To be sure, if we had the Holy Temple, we would resume the Holy Service, including the offering of sacrifices. So why don’t we rebuild the Holy Temple?
The most obvious answer would seem to be that we can’t for political and safety reasons. The Muslims have control over the Temple Mount, and for us to destroy the Muslims’ holy site to build our own would be a terrible and most dangerous idea. There would be no Jew safe in the entire world, or at least wherever there are Muslims.
When the Messiah comes, may it be soon, this will be resolved in a peaceful way, to everyone’s satisfaction. Don’t ask me how. If I knew how, I would be the Messiah. Obviously, I am not. (Isn’t it refreshing to meet someone on the Internet who is not making outrageous claims about himself?)
However, there are other issues involved. Even if we received the consent of every Muslim in the world to raze or move the various Mosques from the Temple Mount, we still would not be permitted to rebuild the Holy Temple just yet.
Nowadays it is forbidden to enter the precise area where the Holy Temple used to be, because we are all ritually impure.(1) Whoever does so is violating a Biblical Prohibition punishable by death. In order for any of us to be able to become ritually pure, we would need the ablutions of the ashes of a red cow administered by a Cohen (Priest).(2)
Let us assume we have performed this ritual, and are now pure. Now we need an altar. Just any altar wouldn’t do, it must be in the Temple area.(3) Therefore we must rebuild the altar. (I’ll bypass the problems with that, as they are too complicated to explain.)
The next problem is the location of the Altar. The Law is very precise about just where the Holy Altar must be located. It is forbidden to place the Altar anywhere else. When they built the Second Holy Temple, they had to find reliable witnesses who could testify to the exact spot. They found three such witnesses, the prophets Haggai, Zephaniah and Malachi, but we don’t have any prophets or witnesses today. Thus, until a prophet (we assume that it will probably be Elijah) comes and tells us where to build the Altar (among many other things we need to know first), we cannot build the Holy Altar.(4) The answer to this I shall discuss later, Hashem willing.
Without the Holy Altar it is forbidden to bring sacrifices.
Let us assume we were able to build the Altar, properly, and in the precise location. We would still need a Cohen whose genealogy can be determined absolutely and verified.(5) The answer to this problem I shall discuss later, Hashem willing.
Our next problem is that we must appoint a High Priest, or all Service is forbidden.(6) To appoint a High Priest, we need a Sanhedrin, which is a body of 71 ordained rabbis acting as the Supreme Court of the People Of Israel.(7) We cannot assemble a Sanhedrin, because the Sanhedrin must consist of rabbis ordained with the Mosaic Ordination, which was transmitted from Rabbi to Rabbi since Moses.(8) However, the Mosaic Ordination ceased to exist in the year 358 C.E. because of the persecutions Constantinius perpetrated upon the Jews.(9) This too, I shall answer later, Hashem willing.
There are yet other problems, such as Laws involving the Priestly Garments, the exact measurements of the Temple area, and many, many more, all of which demand as yet undiscovered answers.
And there are other types of concerns as well. The Torah does not even consider it a requirement on our part to rebuild the Holy Temple until most or all the Children of Israel live in the land of Israel. And there is also the matter of the Return of the Ten Tribes to consider, which will be part of our Final Redemption.
When these things have taken place, and we have made lasting peace with our enemies; when all Jews have returned to the Holy Land of Israel, and religious Jews have complete temporal and religious control over the land, then we will know that our Final Redemption has begun, and we can then turn our thoughts towards rebuilding the Holy Temple.
We have a tradition that Elijah the Prophet will arrive and reveal himself to us before the Advent of the Messiah.(10) He will arrive and answer all questions and resolve all doubts.(11) He will reveal to us which families are definitely Cohanim.(12) And he is a recipient of the Ordination Of Moses(13) and can therefore restore the Sanhedrin. And he will bring peace to the world.
Thrice daily, all observant Jews pray: «…and restore the service to the Holy Sanctuary, and the fire-offerings of Israel and their prayer you will accept with love…»
Rabbi Moshe Shternbuch, in his work, Moadim Uzmanim,(14) in his treatment of the subject, ends off by saying:
And according to what we have explained at length above, there are innumerable reasons why we do not rebuild the Holy Temple or the Altar, nor bring sacrifices today. Nor does the repossession of the Land of Israel change that Law at all. We are unable, and therefore exempt according to the Law, without a doubt, for many reasons, until the Messiah arrives…G-d forbid that anyone should reconsider or doubt this…And I only discussed these matters out of interest in the subject, due to love of the Holy Temple and the Holy Service.
May the Holy One, Blessed is He, pour upon us a spirit of purity from high above, and may we be found worthy of having G-d’s Holy Manifestation in our midst when G-d returns the Service to His Sanctuary speedily, and with our own eyes may we merit seeing everything straightened out.
1. Mogen Avrohom Orach Chayim 561:2
2. Numbers 19:1-22. For a deeper discussion of the actual Laws and rituals of this process, see Maimonides, Yad, Purity, the first two divisions: The Laws of Impurities, and the Laws of the Red Heifer.
3. Maim. Yad, Laws of Sacrifices 19:1
4. Responsa of the Chasam Sofer, Orach Chayim Responsum 208, based on B.T. Zevachim 62a
5. Babylonian Talmud, Yevamos 74b. See also Rav Hai Gaon, Succah, near the end.
6. Maim. Yad, Laws of Entering the Temple 4:15
7. Maim. Yad, Laws of the Utensils of the Temple 4:15
8. Maim. Yad, Laws of Sanhedrin 4:1
9. Zemach Dovid 4118
10. Babylonian Talmud, Eruvin 43b
11. Babylonian Talmud Pesachim 13a
12. Mishnayos Eduyos 8:7
13. Maimonides, Introduction to Yad
14. Volume Five, Section «Laws Regarding the Land of Israel,» Responsum 351