The first time a Jewish craftsman came to Utah in 1997 with pictures of an ancient temple he had re-created, the local leaders of the orthodox Chabad Lubavitch congregation expected a few dozen people to show up.
Instead, more than 300 people packed the tiny Bais Menachem synagogue to listen as Catriel Sugarman transported them back in time, through slides and narration, to The Temple — the one location in ancient Jerusalem to which modern Jews still tie their traditions and faith.
Many Christians — and Latter-day Saints in particular — Sugarman said, are equally curious about the details of the Second Temple, which he created in miniature five years ago after 18 months of research. "Jesus was a constant visitor there, as well as his disciples." Sugarman's presentation takes participants on a virtual tour through the temple and discusses many of its rituals.
Students of the Bible remember the verse in Luke about the priest offering incense in the temple, but how did he do that and what was the incense for? When Jesus told the healed leper to show himself to the priest, why was that necessary and what transpired from there? "I don't think one Christian in a thousand knows that." Yet the answers have everything to do with the ritual worship that underlies much of what happened during Christ's ministry, Sugarman said.
A craftsman-turned-researcher, Sugarman said he has given up the hands-on craftsmanship of rare Jewish objects that once occupied his time, even though his workmanship spurred a wealthy Jewish enthusiast to commission Sugarman's creation of a scale model of the ancient temple. After researching the details to craft the piece — which was 125th the size of the actual building — Sugarman found the research so compelling, he left working with his hands to labor with his head, plying every document he could find for clues to information that has been scattered through the ages.
He's now writing a book that pulls all the pieces together, he said, and feels compelled to do so, much like Jewish groups in Israel who are trying to prepare copies of the original vessels or priestly garments used in temple rituals. He has no political agenda, he says, but believes he has the "common man" approach necessary to write a book about the temple to which ordinary people can relate. Though he shuns the term "New Age" ("I'm anything but that"), he sees his presentations as a way to "raise temple consciousness" among Jews and Christians, whose holy books constantly reference the building and its rituals.
"You look at Jewish sources, from the Torah to the Mishnah to the Talmud, as well as the Bible, and 40 percent of the space in these books has to do one way or another with the temple . . . that has to tell you something." Sacrifices, purity laws, holiday celebrations and even the dimensions and details of Solomon's Temple are included in the texts, making the temple a vital part of both Judaism and Christianity.
Sugarman's visit to Salt Lake City next week is his second in as many years to the Beehive State. Brigham Young University brought him to Provo last year for a temple lecture.
Much of his time in Israel is spent speaking to students at schools and synagogues, where he has become something of a curiosity for those who heard about his temple-building project when it was still under way.
"People would come from all over Israel into the workshop; they came back over and over to see the progress. It got to the point where schools were calling to come and bring the kids down — how can you say no?"
Once construction of the temple was completed, Sugarman admits he held onto it for five months before handing it over to the owner, who houses it privately in Israel. "People just kept coming, and we were running a museum." So great was the interest that he decided to take the temple on the road, using the pictures he took to document every stage of the construction as a way to share the details.
Moshe Perkins, director of development for Bais Menachem, said he's impressed with Sugarman's work because it incorporates information from biblical texts that were written in Greek or Hebrew but aren't fully explained in the subsequent English translations. Latter-day Saints in particular "have a deep respect for the Old Testament" and are often curious to find out more about anything that relates to it, he said, noting most of those who packed the synagogue during Sugarman's first visit there were LDS.