Whose Jerusalem ?
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Jewish Connection to the Temple Mount
February, 28 2001
- The recent religious ruling (fatwa) of the mufti of Jerusalem, totally denying that the Western Wall has any connection to Judaism, is another attempt by Arab leaders, religious and political, to rewrite history and erase the memory of the Temple Mount from world consciousness.
We all remember Yasser Arafat's denial of the existence of the Temple on that site. This is not the only example of Arafat's habit of ignoring inconvenient facts. The general treatment of the Temple Mount - including turning the so-called Solomon's Stables into a mosque - is an attempt to hide the evidence of a Jewish presence, and to establish an exclusive Moslem face for the Mount.
This fatwa now establishes that according to Moslem religious law, Jews have no connection to or rights even to the Wall - the supporting wall created by Herod for the Temple platform.
These farfetched assertions fly in the face of everything that is known and accepted by all archaeologists, scholars and historians - except those in the Arab world.
Why was the Dome of the Rock erected where it is if the Temple was not found there? The "Rock" over which it is built, and which it is meant to enshrine, is the same rock which was the site of the Holy of Holies. It was the rock which, according to Jewish tradition, was the "foundation stone" of the universe. It was the rock upon which Isaac was bound or, according to Moslem tradition, Ishmael was bound.
A document found in the Cairo Geniza describes the way in which Umar I brought a group of Jews to the site of the Temple in order to clean it. The Jewish elders were asked to identify the stone known as the Foundation Stone. When it was found and identified, Umar ordered "a sanctuary to be built and a dome to be erected over the stone and overlaid with gold." As a reward, Umar permitted the Jews to return to Jerusalem and establish the Jewish Quarter.
If the Temple of the Jews was not there, the Dome of the Rock would not be there either.
It is unfortunate that the conflict over sovereignty has become a religious conflict, but it was probably unavoidable. The problem is that both Christianity and Islam see themselves not as sisters or daughters of Judaism but as successors to it, and succession implies the illegitimacy of the previous religion.
Christianity sees itself as the complete fulfillment of Judaism, and its "New Covenant" as supplanting the "Old Covenant." Yet somehow in recent times the Catholic Church has found a way to accommodate an attitude of respect to Judaism and justify its continuation without doing away with its own claims.
Unfortunately the same thing has yet to happen in the Moslem world. Nevertheless the history of Islam demonstrates that there were times when Jews were tolerated and treated with respect in Islamic states. Their status as "the People of the Book" gave them special rights, even though they were always to be kept subservient to those who held "the true belief" - Islam. A modus vivendi can and must be found, but it is unlikely to happen so long as the political struggle continues.
In the meantime, what attitude should we take? It seems to me that the very first thing we must do is stand up for the truth. The role of the Temple Mount and of the Western Wall in Jewish history must be reasserted. We need not deny the importance of these places to Islam, but we must put it in proper perspective. From the time of David on, the Temple Mount has been Judaism's most sacred - perhaps only sacred - site, connected with the very beginnings of our people through the story of the binding of Isaac.
We must reassert our stand that these sites holy to Judaism do not belong to Islam, but that we have a historic claim to them. At the same time, we need not take steps to change the status quo. The existence of the Dome of the Rock and of the mosque on the Mount are facts and there is no reason for us to attempt to change these facts.
All talk of immediate restoration of the Temple by human hands and all actions taken toward that goal are harmful and unnecessary.
Extremists within our own people would do well to heed the advice of Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai during the Roman period following the destruction of the Temple who taught, "If youngsters tell you, 'Let us go and build the Temple,' do not listen to them. If the elders tell you, 'Let us go and destroy the Temple,' listen to them, for the building of youngsters is destruction and the destruction of elders is building" (Avot DeRabbi Natan 31b). A recognition of that which exists is a sign of wisdom. A wise person takes into account the consequences of one's actions and acts responsibly.
As we act responsibly and with respect toward Islam, we must demand that the religious leaders of Islam act likewise toward Judaism, and uphold the sanctity of our holy places. It cannot be a one way street.
(The writer, a lecturer and author living in Jerusalem, is the author of The Jerusalem Anthology.)
©2001 - Jerusalem Post
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