Insights into the Jerusalem Temple and the Sabbath with Rabbi Rossel


February 18, 2019

JerusalemWIH Reporter: Rabbi Rossel, we are really happy that you are making it to WIH for these two, one-day classes. You have one that is on Wednesday, April 3 about “The Jerusalem Temple: In the Time of Jesus” and then another class on Wednesday, May 15 about “From Saturday to Sunday: How the Sabbath Jumped from Day 7 to Day 1.” Both of these classes sound really intriguing! How do both of these topics merge the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament? Or is this even relevant?

Rabbi Rossel: Let’s take the Temple first. The Second Temple is the closing scene in the Hebrew Bible. It is just being built as prophecy comes to an end. It’s altogether different when we look at the New Testament. In this remarkable collection of books and letters, the Second Temple is one of two principal landscapes. Ironically, it is the last landscape for the story of Jesus. And, still, many years would pass before Christianity and Judaism would go their separate ways. For a long and complex moment in history, what would become what we today recognize as Judaism and what would become what we today recognize as Christianity were like Siamese twins intricately involved in dissecting themselves from one another. What held them together and what was most difficult to leave behind was what to believe about the future of the Temple! If that sounds mysterious, you need to attend our session on April 3.

The story of the jumping Sabbath—why the vast majority of Christians celebrate Sabbath on Sunday while Jews continue to celebrate on Saturday—really has little or nothing to do with either the Hebrew Bible or the New Testament. What we need to examine in our session on May 15 is the capacity of calendars to shape our lives. After all, making and breaking calendars has been the prerogative of power since the human conception of time was invented. But the competing and cooperating calendars of Judaism and Christianity are fascinating to contemplate.

WIH Reporter: What is something that you could tell us about each of these courses that would surprise us to know?

Rabbi Rossel: I try to keep my best surprises for the actual sessions, but here’s an appetizer from each feast:

The part played by the Second Temple in both religions would not have been possible without the unwitting help of Rome and the Roman legions. Years before Jesus was born, if Rome had not stepped in, the Temple would probably have died a quiet death caused by its own corruption. Rome’s part in saving Judaism also created the necessary conditions for the beginnings of Christianity.

The calendar adopted Christianity and not vice versa. When Christianity became the national religion of the Roman Empire, its earlier calendar gave way to the Julian Calendar (instituted by Julius Caesar in 46 BCE). According to that calendar, January 1 was the first day of the year. Slowly, though, European countries adopted days with greater religious significance. December 25 as Jesus’ reputed birthday and March 25 as the Feast of the Annunciation were popular. In fact, March 25, also called Lady Day because it celebrates the Virgin Mary, was the first day of the year in Britain until January 1, 1752!

WIH Reporter: As you like to say, “Nothing changes as fast as ancient history.” Will these classes be examples of this?

Rabbi Rossel: I try to keep up with my field—which would be simpler if my field was not quite so broad. As it is, there is always something new being unearthed, always a scholar making new inroads and having new insights into what the past means. By the time new knowledge is solidified in Wikipedia or the Encyclopaedia Britannica or any other authoritative publication, it’s already dated. In the past, getting new and reliable scholarship to people who are interested and who have an open mind used to take ten or fifteen years. Today, it takes almost no time. The problem is sifting through all that is available for what is actually authoritative. That’s the last reason that a popularizing scholar like me is relevant. My plan is to keep on being relevant as long as God is willing. And I hope y’all will enjoy the effort just as much as I do.

WIH Reporter: What is it that you hope students will learn?

Rabbi Rossel: I had the privilege of studying with Dr. Joseph Campbell and came away from that association with a deep belief in the power of what we believe to shape how we live (as he put it, the power of “the myths we live by”). Whatever I teach is always to explain why we shape our lives the way we do in our time and just how much our lives are influenced by beliefs imbued in us by parents, family, friends, religions, societies, and the broad history of humanity. You might say that I am very ambitious … I want to bring us all a broader view of what we share and why we share it.

What excites me most about teaching at WIH is the wonderful admixture of thoughtful people from all kinds of backgrounds and all kinds of beliefs sharing thoughtful moments together. It enriches me and broadens my thinking, just as I hope that it does the same for everyone in attendance. It makes those shared moments precious.

“The Jerusalem Temple: In the Time of Jesus” meets on Wednesday, April 3 at 1:00. Register today.

“From Saturday to Sunday: How the Sabbath Jumped from Day 7 to Day 1″ meets on Wednesday, May 15 at 1:00. Learn more.