Friday: On April 10, at 5 p.m., hundreds of Jews will gather at the Maimonides rabbinical institution plaza in the Kiryat Moshe neighborhood in Jerusalem and start learning the Jewish laws of Passover. Rabbis and experts, including Rabbi Yisrael Ariel, the head of the Temple Institute in the Old City of Jerusalem, the leading body preparing for the establishment of the third temple, will teach the audience the laws of the Passover sacrifice. Alongside Ariel, the ritual slaughterer (shohet) Rabbi Yehudah Giatt will teach the audience about the unique elements of the slaughter of the Passover sacrifice. After the lessons, the real thing will start: the simulation of the Passover sacrifice.
The timing of the gathering isn’t coincidental: This was the date on which the people of Israel were commanded to take a lamb and sacrifice it, before the exodus from Egypt. The ceremony on Thursday will be, in Israel Defense Forces (IDF) lingo, “practice with live fire.” Slaughtering lambs, sprinkling their blood on the altar by priests dressed in kosher priestly garments and roasting the lambs, with their heads, legs and innards. Just as God intended.
This isn’t the first time that the "Association of Temple Organizations" will hold this activity, but this year the practice drill and re-enactment of the Passover sacrifice will be carried out by the students of the school for priests, Nezer Ha-kodesh, which started operating this year. The priest school intends to train the hundreds of priests that would be needed to work at the third temple; many Jews endeavor for its establishment in Israel today.
Ten students, who got to the priests school by word of mouth, paid 1,000 shekels (some $290), a relatively small sum, for twice-weekly lessons, three hours each, that teach “how to be priests.” The director of the school, Rabbi Yehoshua Friedman, hopes that the school will be more properly publicized next year and that more students will arrive. “The rabbis say that the minimum necessary is 13 priests in the temple to carry out the mandatory sacrifices. If you’re talking about a fully operating temple, where people bring their own sacrifices, it’s a place where hundreds of priests work daily,” he says. “In the days of old, a father and grandfather would teach the grandson and son how to be a priest, the commandments and laws. Today, they have to take a course. The prayer to establish the temple has no meaning if we don’t actually prepare for it. Think what would happen if tomorrow you got a functioning temple and don’t have priests.”
There are a great many laws for the temple, some of which have been forgotten and faded over the years: how to use incense, how to light the holy menorah, how to sanctify hands and feet, and of course, how to sacrifice. “The priests themselves come with requests to learn one topic or another. We are also learning as we go how the course should look. The students are very practical and focused,” explains Friedman.
At the Temple Institute, researchers are working hard to relearn the laws as well as study the architecture, location and necessary tools. “One of the unique elements of the course,” says Friedman, “is the actual practice. In my course, they learned how to sacrifice birds, so we brought stuffed doves, so that the priests would learn how to hold them, how to execute the specific moves. We work on standing in front of the altar to demonstrate the action, so that it’ll become natural to them.”
For the temple people, the priests’ course is an advanced stage that follows the completion of quite a few steps. First of all is the level of consciousness. For many years, say those working to establish the third temple, religious Zionism and the State of Israel worked to focus Jewish longing on the Western Wall.