Rabbi Chaim RichmanRabbi Chaim Richman is the Director of the International Department of The Temple Institute in Jerusalem.
This Tuesday, March 16th, is Rosh Chodesh, the first day of the Hebrew month of Nisan. This day marks the day of the dedication of the desert Tabernacle and, according to Jewish tradition, the first day in which the Shechina (the Divine Presence) rested in this world. It was the first day in history of a functioning Temple service and thus it was chosen as the first annual International Temple Mount Awareness Day.
Why a “ Temple Mount Awareness Day,” and why now? Because the situation vis a vis the rights of all non-Moslems at the Temple Mount has deteriorated beyond what any healthy society can tolerate—especially one that prides itself in guaranteeing the religious freedoms of all its citizens.
There are indications that a total disengagement of Jews from the Temple Mount , psychologically and physically, is in preparation. This despite numerous high and lower court decisions recently handed down that uphold the rights of Jews to pray on the Temple Mount . In fact in a recent decision, the judges ruled that not only must Jews be allowed to visit without the discriminatory practices that currently govern over their visits, but that the police must come up with some sort of arrangement that will enable public, collective Jewish prayer.
However despite these decisions the Wakf, with police support, continue to contravene all human rights and religious freedom for all non-Moslems at the Mount. Each week, more draconian measures are enacted against Jews visiting the site. Jews are now told that they may not move their lips or close their eyes; they must not stand still in one place; they are forbidden to bow down—and they must not cry. They have also recently been prohibited from taking photographs. This, in addition to discriminatory and degrading identification procedures, Wakf and police escorts, forced waiting, limitation of group size, and more.
This day was intended as an opportunity to educate and remind the Jewish people why the Temple Mount is important. One activity planned for this day was a visit in accordance with Jewish law to the permitted areas of the
Gentiles arriving at the Temple Mount , are shocked and incredulous to learn that before ascending the Mount, they are searched not just for weapons, but for a Bible.
Temple Mount .
Unfortunately several generations of Israelis as well as Jews all over the world, have grown up since the 1967 Six Day War, with a total disconnect from the Temple Mount . For the majority of Jews, the road to the Temple Mount ends at the Western Wall. And spiritual-seeking Gentiles as well, arriving at the Temple Mount , are shocked, offended and incredulous to learn that before ascending the Mount, they are searched not just for weapons, but for a Bible. They are even more outraged to be told that no non-Moslem prayer may be uttered at the very site which is synonymous for them with G-d’s promised blessings for all mankind.
It is precisely the Moslem stranglehold over our holiest site, and this lack of religious freedom and guaranteed, basic human right of prayer, that International Temple Mount Awareness Day was meant to call attention to, to highlight, and to protest.
However, it has now been announced that Jerusalem District Police have closed the Temple Mount to visitors for the next three days due to fears of Moslem riots. According to police, there are two reasons for the closure. Firstly, intelligence reports indicate that Arabs are planning to riot in response to the dedication of the Hurva synagogue in Jerusalem ’s Old City , which was destroyed by Jordanian shells in Israel ’s 1948 War of Independence— literally moments after an assurance had been given that Jordan would not harm any of the city’s Jewish holy sites.
Apparently, the Arabs are taking quite seriously an obscure Jewish tradition that links the rebuilding of this synagogue with the commencement of rebuilding the Holy Temple .
And secondly: the proclamation by “Jewish extremists” that marks this day as the first annual Temple Mount Awareness Day. "This could lead to uncontrolled confrontations," said Jehad Abu Znaid, a leading member of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas ' Fatah party. This is “a Jewish provocation against Muslims' feelings."
How ironic that in the very place which the prophets of Israel tell us is the secret of world peace, the very place which is to be the “house of prayer for all nations,” care must be taken to insure that there be no religious freedoms— lest Muslim sensitivities are offended and used as an incitement to violence.
The organizers of International Temple Mount Awareness Day have already made their intentions for this day perfectly clear, and they are a matter of public record. This day was never meant to convey any sort of incitement or provocation. As the Temple Institute’s Yitzchak Reuven stated in his editorial on Friday, "all who feel a connection to the place of the Holy Temple (should) join us as we ascend the Mount. The gathering is intended to be one of religious expression and is not political in nature."
Nothing could be more guileless, pure, or innocent than sincere, heartfelt prayer. Nothing could be less threatening than a Jew, on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, eternal capital of the Jewish people and capital of the
Nothing could be more guileless, pure, or innocent than sincere, heartfelt prayer.
democratic, Jewish State of Israel, praying in the spot where his forefathers prayed. Unless, of course, Jewish prayer —or any non-Moslem prayer— is considered a provocation.
Any schoolchild knows that giving into a bully’s demands only leads to more abuse. Yet time and time again, referring to Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount , the Moslems warn that “Al Aksa is in danger; the Jews are storming the Temple Mount ” and they say that “if the Jews come, there will be violence.” The cycle is well-known: The police ban the Jews from visiting rather than the Moslems who are threatening violence. The Muslim genie is out of the bottle, and there’s no way he will go back in.
Police Commissioner Dudi Cohen warned Friday that Israel would “not allow disturbances,” but said it was “important to maintain an open channel of communication with all the parties involved in order to preserve the peace and make it possible for everyone to worship as they wish.”
However, once again the police have demonstrated that blaming the victim is the best and most expedient policy…and that in the equation of making it “possible for everyone to worship as they wish,” religious freedom for Jews in the State of Israel counts for absolutely nothing.
In sociological terms, the concept of “blaming the victim” means to hold the victim of a crime, an accident, or any type of abusive maltreatment to be entirely or partially responsible for what has occurred in their life. When people want to believe that the world has to be fair, and they find it hard or impossible to accept a situation in which a person is unfairly and badly hurt, they develop the idea that somehow, the victim must have surely done 'something' to deserve their fate. This is known as the Just-World Hypothesis.
I humbly put forth a new theory for the sociologists to consider, henceforth to be known as: The Jewish Just-World Hypothesis.
We seem to have developed a prodigal talent for laying the blame squarely on the Jews.
What’s wrong with us? Before a Jewish audience in Tel Aviv, Vice-President Biden criticizes the Israeli government for announcing that homes for Jewish families will be built in Jerusalem …and receives an ovation. Secretary of State Clinton humiliates Netanyahu for his decision— which she said could jeopardize American and Arab League plans for the resumption of peace talks— and our Prime Minister apologizes, and scurries to create a special task force to make sure “this sort of thing doesn’t happen again.”
One of the ironies of the controversy caused by Prime Minister Netanyahu’s inclusion of Hebron in his Heritage Sites plan lies in the name of the city itself. Hebron traces back to a root in both Hebrew and Arabic denoting ‘friend’ or ‘unite.’ The classic Torah commentaries point out that Hebron is named as such because Abraham is the “friend of G-d.” At a time when the world was wallowing in paganism, Abraham was the first Monotheist, and brought the message of One G-d to all humanity. In Islamic teaching as well, G-d chose Abraham as his friend, reflected in his Arabic name Ibrahim al-Khalil.
But like any friendship, being on such intimate terms with the Creator carries not only privileges but obligations. Indeed, the superlative Jewish ethic of tikkun olam – literally, “fixing the world” – denotes our people’s Divinely-mandated obsession with accepting ultimate responsibility for all humanity. The Torah relates that G-d felt He must reveal to Abraham his decision to overthrow Sodom : “And the Lord said, "Shall I conceal from Abraham what I am doing? And Abraham will become a great and powerful nation, and all the nations of the world will be blessed in him. For I have known him because he commands his sons and his household after him, that they should keep the way of the Lord to perform righteousness and justice..."(Gen. 18:17).
“To perfom righteousness and justice.” So that’s what it means to be a friend of G-d. And indeed our people, long obsessed with championing the civil rights of others, have been at the forefront of every humans rights campaign — but when it comes to Jewish rights in the State of Israel, nothing sums it up better than this verse from the Song of Songs (1:6): “They (the nations) made me a keeper of the vineyards, yet my own vineyard I did not keep.”
Isn’t it time we take a look at who we are, where we come from, and where we are going? How long can we continue to abandon the holiest place we have? How long will we allow others to tell us that our intention to build a
If our presence, our history, and our prayers are all obstacles to peace, what have we to look forward to?
house in Jerusalem , or to claim our forefather’s tombs as our own, or to pray at the Temple Mount , is extremism? If our presence, our history, and our prayers are all obstacles to peace, what have we to look forward to?
These are the issues that International Temple Mount Awareness Day was intended to address.
I was mulling over the significance of all this in my head this morning as the bus I was riding in downtown Jerusalem slowly made its way through traffic. As it turned a corner a large hotel started to come into view through the window; a long advertising banner was draped down its side from its roof all the way down to the street. I could make out ‘March 16th’ in huge bold letters! Yes, I thought! Everyone’s excited, getting ready for March 16th, Rosh Chodesh Nisan, Temple Mount Awareness Day!
But no. March 16th, the new H & M opens in Jerusalem . Who needs the Temple Mount when we have Swedish fashion?
“My own vineyard I did not keep.”