Pilgrimages and the Jewish Community 

Reaffirming Commitment

The pilgrimage festivals allowed the Jewish community a chance to reaffirm their devotion to the covenant with God, enhance the nation’s awareness of itself as a religious community, and keep Jerusalem and the Temple site sacred. These occurrences unite people. Some academics think Jerusalem’s “business” community at the time of the Bible supported the obligation to go to Jerusalem and stay there for the whole holiday, which benefited from the regular flow of pilgrims looking for food, accommodation, and animals to sacrifice.

In the Hellenistic and Roman periods, pilgrimage festivals were a major social and religious institution. They transported ancient Mediterranean Jews to Jerusalem. Tens of thousands of Jews made pilgrimages annually. This included raising animals for sacrifices, a lively animal market, a complicated banking system, and hundreds of inns and taverns to lodge pilgrims.

Historical Pilgrimages

King Herod the Great, the Roman-appointed ruler of Judea, erected a vast plaza around the Temple to accommodate travelers. This increased the Temple’s space, allowing thousands more pilgrims to attend religious activities. The Harem esh-Sharif in Jerusalem is built on Herodian Temple ruins. The Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa mosque are here. The Western Wall, sometimes called the “Wailing Wall,” supports the Herodian Temple’s courtyard. An historical rabbinic remembrance of the Temple’s heyday tells that even when hundreds of thousands of pilgrims crowded into the courtyard, no one complained about the crush.

The Romans demolished the Second Temple after the Great Jewish Revolt in 70 C.E. The pilgrimage festivals continued, although largely in synagogues. Since 2,000 years ago, pilgrimages to the Temple in Jerusalem halted, although these holidays are still dubbed “pilgrimage festivals” Historical and agricultural themes have replaced animal sacrifices in Diaspora festivities. Many Israelis make a pilgrimage to the Western Wall, all that’s left of the Temple and one of Judaism’s holiest sites. They do this because they believe it honors our Temple-era forebears.

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