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Where's the compromise over the Temple Mount?

reprinted from The Jerusalem Post
Oct. 31, 2009

by David Kirshenbaum

In seeking to present a modus vivendi for the Temple Mount that "mainstream" Israelis can support, The Jerusalem Post's editorial, "The 'Third Templars'" (October 27, 2009) falls surprisingly short in fairness and substance.

The characterization of those who seek to change the status quo on the Temple Mount as "post-Zionists," "messianic followers" of the Lubavitcher Rebbe and "Third Templars" is false. A number of synagogues in my hometown of Beit Shemesh schedule regular visits to the Temple Mount. The vast majority of the members of those synagogues are immigrants from Western countries. We yearn to pray on the Temple Mount and not be muzzled and followed every step of the way by the religious bigots of the Wakf.

Far from being post-Zionists, we made aliya by choice, and as our children have grown, we watched with pride and knots in our stomachs over the years as they joined their fighting units in and around Gaza and Lebanon.

Wild-eyed messianics? Cultists? After we come down from our visits to the Temple Mount, we can be found at our day jobs as doctors in this country's hospitals, university professors, educators at prominent religious institutions, participants in the country's thriving hi-tech industry and lawyers at the most prominent law firms and financial institutions. Our rabbi, who has led many of our visits, is a former tanker in the IDF and was one of the subjects of a Jerusalem Post article last year about an interfaith legal studies program.

SIMILARLY, EVEN the most cursory good faith check would expose the speciousness of the "post-Zionist" and "messianic" labels the Post uses to deride the many rabbinical figures who are advocating that Jews be allowed to pray on the Temple Mount. This, for example, is how Haaretz described the Temple Mount conference in its October 26 issue. "Top religious Zionist leaders came together Sunday at a rightist conference advocating Jewish ascent to the Temple Mount. It's hard to remember when was the last time Israel saw such a unity between its religious Zionist leaders. Political rivals such as MKs Uri Orbach and Michael Ben-Ari sat side by side on the center stage. Moderate rabbis 'respectful of the government' like Rabbi Yuval Cherlow and Rabbi Ya'acov Medan came together with 'rebellious haredi nationalists' such as Rabbi Elyakim Levanon and Rabbi Dov Lior."

One of the most widely respected Zionist rabbis in the country, Chief Rabbi of Haifa She'ar Yashuv Cohen, has long championed a change in the status quo on the Temple Mount. Cohen, who has chief responsibility for the Chief Rabbinate's dialogue with the Vatican and has had tremendous success in working together with the large non-Jewish communities in Haifa, has for many years been trying to gain support among both his rabbinic colleagues and the political echelon for establishing a synagogue on the Temple Mount.

Indeed, "mainstream Israelis," on whose behalf the Post purports to be speaking, would find a much higher comfort level and far more common ground with the rabbis who support Jews entering and praying on the Temple Mount than with those rabbis who favor a ban on Jewish entry.

In trying to reach what the Post refers to as "the perfect compromise" on this very weighty issue, it's important to understand the respective Jewish and Arab positions. The two holiest places in Islam are Mecca and Medina, both in Saudi Arabia. Not only are non-Muslims forbidden entry into the Ka'ba in Mecca, Islam's holiest spot, Islam forbids any non-Muslim from stepping foot anywhere in Mecca or Medina.

Following Muhammad's death, Muslim religious figures began teaching that Jerusalem was also holy to Islam. Notwithstanding that Jerusalem is never mentioned in the Koran and is 1,200 kilometers from Mecca, Jerusalem was asserted to be Islam's third most holy site. By contrast, Judaism does not seek control of or ascribe holiness particular to the Jewish religion to any place outside of Israel. The Temple Mount in Jerusalem is the place most holy to the Jews, with Jerusalem cited in the Bible 669 times.

Judaism has no designs on Mecca or Medina and does not wish to deny religious rights to Muslims in those or any other city. Indeed, none of those attending this week's Temple Mount conference seek to deny Muslims the right to pray at their third holiest place - the Aksa Mosque. Rather, they are simply asking that Jews be allowed to pray on their holiest of sites. The Muslims vehemently deny any Jewish rights to the Temple Mount - in their eyes the First and Second Temples never existed - and militantly pursue exclusive rights of religious worship there.

IT IS surely curious then that the Post finds that Jews who wish to open their mouths in prayer on the Temple Mount are the "extremists" and that the Jews, not the Muslims who deny basic historical facts and exhibit not even a thread of tolerance, are said to be "high on a toxic potion." Even when a religious Jew simply pauses on the Temple Mount for the "silent meditation and inspiration" that the Post editorial suggests should be more than enough for the Jews, this is often too much for the Wakf thought police.

So while no non-Muslim can step foot anywhere in Islam's holy cities, Muslims can gather on the Temple Mount by the hundreds of thousands and they can play soccer and have picnics on Judaism's holiest site. And the Jews? After being thoroughly checked for any religious contraband and warned not to recite any prayers, they can silently and quickly walk through the Mount in very small groups.

Surely, this cannot honestly be deemed the Post's "perfect compromise." The confluence between a policy of appeasement and overly stringent rulings by certain influential rabbinic authorities has led to the situation where we are in danger of losing the Temple Mount. Ask an average Israeli of whatever age - religious or not - what the holiest place in Judaism is and they're likely to say the Western Wall. One will probably get the same answer from most foreign correspondents operating here. This type of ignorance has led to suicidal "peace" proposals, such as Barak's Camp David offer in 2000 and the still heavily pushed Geneva Plan, where the Jews will get the Western Wall and the Arabs the Temple Mount.

Even if one is motivated purely by realpolitik, which when you cut through the veneer of the smirches is what seems to really be at the heart of the Post's editorial, it would be fool hardy to think that Jews could live safely in any part of Jerusalem if it did not maintain exclusive control of the Temple Mount.

Is it too much to ask that the country's laws be protected and enforced and that we not become a society where Arab threats of force and violence become an easy excuse to deny Jews fundamental rights on its holiest spot on earth?

The writer is an attorney in Israel and New York.

 

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