Monday, February 17, 2020

You may have known that “Solomon’s Stables” was not built by Solomon but by Herod, and that it was never intended to be used as stables, but were you aware that this magnificent structure of pillars and arches, part of the glory of the second Beit Hamikdash complex, now houses the largest mosque in Israel, accommodating up to 10,000 Muslim worshippers?

This revelation, along with many others, was part of a fascinating presentation by Rabbi Avrohom Stolik, billed as the Jewish Indiana Jones. Rabbi Stolik spoke at Chabad of Hackensack, which opened its doors just a few months ago. The presentation, dubbed “Underground Secrets of the Temple Mount,” was a heavily visual event and included a multi-media finale to tie all the findings together.

The evening began with Chabad’s Rabbi Mendy Kaminker leading those attending in the completion of the cycle of the Rambam’s Mishna Torah, an ongoing custom first proposed by the Lubavitcher Rebbe in 1984. Rabbi Kaminker explained that tens of thousands from around the world have been reading either one chapter or three each day, and that night marked the completion for both groups.

Rabbi Stolik then spent over an hour meticulously reviewing both the hidden and revealed elements of the Temple complex, building his case regarding how it likely looked in its heyday, based on archaeological findings, historical records and modern scientific tracing techniques.

He showed film of scientists using laser scanners to uncover the remarkable techniques employed 2000 years ago that allowed the Western Wall, which was a retaining wall, to withstand the test of time. Those scientists learned that the wall had deliberately been built recessed as opposed to vertical, which gave it its strength and stability. It was further reinforced by being dug down to bedrock level.

Rabbi Stolik posed the question: “How were the massive stones used to construct Herod’s retaining wall lifted?” He explained that nowhere else in the world have stones that heavy been used in construction. The largest ones in the Pyramids weigh three to five tons. Those used for Herod’s wall range between 10 and 50 tons! The secret, he revealed, was that they weren’t lifted at all. They originated from any of a half dozen quarries in the area that were all at a higher elevation. Simply put, they were chiseled and carted down to the site. After each stone was placed, tons of earth was used to cover and solidify it, with another stone then rolled in to create the next higher layer. Even more amazing, when scientists scanned the wall, which was just over 1600 feet in length, or longer than five football fields, they discovered that the difference in its height from one side to the other was a mere half inch—this for a structure built without any equipment!

Relying on photographs, Rabbi Stolik demonstrated that the wall’s current layers had multiple origins. The bottom seven were Herodean, with the next four of Arabic origin and the remainder Turkish, constructed during the Ottoman Empire. In all, there are 29 exposed layers of stone, with an additional 17 Herodean layers below the current prayer plaza. The length of the wall has been untouched by time, but most of it is hidden by Muslim homes.

Rabbi Stolik shared a photograph of a pile of huge stones facing south in the complex. Buried beneath the ground until they were uncovered after the 1967 war, the stones were identified as having been part of an upper wall toppled by the Romans. It was decided to keep them in place rather than cart them off, as a reminder of what took place. One stone was ascertained to have come from the highest point in the complex. It still had most of an inscription intact, “To the place of the trumpeting…” Evidence revealed that a trumpeter had stood beside it to alert people when Shabbat was approaching.

After discussing Robinson’s Arch and other well-known gates, Rabbi Stolik discussed the common southern entrances used by temple visitors, particularly the Double Gate. There was a magnificent tunnel and staircase that led to the Temple Mount. At a certain point an inscription warned that gentiles could go no further. Found during the Ottoman Empire, it is currently housed in a Turkish Museum.

Yet another impressive structure was known as the Royal Stoa, constructed by Herod as a center for public and commercial activity. Artifacts from excavations have confirmed the accounts of it recorded by the historian Josephus. So magnificent was the overall complex that it is written in the Talmud: “If you have not seen the Temple that Herod built, you have not seen the most beautiful structure in the world.” At its peak, Josephus chronicled that a million Jewish pilgrims visited the Temple during the Passover festival.

As Rabbi Stolik closed with a virtual tour of the second Temple, a rendering based on the accumulated evidence discussed in his presentation, his hope for the audience was that “these days will no longer be days of mourning but transformed into days of joy.”

Robert Isler is a freelance writer. He can be reached at [email protected]