Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Where are the Temple Vessels?

It seems that among many, it is assumed the temple vessels (klei haMikdash) are housed in the Vatican.

In 2004, Rabbis Amar and Metzger asked the Pope to return the temple vessels. Earlier, Shimon Shetreet, the minster of religion, also asked the Pope to return these, and, according to Shetreet's account, told the Pope he was unwelcome in Israel until he did so. But, it seems that although these people were willing to issue demands about these vessels, they did not do any research prior to establish whether in all likelyhood the vessels are actually in the vatican.

Josephus records that various vessels, clothing and materials were taken by Titus and brought back to Rome. These were eventually housed in the Temple of Peace. In all likeyhood, this is were various Tanaim saw some of the vessels. Most notably, the headplate (tzit) as well as the curtain (perochet) was seen in Rome in about the second century CE. Additionally, famously, the Menorah and the Table from the Temple is recorded (a point to which we will return in a bit) on the Arch of Titus.

So, up to around the second century we have some evidence of the location of the vessels, but what happened after that? To simplfy Roman history, Roman was sacked and its treasures were taken. It seems that the Vandals or Gizrac took the various treasures, including the "treasures that Titus took." According to one account these were sent back to Jerusalem to a Church (not longer extant and its location unclear) or they were plundered by someone else. Yet, it would appear this has ignored and instead been assumed that if the vessels were in Rome at some point they would remain there for close to 2,000 years. Additionally, if one assumes that these vessels remained in Rome, why is that they were never displayed? One cannot claim out of fear that Jews would claim them as there own. Jews, for much of the period under discussion were in no position to make such a claim.

Now to return to the Arch of Titus. In truth, it is far from clear that the Menorah depicted on the Arch is actually that which was in the Temple. The most basic problem is the base. The base as depicted is hexagonal, while according to Rambam and Rashi, the base rested upon three legs. Additionally, the base contains depictions of a sea dragon which would more or less run afoul of the commandment not to have idols. Although for this last issue, the Tosefta in Avodah Zara does allow for smooth (no scales?) sea dragons, it still seems a bit strange to have this in the Temple, in the Holy section.

To answer the first problem R. Herzog, the former Chief Rabbi of Israel, offered that the legs broke during transport and the Romans replaced it with this base. (This is somewhat questionable as this type of base does not seem to be common even among Roman vessels of the time). Or, some claim this was a Hellenstic change done to the Menorah or the legs are really there and the "base" merely surrounds the legs. Be it as it may, what results is that this is less than conclusive and perhaps not even a Jewish invention.

This leads us to another issue, the State of Israel. The State of Israel adopted as its emblem the Menorah as it appears on the Arch of Titus. This very Menorah with the sea dragons and the "wrong" base. Rabbi Herzog aside from his comments above, questioned the use by the State for this very reason. He said, that they should use a three legged Menorah instead. What is curious is that the State actually slightly altered the original version. Originally, it was as it more or less appeared on the Arch. Subsequently, the dragons or animals on the base were changed from facing each other to their current position which makes them look more like jumping gazelles than sea dragons. Perhaps, this was to accommodate the religous sensiblities of those like R. Herzog.

Sources: Hans Lewy, Olmot Nifgashim, 255-58; A. Berliner, Divrei Yemi HaYehudim B'Rome, vol. 1 107-110; Josephus, Wars of the Jews 6,8,3 (357); id. 7,5 (148-152); id. (158-161); the best work on the Arch is Yarden, "Spoils of Jerusalem on the Arch of Titus." Yarden attempts to reconstruct the Arch to its original state and discusses all the various issues with it, including the change in the State of Israel emblem. What is surprising is that Prof. Daniel Sperber's article on this topic fails to use Yarden, leading to a few errors in Sperber's article. Sperber's article can be found in Minhagei Yisrael vol. 5 171-212. See also, the fairly recent work on the history of the entire temple destruction Elef Dor by Y. Horowitz vol. 1 380-397 where he discusses some more stories of others who assumed the vatican still houses the temple vessels. See Sefer haYovel l'Kovod Shmuel Mirsky 220-21 for R. Herzog's position.

No comments:

Print post

You might also like

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...