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Holy Temple Hakhel Ceremonies Look Backward and Forward

The Shemittah year has ended, making way - in accordance with Biblical tradition - for Hakhel, which will be remembered and reenacted over Sukkot.
By Hillel Fendel
First Publish: 10/12/2008, 2:03 PM

The Sabbatical (Shemittah) year has ended, making way - in accordance with Biblical law and tradition - for Hakhel, a ceremony that will be remembered and reenacted over Sukkot.

The word Hakhel (pronounced Hock-hel) literally means "Gather the people together," and is a Biblical commandment (Deut. 31, 10-12) for the entire nation to gather in Jerusalem for the purpose of hearing parts of the Torah read aloud in an awe-inspiring ceremony. Hakhel must take place during the Sukkot holiday following the Shemittah year, in the courtyards of the Holy Temple.

Because this a Temple-related commandment, it is not binding as long as the Temple has not been rebuilt. The Jerusalem-based Temple Institute, however, in conjunction with the Jewish Quarter Reconstruction and Development Company, plans a reenactment of the dramatic ceremony, in a park in the Old City.

The ceremony will take place on Wednesday, October 15th, the first day (in Israel) of the holiday's Intermediate Days, in the Tekumah Park, below the Jewish Quarter's well-known parking lot.
One ceremony is "in memory of the Hakhel ceremony," while the other, more forward-looking in its terminology, is a "Reenactment of Hakhel, in anticipation of its restoration."

Reading from the Torah, in place of the King of Israel, will include leading rabbis Shlomo Riskin, Nachman Kahane, Eliezer Waldman, Yisrael Ariel, Yuval Cherlow and others.

In addition, silver trumpets provided by the Temple Institute will be sounded, Temple clothing will be worn, and Torah-based music will be performed. A short film describing the Simchat Beit HaShoevah water pouring festival - a mainstay of the Sukkot ceremonies in the Holy Temple - will be screened.

The centerpiece of the ceremony will be the unveiling of the just-completed kiyor nechoshet - brass laver, produced by the Temple Institute. Other recent initiatives of the Temple Intitute, such as the High Priest's golden crown (tzitz), priestly garments, and a Harp of David, will be on public display.

The ceremony will be preceded by two large-scale ascents to the Temple Mount, at 7:30 AM and 12:30 PM. The Hakhel reenactment will take place at 4:30 PM, and will be open to the public.

In Memory of Hakhel
The next day, on Thursday at 3:30 PM at the Western Wall plaza, another Hakhel-related ceremony will be held, involving the introduction of a new Torah Scroll to the Western Wall praying area. Sponsored by the Chief Rabbinate, government offices, and the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, it will feature the presence of former and current Chief Rabbis, but will be less Temple-oriented in nature.

The latter ceremony will not involve trumpets or priestly garments, and its official title says it is "in memory of the Hakhel ceremony." The Temple Institute, on the other hand, is more forward-looking in its terminology, calling its event a "Reenactment of Hakhel, in anticipation of its restoration."