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I'm going to be extra careful with this question, because I think that it would be easy to say something the wrong way and cause serious offense. If I do cause offense, I apologize in advance, and I assure you that I didn't intend it. My ignorance is the problem, not my intentions.

  1. I have been led to believe that during the Second Temple period, Jews believed that G-d literally lived in the Temple, specifically in the Holy of Holies. Of course, He also lived everywhere else, but I was taught that the idea was that G-d was sort of "most present" in the Holy of Holies.

  2. I'm a bit puzzled by the idea that G-d, who is usually described as being omnipresent, has a specific "home". The only way I can make sense of this is to assume that the presence of G-d basically "entered" the physical world at the Holy of Holies, and perhaps radiated outwards from there into the rest of the world.

  3. I would have to assume that the Temple's destruction didn't affect G-d's presence in the world (His presence is too powerful to be altered by the actions of mere mortals), but I would also assume that the relationship between G-d and the Temple has changed as a result of the destruction, and as a result, the understanding of that relationship has also changed.

  4. What else should I know about the relationship of G-d to the Temple, in terms of G-d living in the Holy of Holies? I'm specifically interested in how Jews in the Second Temple period understood this issue.

Note: I don't know how to read Hebrew, and most of the tags are written in Hebrew, so I would appreciate any help I can get with applying the correct tags on this question.

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    Interesting you say specifically the Second Temple. Most of the time we assume, whatever happened in the Second Temple, even more so in the First. Granted, this may express a theological hope rather than exact history, but if the Shechinah was present ("Enthroned on the Cherubim") in the Second Temple, most Jews would assume that it was true even more so in the First (with the original ark, the tablets, the unbroken succession from the Mishkan in the desert and at Shiloh, etc). – Mike Aug 17 '15 at 1:50
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    @Mike I think I asked the question the way I did because I am more familiar with the Second Temple. Much of my knowledge of Judaism came in the context of learning about early Christianity. I'm much more familiar with the Second Temple than the First. I would think that the records for the Second Temple are more complete than the First, since it happened much more recently. And one thing I have learned while studying early Christianity is that views and beliefs change over time, regardless of what religion you belong to. – Wad Cheber Aug 17 '15 at 2:10
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    One more fun thought to entertain: consider the sacrificial rituals described in Exodus 29 and elsewhere. One may think that not only God has to eat real food, but he is also rather picky with it and follows a strict diet. :-) – oakad Aug 17 '15 at 6:05
  • The Tabernacle and (later) both Temples were referred to as the dwelling place of the Omnipresent (e.g. II Samuel 7:5-7), but this was meant in an anthropomorphic sense, as indicated (for one example) by the rhetorical usage in Isaiah 66:1. See also Exodus 25:8, where "that I may dwell among them" (as opposed to "that I may dwell in it") can be interpreted likewise. – Fred Aug 17 '15 at 7:36
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I have also thought about the same question and have come up with what seems most logical to me. I too think that talking about "God living" in the Beit HaMikdash causes many unnecessary misconceptions, So I think a better way of explaining it is like this:

The Temple was not a house but rather a meeting place, like an office where the "CEO sitting on the other side of the desk is God." Thus God's presence was strongest here and this was the optimal place to interface with and serve God. This is why the destruction of the "meeting place" was so devastating and its absence is mourned until today. It is not that God's presence has been diminished, but rather that we have lost the physical location that we could go to and talk to God directly.

I think that this is supported by the name that God gives the inner tent of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, which was mirrored in the more permanent Temples by the building that contained the Holy and Holy of Holies. The name was אהל מועד, which translated directly means "the tent of appointed times". (Another use of this word is the term given to the 3 annual holidays, Passover, Sukkoth and Shavout, called מועדים- the "ים" suffix pluralizing the same word "מועד",- appointed times", i.e. holidays.) This tent housed the Holy of Holies, which though the center of both Batei HaMikdash and the Mishkan, had very little to do with the daily service. Only two types of people were ever given permission to go into it.

  1. Moses- who was given permission to enter at any time to ask God for guidance in developing the new nation, and:
  2. The Kohen Gadol, the High Priest, only on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, to do a very specific set of tasks to try and achieve atonement for the Jewish people. (With the exception of entering to ask for advice related to going out to war, which was done in conjunction with a Jewish king.)

In both these cases, the very specific times were set up as a meeting with God and a representative of the Jewish people, either Moses, to learn and then to teach, or the Kohen Gadol, to beg for mercy on the Day of Atonement or to seek very specific advice. This super- exclusive meeting place radiated outwards to the rest of the Temple, in which the average person could go to and feel a close connection to God.

If you would like to find all references to use of אהל מועד, go here and paste in "אהל מועד". The responses will be the hebrew text, but you should be able to find english translations somewhere on the internet. A good, translated Tanakh is here.

(This is my first ever answer on this site, so I hope I did a good job. If you have any further questions, feel free to ask. In addition, these are just my own thoughts, and I'm sure that you could find many commentators who say the same thing, but this is why I do not have any sources for the answer itself.)


UPDATE: POST SLICHOT

I was at slichot tonight and read one of the lines: עשה למען ויעודך. Not knowing the translation, I looked into Artscroll's transmission, in which they write, "Do it for the sake of Your Meeting place. This is a clear reference to the Temple.

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    This is a brilliant answer, and I am particularly amazed that it is your first contribution to the site. Thank you very much for taking the time to answer it. – Wad Cheber Aug 17 '15 at 2:47

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