Throughout its existence the second temple enjoyed a status which in paradoxical fashion was both substantially higher and substantially lower than that of the first. No longer under the thumb of the monarchs, no longer the target of polemics of the prophets, no longer rivaled seriously by “high places” and other temples, the second temple and its cult gained a centrality and importance that the first temple never achieved…. But the newfound importance of the temple could not hide several difficult problems. ….. The second temple.. although authorized by the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, was built by a gentile king and was never authenticated by an overt sign of divine favor. Second Isaiah, in his prophesy announcing God’s selection of Cyrus the Great to be his “anointed one” to free the Jews from Babylonian captivity and to build the temple, is aware that some Jews do not approve of God’s plan (“Woe to him who strives with his maker, and earthen vessel with the potter! Does the clay say to him who fashions it, ‘What are you making’? Isaiah 45:9). The old men who had seen the first temple in its glory cried at the dedication of the second temple (Ezra 3:12) – apparently tears of sadness, as they contemplated the puny temple that was before them. In the second century B.C.E., the temple’s problematic status was revealed to all. The high priests were corrupted and the temple was profaned by a gentile monarch. …. The Maccabees installed themselves as high priests although they were not of the high priestly line…. Herod the Great rebuilt the temple magnificently, but his detractors viewed him as a “half-Jew,” he completely debased the high priesthood, appointing men who had even less claim than the Maccabees to be legitimate successors of Aaron.
Instead of the polluted temple and the corrupt priests, the sect and its leaders offer the only access to God. Either explicitly or implicitly the sect sees itself and its authority figures as the replacements for the temple and its priests. This self perception is well attested at Qumran and in early Christianity … the major distinction between them being that the Jews of Qumran saw their community as the temporary replacement for the temple… While (some of) the early Christians argued that their community was its permanent replacement (Rev. 21:22). The daily observance of purity laws by laypeople, a practice that characterized Pharisees, Essenes, and various others, was an arrogation of laws originally applied to the temple alone… Sects disappeared after 70 C.E., because the destruction of the temple removed one of the chief focal points of sectarianism.
15Then they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves;16and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple.17He was teaching and saying, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.”18And when the chief priests and the scribes heard it, they kept looking for a way to kill him; for they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching.
Mark 11: 15-18
13 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15 So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” 17 His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”[c]
18 The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”
19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”
20 They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” 21 But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.
23 Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many people saw the signs he was performing and believed in his name.[d] 24 But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. 25 He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person.
John 2: 13-24
“Every generation,” the ancient Rabbis say, “which did not live to see the rebuilding of the Holy Temple must consider itself as if it had witnessed its destruction.” Similarly we say that every age which has not made some essential contribution to the erection of the Temple of Truth … is bound to look upon itself as if it had been instrumental in its demolition. For it is these fresh contributions and the opening of new sources, with the new currents they create, that keep the intellectual and the spiritual atmosphere in motion and impart to it life and vigor. But when, through mental inertia and moral sloth, these fresh sources are allowed to dry, stagnation and decay are sure to set in. The same things happen which came’ to pass when Israel’s sanctuary was consumed in fire.
Solomon Shechter, [Inaugural Address, delivered November 20, 1902, Seminary Addresses and other papers by Solomon Schechter, The Burning Book Press, 1959 p 18]
Recently I met up with a Jewish academic from New York who had relocated to a midsize Jewish community in the South. In New York, he and his family had attended B’nai Jeshurun, the huge, well-known liberal congregation on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. But in his new home, the options were less attractive: He described them as a “lame” Conservative synagogue, a “dead” Reform synagogue and a Modern Orthodox congregation in the suburbs.
Lifelong liberal, egalitarian Jews, my friend and his wife nonetheless chose the Orthodox synagogue. Perhaps surprisingly, she was more comfortable there than he was. Yes, my friend’s wife said, she resented being excluded from participation in ritual, but at least at the Orthodox synagogue, she had access to some meaningful prayer experience. The only thing egalitarian about the more liberal settings was that everyone was equally bored.
Movements vs Denominations
Finally, I steer away from the term “denomination“ except insofar as I am referring to one or another Protestant denomination. Denominationalism emerged in eighteenth-century Protestantism to define the new religious situation in countries like the United States where no single church was numerically dominant or legally established, but all stood as equals before the law and had to learn to coexist. Denominational doctrine repudiated the monolithic notion of one all-embracing “true church" and affirmed instead a more inclusive and pluralistic conception of Christendom, recognizing, in effect, many parallel paths to div ine Truth.9 This concept, we shall see, greatly influenced the course of Judaism in America, but well into the twentieth century Jews resisted the term “denomination" itself. Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist forms of Judaism always referred to themselves as movements, wings, or streams of Judaism, not as separate denominations. Even today, most Jews identify themselves outwardly as “Jews" and are so identified by their neighbors—unlike Protestants, who, if asked, identify themselves denominationally as “Episcopalians,” “Lutherans," “Baptists," and so forth. Moreover, ethnic ties among Jews continue to transcend denominational boundaries, and many of the most powerful Jewish communal institutions, from Jewish community centers to Jewish philanthropies, eschew denominational identifications altogether. To be sure, the American Jewish Year Book has, in recent years, adopted the term “denomination” in discussing the different religious movements, and the term has also become normative in contemporary Jewish religious discourse.
But “denomination’' does not carry precisely the same meaning for Judaism as it does for Protestantism, and applied to nineteenth- or early twentieth- century Judaism it is clearly anachronistic. The newfound popularity of the term tells us more about divisions in American Jewish life today than about relations among America's Jewish religious movements in the past.
The Conservative Movement should look to both the Reform and Orthodox Movement’s responses to avert demographic collapse. The Reform Movement abandoned a fixed theology resulting in a plethora of valid expressions of one’s faith. The Orthodox Movement’s unexpected revival over the past several decades is the result of its willingness to include more diversity under the umbrella of orthodoxy including roles for women (while adhering to basic halachic standards) and to an emphasis on day school education. …
American Jewry needs the Conservative Movement to reinvent itself as a broad-spectrum association based on practice, not theology that encourages its members to reach achievable goals. Through these efforts, Conservative Jews will pioneer and illuminate the vastness of terrain between Reform and Orthodoxy.
Conservative Judaism can become the first “post-denominational” movement for Jews who feel disaffected from the way the traditional Movements are structured.
Getting Our Groove Back: How to Energize American Jewry by Scott A. Shay, 2006 Devora Publishing
The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism recently announced a face lift. It will lower synagogue dues and rather then run its own programs targeted to individual Jews, it will focus on supporting its member synagogues (you don’t say!) The report, a year in the making, also “suggests dropping the words “synagogue” and “congregation” and replacing it with the word “kehilla”. This is clearly a nod to the growth of the independent minyan and the publication of the influential Empowered Judaism: What Independent Minyanim Can Teach Us about Building Vibrant Jewish Communities, by Elie Kaunfer, Jewish Lights, 2010. This type of semantical rather than material change is, in my opinion, characteristic of what Conservative leaders have been doing for the last 20 years… pathetically trying to define and redefine themselves rather than get on with the business of change.
United Synagogue Turns Inward, Jewish Week. February 8th 2011]