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December 22, 2014 | 30th Kislev 5775

Temple of the Lord!

January 28, 2001
Marc Rosenstein

The current debate over the Temple Mount is making me very uncomfortable, as it forces me to ask myself questions I can’t answer.

It seems that the more the control of the Temple Mount is asserted as an absolute value, the more I find myself alienated from the place and any feeling of holiness there. There was a time when I thrilled to the sight of the Western Wall. There was something magical, or mystical about it; it somehow symbolized the whole pageant of Jewish history, standing there in its massiveness. I would get goose bumps from the line in the popular song about the Wall by Naomi Shemer: "there are people with hearts of stone; there are stones with human hearts..." But then, over the years, I began to be alienated by the cult of the Wall. I began to wonder how stones can be holy. I found myself, when visiting the Wall, looking at it and knowing that I should be feeling something, but feeling nothing at all. I was turned off by the orthodox control of the Wall, and wondered why it was so important to fight with them for our right to pray there in our own (e.g., Reform, or Conservative, egalitarian) way -- do we, of all people, really believe that our prayers will be more effective there than elsewhere? And then, I found that Naomi Shemer’s line upset me: if we really believe that there are stones with human hearts, aren’t we really on a slippery slope to dehumanization and idolatry? How much human bloodshed is the sovereignty over these stones worth? Didn’t the prophets rail against the belief that by owning the Temple we owned God (see Jeremiah chapter 7)? If the site is holy, it was holy when ruled by others, and will continue so forever regardless of the political situation in the area.

The strident debate over the Temple Mount and Jerusalem at large (or the West Bank, for that matter) perpetuates a confusion that makes rational discussion very difficult in the Israeli political scene today. There are two different lines of argument supporting the "hawkish" position:

  1. The Arabs cannot be trusted, they are not ripe for peace, they have not relinquished their determination to drive us out. It is foolish to think that they will stick to a treaty, or that their government would be stable enough to count on its agreement. Therefore, compromise is suicide, and we will just have to be strong and wait for them to show readiness for peace.

  2. The biblical distribution of the land of Israel is divinely ordained. We are living in messianic times, when the process of restoration of the Davidic kingdom is underway. We must not derail this process. It is a violation of God’s plan for us to compromise on our sovereignty over this holy land, which He has caused to return to our control.

The first is rational, and is open to debate, to evidence, to analysis, to modification. The second is based on religious faith and is above analysis or compromise. Unfortunately, it is often difficult to know just which of these arguments stands behind the positions of members of the right side of the spectrum. Sometimes I fear that (a) is being used as a cover for (b). I believe that the rational right position is respectable, serious, and may be correct. I believe that the messianic right position is a dangerous flirtation with the false messianism that has led us to catastrophe in the past. And from observing the discourse here, I understand why in the past such movements became so powerful and led to such bitter and even violent division within our people.

I think my alienation from and fear of the messianic-romantic-nationalistic thread in Zionism has cast a pall on my ability to enjoy certain patriotic moments and symbols, like Naomi Shemer songs, the Wall, and military ceremonies. That’s sad, but maybe it’s healthy.


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