glory. It’s a description of the singular event that united all parts of the nation. The Chazzan HaKnesses takes the Torah and gives it to the Rosh HaKnesses, who is the head of the Sages, and from there it is passed to the deputy Kohen Gadol, and after the Kohen Gadol receives it he gives it to the king. Each one has his role to play, the Kohanim, the Sages, and the king. Each one took part actively in the ceremony, and this is what united all of the groups in the Beis HaMikdash.

“Unfortunately, there are those who err regarding Bayis Sheini, as though it was an era in which all disputes revolved around the Beis HaMikdash. Whoever learns the sources sees how the Beis HaMikdash actually served to unify all segments of the nation. The aliya l’regel itself was an event of unity, and an inseparable part of going to the Mikdash, obviously, was going to Yerushalayim. From all over the country and even abroad, masses of people came in the tens of thousands. Those were times that the entire nation united. That feeling of togetherness along with the face-to-face encounters of the entire people was a central feature of the Beis HaMikdash whose purpose was to unite the people.

“Of course, it wasn’t the ordinary unity among people who meet, but unity aroused by a common connection to Hashem and the king. This is even expressed in Halacha, in that the Mikdash (and the entire city of Yerushalayim) during the regel gave every Jew the status of ‘chaveir’ (regarding the laws of tuma and tahara). This is because in the Mikdash there weren’t two levels of status, differentiating between scholars and simple people, but all had the status of ‘chaveirim.’ All were considered to be on the same level of care and observance of mitzvos.

“This is what we need to learn in the Yemei HaMeitzarim. At this time, we need to emphasize the role of the Beis HaMikdash as a unifying element and learn those things that are related to this theme. When we learn the things connected with the construction of the Bayis and see how the Bayis was a unifying force, it arouses the anticipation of seeing its rebuilding and the unprecedented unity that we will experience in the time of Geula. We always need to emphasize the sources that teach about the Mikdash as a unifying force and Chabad Chassidim do this when they carry out the Rebbe’s instruction to learn Inyanei Beis HaBechira during the Three Weeks in the sources the Rebbe cited.”

The common perception is that throughout the Second Temple era there was something flawed that led to divisions among the people.

“Chazal say that the second Beis HaMikdash was destroyed because of baseless hatred, and one of the most well-known stories is the one about Kamtza and Bar Kamtza.

“What I suggest is that instead of looking for the deficiencies of that generation and to beat our breasts over their sins, it’s worth seeing how the Bayis teaches us a lesson in Ahavas Yisroel.

“The period of the second Mikdash was an extraordinary one in Jewish history, in which nearly the entirety of the Oral Torah was being studied. That was the time of the first wave of Tanaim and the two most prominent Talmudic schools of Beis Shammai and Beis Hillel about whom it is said that despite their differences, and sometimes there were harsh disputes, they did not refrain from marrying one another. We can learn from this how to conduct a dispute that is for the sake of heaven. If only we would behave as they did.

“Aside from that, the second Beis HaMikdash was fully operational until its final day and the daily avoda went on like clockwork. The difficult situation in the society outside the walls did not impact the avoda in the Mikdash and the members of the priesthood zealously preserved the avoda of the Mikdash.

“Sadly, there were disputes at the fringes of society in those days, and we need to learn from the way things were back then to increase our baseless love in order to hasten the building of the Beis HaMikdash. However, at the same time, we also need to study the chapters in the Mishna and Tosefta that describe the Beis HaMikdash in its might and glory as the Rebbe taught. This generates a longing for the coming of Moshiach, speedily in our day.”

Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (http://beismoshiachmagazine.org/).
See website for complete article licensing information.