Building a Temple on Another Mountain

Parshat Re'eh

Dear Rabbi,
I am not sure the exact reason you asked me to engage in a dialogue as it relates to the parshah of the week, but I think part of why stems from my sometimes “out of the box” outlook at what I read. That being said, why don’t I really go out on a limb and at the same time maybe resolve the entire Middle East crises at the same time.
In this week’s parshah, Re’eh, Moses continues his discourse with the Israelites as to what is expected of them as they enter the Promised Land. In the First Aliyah, we learn that the Jewish people will be blessed if we heed G-d’s commandments, but cursed if we do not.
In Deuteronomy 11:29 we are told the following:
“And it will be, when the Lord, your G-d, will bring you to the land to which you come, to possess it, that you shall place those blessing upon Mount Gerizim, and those cursing upon Mount Ebal.”
Thus we learn that when dealing with blessings, we should face Mount Gerizim, and with curses we turn to Mount Ebal.
Now let’s get to what I find quite interesting. It starts in the First Aliyah and continues in the Second Aliyah at Deuteronomy 12:11-14 with the following being stated:

“And it will be, that the place the Lord, your G-d, will choose in which to establish His Name there you shall bring all that I am commanding you: Your burnt offerings, and your sacrifices, your tithes, and the separation by your hand, and the choice of vows which you will vow to the Lord.”

“And you shall rejoice before the Lord, your G-d you and your sons and your daughters and your menservants and your maidservants, and the Levite who is within your cities, for he has no portion or inheritance with you.”

“Beware, lest you offer up your burnt offerings any place you see.”

“But only in the place the Lord will choose in one of your tribes; there you shall offer up your burnt offerings, and there you shall do all that I command you.”

Jerusalem rests upon four hills or mountains, but only two of them have biblical names, Mount Zion and Mount Moriah. Neither of these mountains is mentioned as “the place the Lord, your G-d, will choose in which to establish His Name” and as I understand it, there is no paragraph in the Torah that mentions Jerusalem as the place that the Almighty has chosen to be where we are to worship the Lord. If we looking at Jerusalem from a purely historic perspective, it was only founded as a Jewish city by King David, many years after the conclusion of the written Torah. 
Although it is not well known, I read that there was a cult in the time of the Temple called the “Shomronim” (Samaritans). They were otherwise observant Jews except for the fact they believed Jerusalem was the wrong place to build the Temple. They proved from the Torah that the most sacred mountain in Israel was not Har Hamoria but Mount Gerizim.
Whether the Samaritans were right or not is not the issue as I see it. G-d named two mountains as it relates to blessing and curses so why can’t we solve a very big problem by rethinking where the Almighty wants us to worship. If those of a much more learned religious nature can come together and somehow agree that maybe Jerusalem was not what G-d wanted as his personal place for worship, then all that has to be done is create a new city that is not claimed by any other religion other than ours and leave the rest of the religious sects to fight over an area that no longer has any true meaning for us.
And to those that read this and conclude that the writer is either a heretic or someone who has lost his mind, let me go completely “out of bounds” and ask the following. What if someone obeys all that is written in the Torah with the exception of one commandment, should he or she be put to death?
This week we read that G-d instructs the Israelites to destroy all forms of idol worship and In the Third Aliyah we learn that a person professing to be a prophet who claims to bring instructions from G‑d to worship idols must be put to death. This is true even if the individual performs supernatural acts or accurately predicts the future.
I must preface the question I am about to ask by understanding that we as Jews cannot add or subtract from what we are commanded to do, and I for one do believe that there is a G-d above, but what does G-d want us to do with an agnostic or even more specifically an atheist?
The Second of the Ten Commandments, Exodus 20:3-4, states the following:

“You shall not have the gods of others in My presence.”

“You shall not make for yourself a graven image or any likeness which is in the heavens above, which is on the earth below, or which is in the water beneath the earth.”

Where does it say that if one does not believe in any higher authority, that person is to be at the very least condemned or at most killed?


Dear Mordechai,

The five topics that you raise in your message are:
  1. The relationship that two mountains – Gerizim and Ebal – have to blessing and curse.
  1. The location of the Temple in Jerusalem.
  1. The Samaritans believed that the Temple should not have been built in Jerusalem
  1. You propose that we build the Temple in a new place altogether. This would resolve conflict and allow us to have access to our third temple.
  1. You also raise the question of how we should respond to atheism.
You are most correct that Jerusalem is not mentioned in the Torah and that King David founded it, which would mean that Jerusalem was built several hundred years after the events of the Torah occurred. I had heard of the Samaritans, but I don’t think anyone has distilled the matter as you have regarding who they are and their significance. In your eyes, they serve as a kind of precedent for a new solution to the problem of where and when to rebuild the Holy Temple. Additionally, I am fascinated that they thought the temple should have been built on the mountain of blessings, Gerizim.
I cherish the innovativeness of the proposal but cannot agree with you. At this point, the Western Wall has become sanctified through countless prayers and tears. The Temple must be built on the mount of which the Western Wall forms a part. It is holy space, perhaps inherently or at the very least through all the acts of sanctification over the millennia.
Atheists technically do not violate the second commandment, but atheism is actually much harder to achieve than people suppose. Everyone ends up worshipping something. Atheism doesn’t seem like a tenable position to me. I don’t know, however, that it is idolatry. I’m unclear on the connection you make between the atheist and the false prophet.
Why do you believe in G-d? Do you because your parents did?
For me, what stands out in this parsha is the relationship between blessing and curse and sight. The Torah specifically mentions “seeing.” Seeing is our most utilized sense. We are wholly dependent on it. I would argue we are too dependent on it, and one of the tools of religion is to help us cultivate our capacity to hear.
I struggle with the visual veracity of blessing and curse. Is all blessing and curse seeable? Can blessing and curse be hidden from sight so that you can’t see whether someone is blessed or cursed. Alternatively, what the Torah could be saying is something like “Blessing and curse are as clear as day.” If you can see something, then that makes it concrete. Blessing and curse are paths that are clearly demarcated before us. Now the task at hand is to choose!

Dear Rabbi,

While I agree with you that what I propose is a hard sell to say the least and what we have invested in Jerusalem cannot be ignored, but if the Dome of the Rock were to be removed do you have any doubt that some kind of monumental holy war would then ensue? My connection to the mountains that are directly connected to blessings and curses is that it is clear in the Torah. Where the devotion to G-d is to be carried out is, as Moses stated, to be determined by the Almighty but unless I am missing something, it is not specifically contained in the written document. Think about it for a moment. Jews have been praying to the east in the direction of what is now called Israel. The general thought is that it is Jerusalem that is really being pointed at, but from Jericho Long Island it is just east in the general direction of the entire Holy Land, somewhere in the Middle East. 
As to my belief in G-d, as I see it there is no other alternative. The "BiG Bang Theory", evolving from amoeba and anything else science can throw at us still leaves the question as to whatever theory you want to bring forward is, how did that happen? At some point, science does not have the answer and then belief has to take some credit. If not G-d then who or what?
My connection between the atheist and the false prophet is that while a false prophet that suggests something other than the Almighty is to be condemned if that person suggests an "alternative god", a true atheist has no alternative to G-d and according to what I have read in the Torah, there does not seem to be any thought of what to do with such a person. It is akin to the difference between a homosexual male and female. The Torah is clear that "no man shall lie with another man" and if so he is to be killed, but there is no mention as to what to do with two females that choose to lie together.  


Dear Mordechai,

Without question, the removal of the Dome of the Rock would create a monumental holy way. I guess I just have to come forward and say that I have little interest in the rebuilding of the Temple. If I had greater interest, perhaps I might have more enthusiasm for your proposal. It is just as well that the Dome of the Rock is where it is since no Temple can be built until that is removed.
I also see that science has limitations in describing the creation of the universe. At the center of the this creation is a mystery. We have a holy text, which has revealed to us the idea that the universe has a Creator. I find this persuasive. I think, ultimately though, people are not atheists because they do or don’t support the Big Bang Theory but because they don’t like the moral implications of living in a universe created by an intelligent being Who makes demands upon us.
In some sense, it is humorous that the Torah just completely ignores the idea of the atheist. It considers it some kind of impossibility. The greater danger, as we have been discussing, is the false prophet. The atheist may be a bigger problem today, yet the Torah by not addressing this disposition gives us little guidance about how to think about someone like that. As you point out with regard to lesbians, sometimes the Torah doesn’t address a topic.