As a general rule, Judaism rejects physical manifestations of spirituality, preferring instead to focus on actions and beliefs. Indeed, the story of Judaism begins with Abraham who, according to ancient sources, shattered the idols that were the conventional method of religious observance at the time. Worship of graven images is harshly condemned throughout the Torah, and perhaps the greatest sin the Israelites collectively committed was the construction of the Golden Calf (in Ex. 32), intended to serve as a physical intermediary between them and God. Today, Jews do not venerate any holy relics or man-made symbols.
But in the history of the Jewish people, there was one exception to this rule. One man-made object was considered intrinsically holy – the Ark of the Covenant.
Constructed during the Israelites’ wanderings in the desert and used until the destruction of the First Temple, the Ark was the most important symbol of the Jewish faith, and served as the only physical manifestation of God on earth. The legends associated with this object – and the harsh penalties ascribed for anyone who misuses it – confirm the Ark’s centrality to the Jewish faith of that period; the fact that Jews and non-Jews alike continue to study and imitate it confirms its centrality even today.
How far back?
2020 | Present