NY Times Ignores Centrality of the Jewish Temple Mount

On July 31, 2020, the New York Times wrote a moving piece about the annual pilgrimage of Muslims to Mecca in Saudi Arabia for the hajj. It described how the coronavirus limited the number of people who could attend the hajj this year and the various steps which the kingdom undertook to try to protect the health of the smaller gathering to Islam’s holiest location.

I looked to see if the Times covered the solemn day of the Ninth of Av (July 30, 2020), when Jews traveled to Jerusalem, the Western Wall and the Jewish Temple Mount to mourn the destruction of the first and second temples. While Jewish media outlets like the Jerusalem Post and Times of Israel wrote about it, the Times ignored the story.

The Times did write a 1,300-word article about the Temple Mount on May 15, 2020 when it described how Muslims could not visit the site for Ramadan because of the pandemic. It seemed that Islam’s third holiest site which has no specific connection to Ramadan was an important focus for the liberal paper even as it ignored writing about the pandemic’s impact on Jews visiting their holiest site on Jewish holidays.

I looked back further to see if the Times covered any of the three Jewish holidays which call upon Jews to visit Jerusalem and the Temple Mount: Shavuot (celebrated May 28-30, 2020), Passover (celebrated April 8-19 this year) and Sukkot (which will be celebrated October 2-9, 2020). It did.

On March 30 it published an article “For Shut-In Pilgrims, the World’s Holiest Sites Are a Click Away,” which covered Jerusalem, Mecca and Rome. While Mecca was devoted to Muslims and Rome to Christians, the Times described Jerusalem from the vantage point of “Passover, Easter and Ramadan — touchstone holidays of three major religions.” Not only was Judaism not worthy of a unique article as was Islam (twice, in May and July), but when an article was written, the other monotheistic faiths were also covered, AND when Judaism’s holiest city was mentioned, it was noted as holy to other faiths as well.

Christianity and Islam pushed their religions globally for over one thousand years, converting and killing non-believers. Their numbers now count in the billions and their faithful are spread around the globe, while the Jewish population was decimated with only about 15 million people today, of which 84% live in Israel and the United States. Arguably the paltry sum of Jews makes them barely worth mentioning to global papers.

But it’s the deliberate denial of Jewish Jerusalem that irks me.

The July 31 NY Times article explained to its readers that “the hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam, is required for all Muslims who are physically and financially able to go at least once in their lifetimes.ONCE IN THEIR LIFETIMES. Why only once? Because there are 1.8 billion Muslims living all over the world. After pushing the religion around the globe it is impossible for so many people to come to Islam’s holiest city every year.

In contrast, Judaism calls on all Jews to visit Jerusalem and the Temple Mount THREE TIMES EVERY YEAR. It calls on Jews to do this because the religion was not orchestrated to spread to the corners of the world with forced conversions on the masses, inflating the numbers of adherents. Judaism was designed as a local religion for a small nation, in the Jewish holy land with its holy city in the center.

I appreciate the beautiful article The New York Times wrote about Mecca and Islam. I wonder if it will ever write with such sensitivity about the Jews, Jerusalem and the Jewish Temple Mount.


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Only Jews Pray at the Flying Buttresses of Notre Dame

The Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, France is notable for its beauty in many respects including the remarkable stained glass windows and the flying buttresses which support the large structure. In April 2019, a fire destroyed the roof and much of the furniture, but the core elements of the building remained intact. Still, prayer services have been cancelled until repairs can be made.

Despite the centrality of this important church, church-goers made arrangements to pray elsewhere. The other houses of worship may not be ideal yet they serve the same basic function of prayer. The devout French do not line up for services outside the charred remains while waiting the day they can enter.

Only Jews do that.

The Jewish Temple which stood in the center of the Temple Mount was destroyed on the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av nearly 2,000 years ago. Still, Jews would ascend the mount to pray, as the very land was holy even without the Temple being present.

Around 1550, Ottoman leader Suleiman I made various structural improvements to the city of Jerusalem, including rebuilding the exterior city walls. While he made improvements to the Temple Mount which by then held the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, he pushed the Jews off of the Mount and set aside the supporting western wall of the Temple Mount as a designated area for the Jews to pray.

Jews have been praying at this retaining wall of the Temple Mount ever sense.

On this ninth day of Av, let us not forget that the Western Wall is simply a talisman, an object to rub to bring us luck, while the holiest spot for Jews remains only meters away but off-limits to Jewish prayer according to current laws. In a world afire with quests for social and racial justice, it is well past time to fight for religious justice for Jews to ascend and openly pray at their holiest location.

No Parisian would ever imagine praying at Notre Dame’s flying buttresses, and Jews must climb above the consolation wall to re-establish their basic human rights. #JewishTempleMountPrayers

The Old City of Jerusalem including the Jewish Temple Mount/ Al Aqsa Compound


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Replacing the Jordanian Waqf on The Temple Mount

After Israel defeated the attacking Jordanian army in June 1967, it allowed the Jordanian Islamic Waqf to have administrative control of the Jewish Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem while Israel controlled the security of the area. In 1980, Israel officially applied sovereignty and reunited the city of Jerusalem as its eternal capital but still allowed the Jordanian Waqf to administer Judaism’s holiest site. And in Israel’s 1994 peace treaty with Jordan, the country continued to be sensitive to Jordan, statingIsrael respects the present special role of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in Muslim Holy shrines in Jerusalem. When negotiations on the permanent status will take place, Israel will give high priority to the Jordanian historic role in these shrines.

However, in recent months, Jordan has come out very aggressively against Israel’s contemplated application of sovereignty over more of the west bank of the Jordan River.

In May 2020, Jordanian Prime Minister Omar al-Razzaz saidWe will not accept unilateral Israeli moves to annex Palestinian lands and we would be forced to review all aspects of our relations with Israel.” King Abdullah also said that if Israel “really annexes the West Bank in July, it would lead to a massive conflict with the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

In light of the statements and contemplated reaction by Jordan, it makes sense for Israel to approach both Egypt and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to see if they would be interested in taking over the role of the Jordanian Waqf in Jerusalem.

Egypt has maintained a peace treaty with Israel since 1979 and there is a good working relationship with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Israel’s relationship with KSA has improved in recent years, especially because of the countries mutual distrust of Iran. As the guardian of Mecca and Medina, KSA would logically welcome the role to extend its guardianship of Islamic holy sites, and the move could be part of an important peace treaty with Saudi Arabia.

The Old City of Jerusalem including the Jewish Temple Mount/ Al Aqsa Compound during the Jewish holiday of Passover

Jordan’s threat to abandon its peace agreement with Israel is an opening for Israel to offer Saudi Arabia a place in Jerusalem and to forge a new peace agreement with the powerful kingdom. In light of the Trump Administration’s deep ties with KSA, it makes sense to advance those initiatives now.


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The Jewish Israeli Rosa Parks

On December 1, 1955, a black seamstress in Montgomery, Alabama refused to give up her seat at the front of the bus for a white man. In those days, segregation, the law that kept races apart, ruled the land. While black people were allowed on public transportation, they had to cede their seats in the front of the bus to white people. On that day 64 years ago, Rosa Parks was defiant and would not cater to the indecent law. Riots ensued, but ultimately, in 1964, the United States passed the Civil Rights Act which desegregated society.

Eight years earlier, on November 29, 1947, the United Nations General Assembly voted to partition the remaining portion of the British Mandate of Palestine (the land east of the Jordan River had previously been handed to the Hashemite Kingdom at the sole discretion of the British), into distinct Jewish and Arab states. While the vote was designed to create peace by separating the two peoples living in the land by establishing two clear majority-societies based on religion and culture, it still sought to allow the minority populations to live, pray and work in the majority-ruled lands. To minimize religious tension, the holy cities of Greater Jerusalem and Greater Bethlehem were voted to be placed under an international regime.

But the Arabs rejected the partition vote as they considered all of the land to be Arab and Muslim, and launched a war to destroy the Jewish State. At war’s end, they evicted all of the Jews from the lands they conquered, including all of the holy sites in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Hebron. The Arabs forbade any Jew from living, praying or visiting their Jewish holy sites during their period of control from 1949 to 1967.

The Arabs would try to destroy Israel again, with the Jordanian Arabs (and Palestinian Arabs whom had been granted Jordanian citizenship) attacking Israel in 1967, losing their illegally seized lands. Under Jewish control, Israel opened up the holy sites in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Hebron and enabled everyone – even Jews! – to visit, but they opted to maintain the ban on Jewish prayer at Judaism’s holiest locations, the Temple Mount, hoping to placate the broader Muslim and Arab worlds.

It did not.

The Arab and Muslim countries dug in deeper and turned the United Nations into a complete circus of antisemitic hate. While Palestinians began hijacking planes over the following decade, the other Arab nations advanced the political theory that Zionism was racism on November 10, 1975. After the United States finally led its repeal in December 1991, the Arab world advanced the same premise at the 2001 Durban Conference Against Racism, pushing the notion that not only should Jews be barred from living in parts of the holy land, but their refusal to acquiesce to antisemitic edicts was itself racist.

The September 2000 visit by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to the Temple Mount coincided with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s destruction of the Oslo Accords and launch of the Second Intifada which killed thousands. Rabbi Yehuda Glick’s advocacy for Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount in October 2014 also brought Palestinian terrorist to shoot him and launch a “stabbing intifada.” As the antisemitic Hamas Charter says, “Israel, Judaism and Jews challenge Islam and the Moslem people.” The presence of Jews in Muslim lands and holy sites is considered appalling.

The United Nations joined the chorus penned by over 50 Arab and Muslim nations that Israeli Jews should not be permitted to pray on the Temple Mount, nor live east of the 1949 Armistice Lines in the Old City of Jerusalem and in the “West Bank,” the lands which the Jordanians had seized. In December 2016, the UN Security Council, with the tacit approval of the United States’ Obama administration, passed Resolution 2334 which said that banning (not even segregating!) Israeli Jews is legal, and that such people have no rights to live and work in their holy land.


Today, there are hundreds of thousands of Israeli Jewish Rosa Parks who defy the notion that laws banning Jews from natural activities which others enjoy is in any way immoral or illegal. These Jews live in Judea and Samaria, in the Old City of Jerusalem and Hebron and fight for open access and prayer at their holy sites on the Temple Mount of Jerusalem and throughout the Cave of the Jewish Patriarchs and Matriarchs in Hebron. Perhaps it is time to erect a monument for these “settlers” at the UN Plaza, much as Rosa Parks got a statue in Montgomery, AL.


Jerusalem on Sukkot, a full Kotel Plaza,
but no Jews on the Temple Mount


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The Remarkable Tel Jerusalem

Archaeologists spend their time excavating and examining sites where humans lived in an effort to better understand the nature of societies from long ago. They let the physical evidence provide clues as to how people lived, what they ate and how they existed as a community.

Some of the best places to explore ancient history are found in tels, hills where one society was built upon the ruins of an earlier society. Such ruins are common in the Middle East, where there has been continuous human presence in many of the same locations for 4-5,000 years.

The issue confronting archaeologists excavating any tel is that one layer of history must be removed to be able to explore the next layer of the human past. Removing the ruins of a floor of a 13th century mosque may reveal a 5th century church, while clearing the 5th century level may reveal a municipal building from the first century BCE. History must be destroyed to find yet more ancient history. Peeling back time yields discovery via destruction.

In the holy city of Jerusalem, the challenges for archaeologists and historians becomes further ensnared in religious and political battles. Why should the ruins of a 16th century mosque be cleared to reveal an ancient Byzantine church? Why should the church be dismantled to uncover an ancient Jewish ritual bath house? Is one truth more significant than another? Does the exposure of ancient Jewish edifices impact today’s realities and political considerations? Is the destruction of an ancient house of worship in favor of another religion’s house of worship an act of historical exploration or a crusade?

The city of Jerusalem became central to the Jewish people 3,000 years ago, when King David sacked the then-Jebusite city and made it the official capital of the Jewish people in roughly 1000 BCE. His son, King Solomon, built the First Jewish Temple in the city in 950 BCE, making the city both the religious center and the political center of the people. Jews made pilgrimages to sacrifice at the temples during both the First Temple period (950 BCE – 587 BCE) and during the Second Temple period (515 BCE – 70 CE). Since the destruction of the Second Temple, Jews continued to live in and make pilgrimages to the city to pray, but without the ritual sacrifices, as Arab Muslims and Christian Crusaders took turns dominating the landscape.


City of Jerusalem during First Temple Period covered a portion of the current
Temple Mount and an area south of today’s Old City walls

Over the last several years, a team of archaeologists has been excavating an old road used by the Jewish pilgrims of two thousand-plus years ago. The “Pilgrimage Road” was one of a series of pathways that facilitated the flow of hundreds of thousands of Jews into the Jewish Temples. It’s route must have changed during the centuries as the walls of Jerusalem changed, and as archaeologists continue their excavations, undoubtedly, more facts will emerge.


The Pilgrimage Road from the Shiloach Pool to the Temple Mount, used by Jewish worshipers in the late Second Temple period, was excavated over the course of six years and unveiled by the City of David organization on June 30, 2019.
(Source: City of David.)

The road now exists as a tunnel lying beneath a predominantly Arab section of Jerusalem, called Silwan. The area was originally settled in modern times by Yemenite Jews in the 1880’s, who were then expelled when Jordan attacked Israel in 1948 and annexed the area in a measure not recognized by almost every country in the world. Just as in ancient history, the sacking and rebuilding of the city continues to play out.

But today’s Israeli archaeologists managed a new feat: they did not destroy the layers of recent history above the Pilgrim Road; they burrowed a tunnel which left the current residents of Silwan still living in their homes. As opposed to the living history of tels which builds one reality on top of another, and excavations which destroy one history to unveil another, both the ancient Jewish history and modern Arab homes coexist.

Historians celebrated the event as did the State of Israel which plans to develop the road as a tourist attraction as an important part of understanding the history of Judaism’s holiest location. Even foreign dignitaries came to the June 30 opening dedication including U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, White House Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt and United States Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC).

But Palestinian Arabs cried foul. Palestinians like PLO veteran Hanan Ashrawi said that the United States “will go to any length to show collusion, identification with and support for all these illegal acts, for the transformation of the character of Jerusalem.” A ridiculous charge which prompted Greenblatt to reply on Twitter that “we can’t ‘Judaize’ what history/archaeology show. We can acknowledge it; you can stop pretending it isn’t true! Peace can only be built on truth.

Traditionally, archaeologists need to destroy one layer of history to reveal the more ancient, but in Jerusalem today, the Israelis managed to uncover a 2,000-year old road used by pilgrims to ascend to the Jewish Temple Mount, while leaving the homes of modern day Arabs and Jews intact. It is a feat which sustains all truths, and underscores both the deep historic and religious ties of the Jewish people to their holiest city, while also respecting the modern sensitivities and political realities of the diverse modern capital city.


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Gimme that Old-Time Religion

The Cave of the Jewish Matriarch and Arab Cultural Appropriation

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Tolerance at the Temple Mount

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The Dark Side of Jerusalem Day: Magnifying the Kotel and Minimizing the Temple Mount

The Six Day War of June 1967 was remarkable in many ways, but it also led to shameful disappointments.

  • The Victory of War. Vastly outnumbered in people and armory, the Israeli army nevertheless triumphed over the surrounding Arab Muslim countries which sought to destroy the Jewish State.
  • Victory of Right. While Israel fought a preemptive battle against Egypt and Syria, making its argument of self-defense slightly tenuous, the battle against Jordan was 100% defensive, and therefore the “inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war” is wholly irrelevant to Israel’s retaking of eastern Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria which were an integral part of the Palestine Mandate and rightfully “reconstituting their national home in that country.
  • Victory of Rights. The Arab Muslims of Jordan ethnically cleansed the Jews from eastern Jerusalem and the West Bank and forbade Jews from visiting or praying in Jerusalem from 1949-1967, while the broader Muslim world under the Ottomans had banned Jews from entering or praying at the Cave of the Jewish Patriarchs in Hebron for centuries. That ended in June 1967, as Jews were once again able to access their holiest and second holiest locations.

The victories were incredible and continue to be celebrated around the world in Jerusalem Day celebrations, highlighting the reunification of the city and Jewish control of their holiest city.

However, the Jewish generals and leaders of 1967 took two actions immediately after the victory which have led to a falsification of history and belief.

  • Giving Control of the Temple Mount to the Waqf. In an effort to end the war and keep the broader Muslim world from descending upon Israel, the Israeli government decided to hand control of the Temple Mount, the holiest location for Jews, to the Jordanian Waqf, who have maintained a policy of banning Jews from praying at the site to this day.
  • Clearing the Kotel Plaza. Arab homes had filled the area in front of the Kotel for centuries and the Israeli government quickly ordered the low-rise homes to be demolished to enable thousands of Jewish pilgrims to approach and pray en masse at the site.

Mughrabi Quarter before 1946

Clearing the Kotel Plaza, 1967
The combined efforts of giving away the Temple Mount and enlarging access to the Kotel has left the Jewish people and consequently the world with the false idea that the Kotel is the holiest place for Judaism. It is not, nor has it ever been. The Kotel, is just a large exposed segment of the western retaining wall of the Temple Mount built by King Herod 2,000 years earlier in an effort to give Jews greater access and movement on THE TEMPLE MOUNT, not so they’d worship a sliver of the wall which kept the mount from collapsing.

Now, some people even believe that the Kotel was actually the western wall of the Temple itself, also completely untrue.

Jerusalem Day is a moment to celebrate the incredible victory of Jews reestablishing their presence and rights in their holiest city. However, it is also a time to note how actions immediately after that victory reoriented our focus and prayers to a wall built by a mad king 2,000 years ago, rather than the “place which He will choose” (Deuteronomy 16:16), the Jewish Temple itself.


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Pope Demanding that Jews Have Rights to Pray on The Temple Mount

Pope Francis visited Morocco in late March 2019. He signed a declaration together with Morocco King Mohammed VI that Jerusalem is sacred to three monotheistic religions and must be open and accessible to all religions.

Yet today, only Muslims are allowed to pray on the Jewish Temple Mount and any Jew seen mumbling under their breath is evicted from the site in fear that they might be praying. Further, while large groups of Christian visitors are allowed to roam the 35 acre site, Jews are only allowed to walk around in small groups, and are often accosted by “Mourabitan,” women paid by Hamas to harass Jewish pilgrims.

It is an interesting development for Jewish rights as Morocco hosted a United Nations conference on “The Question of Jerusalem” in Rabat in June 2018. Seemingly, the Arab world is now trying to position itself as the protector of the freedom of access and worship for the three monotheistic religions… even though when Arab Muslims controlled the Old City of Jerusalem from 1949 to 1967, they evicted every Jew and forbade any Jew from entering the city, and continue to attack Jewish visitors at every opportunity.

It is highly unlikely that the Pope will call out the Muslim world on their antisemitism, as many Christians are embattled minorities in Muslim-majority countries. However, this latest announcement could be a wonderful opening for the Pope to clearly advocate for allowing full and open Jewish prayer at their holiest location on the Jewish Temple Mount in Jerusalem.


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Jerusalem’s Old City Is a Religious War for Muslim Arabs

The acting-President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas warned the Israelis to not turn their long political fight into a religious war after Palestinian Arabs murdered Jews praying in a Jerusalem synagogue in November 2014. Remarkably sensitive words of consolation (?!) from a head of state.

Just a few months later, Abbas and the Jordanians submitted a 33-page report to UNESCO outlining that the battle for Jerusalem and the Temple Mount was specifically about religion.

The situation is completely farcical from the outset. Jordan, which had attacked the nascent state of Israel in 1948 and illegally seized and annexed the “West Bank” and eastern Jerusalem in a move not recognized by any country in the world, submitted the Old City of Jerusalem to UNESCO in 1981, a year after Israel declared the city its unified capital. How does a country with no standing submit a city in a foreign land for consideration to UNESCO? Who knows?! Perhaps Turkey should submit some sites in northern Cyprus to UNESCO as well. Or better yet, Russia should submit East Berlin, a city divided in war that no longer has a distinct separated entity anymore and is no longer occupied by foreign forces.

To add insult to injury and absurdity, the March 2015 Jordanian/Palestinian document was not a review of the current condition of the Old City of Jerusalem, a matter which might interest UNESCO as part of its officially stated mission. Instead, it was an attack on Jews and the Jewish State, exactly the opposite of what Abbas asked from Israel.

The report mentioned the word Jews and Jewish 44 times (and not favorably). It also introduced a bizarre set of words such as “Judaize” and “Judaization” which it used 22 times. Here’s a meaty example:

“They all reassure their rejection of the attempts to Judaize Al-Aqsa Mosque or any of its components by the Israeli Occupation Authorities, its various organs and the extreme Jewish organizations, which attempt interfering with its administration, preventing and disrupting Muslim worshippers from entering and praying, hampering its maintenance/renovation/repair, and attempts to befog the religious historic Muslim exclusive right and identification by forced use of un-Islamic names such as “The Temple Mount” as part of the Judaization policy enforced by the Israeli Occupation Power of the Occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem.”

Wow! Now I’m really befogged!

In case you wondered, “Al-Aqsa” is mentioned 109 times compared to only three for the “Temple Mount,” and, as you might have guessed, those three were not positive. In this quote, the Jordanians and Palestinians dismiss the historical existence of the two Jewish Temples:

“… as 2010 approached, the Davidson Center was constructed and the site was turned into an active museum of the so-called “First Temple and Second Temple.

For the Jordanians and Palestinians, the issue isn’t as much about the sovereignty of the land of eastern Jerusalem as much as it is about enforcing a “Muslim exclusive right” to the Old City and the Temple Mount.


Judaism’s holiest site

When the United Nations adopts Muslim anti-Semitic propaganda and says nothing about stripping Jews of their holiest site, no one should be surprised when religious Christians and Jews and decent people everywhere say enough is enough.


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The Waqf and the Temple Mount

Tolerance at the Temple Mount

Abbas’s Harmful East Jerusalem Fantasy

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A Sofer at the Kotel

Jews around the world just finished reading the Torah, the Five Books of Moses, and promptly began to start the Bible again from the beginning. The time between finishing the public reading and recommencing the weekly recitation was only a few minutes. For Jews, the Bible is a living document that is always being read and learned. There is no “finishing” the Bible; just completing it and commencing again in rapid succession.

The holiday of completing the weekly Torah readings is called Simchat Torah, the Joy of the Bible. The Jewish religious denominations take different approaches to mark the holiday. Hasidic men may be seen dancing in circles with Torahs in the streets; many Reform Temples unfurl the entire Torah with men, women and children holding a section in a large circle. There is a common moment of celebration, but unique methods of celebrating.

With such thoughts about the recent holiday, it is time to advance a principle which is inscribed towards the end of the Pentateuch: to write a Torah.

Some biblical commentators believe that biblical commandment is only applicable to kings; others have said that the king need not actually write the Torah, but to own one. Still others have suggested that the commandment is for everyone to participate in the writing of the Torah, perhaps by paying a scribe, a sofer, to write one on their behalf.

This post is a proposal is to have a permanent sofer at the Western Wall, the Kotel, so everyone can participate in the mitzvah.

Background Issues

  1. Political. Discussions regarding Jerusalem, the Old City and the Kotel have been trapped in politics for many years. Who has or should have sovereignty and control is debated everywhere, with various advocates supporting Israel, the Palestinians, the Jordanian Waqf and the international community. Many leaders have sought to avoid the inherent religious nature of the location as they fear inflaming passions and violence among the three major monotheistic religions.
  2. Jewish Religious denominations. The Kotel plaza is currently caught in a fight within the various Jewish denominations. Recently, a dedicated space for non-Orthodox prayer has taken steps forwards-and-backwards, such as the expanded prayer area at Robinson’s Arch being approved and disapproved. The Jewish community outside of Israel (which is mostly non-Orthodox) has taken a sharply negative attitude towards Israel on this point, which is harmful on multiple levels to Israel and Jews worldwide.
  3. Education and performing a Mitzvah. Many people who come to the Kotel do not have a deep understanding of Judaism. They are foreigners who see an archaeological site caught in a political quagmire. Their visits often lack deeper religious engagement.
  4. Bridging the Israeli Ashkenazi and Sefaradi Communities. While the two communities often lead distinct lives, there is a chance for the two groups to create something together and forge a common bond, especially in Jerusalem.

The Opportunity

  1. Large Attendance. Jerusalem’s Old City – and the Kotel in particular – attracts millions of people a year. However, there has been no concerted attempt to actively engage the pilgrims and tourists in anything of religious or spiritual consequence. The plaza is simply an open space for pictures and pan-handlers.
  2. Spiritual Center. While the most sacred spot for Judaism is not the Kotel but the Temple Mount itself, it is the Kotel that has served as the religious symbol for Jews since the time of Suleiman I in the 1500s. While there is daily prayer at the Kotel, can there be more religious engagement?

Bar Mitzvah party entering the Old City of Jerusalem through Zion’s Gate
(photo: First.One.Through)

The Proposal

  1. Sofer at Kotel. The issues above can be addressed by adding a small building (about 47 feet wide) at the back of the Kotel plaza which would house a sofer who would write a Torah six days a week from 8:00am to 8:00pm. By giving a donation, visitors would be able to participate in the mitzvah of writing a Torah, as they observe the sofer write a word on their behalf.
  2. Ashkenazi and Sefardi approved. There would be both Ashekanzi and Sefardi sofers that would be approved by the chief rabbis of each group. The finished Torahs would alternate between being housed in an Ashkenazi and Sefaradi cases.
  3. One Sefer published each year. A Torah would be completed each year around Simchat Torah. The Kotel plaza would have a large celebration at the completion of the sefer.
  4. The World’s Gifts to Israel. The first two Torahs (first Sefaradi and second year Ashkenazi) would be housed at the Kotel itself. In future years, the Torahs would be sent around Israel to shuls, schools, hospitals and army bases.
  5. Everyone can participate. A woman from sherut leumi will welcome each participant in the entry room of the building, just outside of the sofer’s room. They will accept a donation of any sum from the visitor which will go towards the Kotel Torah effort. A pruta, or penny, will be enough to “purchase” a single letter in the Torah, and minimum donation levels for a word or a sentence. The participant will have the option of having a picture taken with the sofer, and having their name, city, and country be included among the thousands participating in the writing of the sefer Torah.
  6. The Sofer building. The building would not be very large. It would resemble an Ashkenazi Torah scroll viewed from above: narrow rectangular entry and exit room on either sides (each about 10’ by 16’) and a broader rectangle in the middle for the sofer which will have a large window providing natural light and for people to peer in. The roof with have a conical dome in the middle above the sofer’s room, to resemble a Sefardi Torah case when viewed from street level.
    1. The entry room will have materials for signing in, and a digital map showing where all of the participants for the current Torah have come from. Exhibits explaining how a Torah is written will be on the walls.
    2. The sofer’s room will have materials and the desk for the sofer, and room for a photographer to take pictures with the participants.
    3. The exit room will have materials related to restoring Torahs and digital tools like Sefaria and the Bar Ilan project.

Concern

Everything around the Kotel involves a global outcry. The United Nations has gone to such extreme and absurd levels that it has condemned Israel for mundane items like placing an umbrella in the Kotel Plaza. Placing a building at the back of the Plaza might generate similar protest, however, limiting its size may ameliorate some of the concerns, as well as not having any national flags atop the structure.

Conclusion

Bringing a sofer to the Kotel will hopefully allow all Jews to engage with the Judaism’s holiest space in a religious manner. Everyone would have a chance to perform the special mitzvah – even those with no knowledge of Hebrew and limited Jewish education. Participants will not only view the site from a physical and political basis, but also from a spiritual one.

For Israel, this can be a fence-mending opportunity. The global non-Orthodox community which feels disconnected from Israel and its Orthodox religious leaders will be able to stand in line and participate in writing the very same Torah as Orthodox Jews. This is a chance to open religion and the Kotel to everyone around the world.

There is a song that will be sung in a continuous loop at the building that houses the permanent sofer at the Kotel, words from the prophets Isaiah and Micha: “For the Torah shall come forth from Zion, and the words of God from Jerusalem.” Words that will hopefully bring unity to Jews around the world.

וְֽהָלְכ֞וּ גּוֹיִ֣ם רַבִּ֗ים וְאָֽמְרוּ֙ לְכ֣וּ ׀ וְנַעֲלֶ֣ה אֶל־הַר־יְהוָ֗ה וְאֶל־בֵּית֙ אֱלֹהֵ֣י יַעֲקֹ֔ב וְיוֹרֵ֙נוּ֙ מִדְּרָכָ֔יו וְנֵלְכָ֖ה בְּאֹֽרְחֹתָ֑יו כִּ֤י מִצִּיּוֹן֙ תֵּצֵ֣א תוֹרָ֔ה וּדְבַר־יְהוָ֖ה מִירוּשָׁלִָֽם׃

“And the many nations shall go and shall say: “Come, Let us go up to the Mount of the LORD, To the House of the God of Jacob; That He may instruct us in His ways, And that we may walk in His paths.” For instruction shall come forth from Zion, The word of the LORD from Jerusalem.” (Micha 4:2) (Isaiah 2:3)


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Ending Apartheid in Jerusalem

Expulsion. Exclusion. Discrimination.

These are terrible actions, especially against civilians seeking to live and pray in their holiest city.

But they have been the reality in one of the great cities of the world – Jerusalem.

When the League of Nations (forerunner to the United Nations) sought to create space for Jews and Arabs in the Holy Land in 1922, it made clear that all parties should be free to live and worship according to their custom, as laid out in Article 15:

“The Mandatory shall see that complete freedom of conscience and the free exercise of all forms of worship, subject only to the maintenance of public order and morals, are ensured to all. No discrimination of any kind shall be made between the inhabitants of Palestine on the ground of race, religion or language. No person shall be excluded from Palestine on the sole ground of his religious belief.”

The United Nations tried to ensure that there would be freedom of access and worship when it took up the cause of Palestine in 1947. The UN planned on placing the cities of Jerusalem and Bethlehem into a “corpus separatum,” an international holy basin that would neither be part of a Jewish State of Israel, nor an Arab state of Palestine. While the Jewish Zionists accepted the plan, the Arabs rejected it and went to war to destroy Israel as soon as it declared itself an independent country in May 1948. By the war’s end in 1949, Jordan claimed all of Bethlehem and the eastern half of Jerusalem including Judaism’s holiest site, while Israel took the western half of Jerusalem.


The UN’s Corpus Separatum of Greater Jerusalem and Greater Bethlehem

The Israelis gave citizenship to all 160,000 non-Jews in Israel, but the Jordanians instituted an ethnic cleansing of all Jews from the west bank of the Jordan River through eastern Jerusalem.

In April 1950, the Jordanians annexed the Old City of Jerusalem, Bethlehem and the entirety in of the western bank of the Jordan River in a move that was not recognized by almost the entire world. The Arabs put up barbed wire and blockades and prevented any Jews from entering or visiting the Old City of Jerusalem including the holy sites of the Kotel, the Western Wall, and the Jewish Temple Mount.

In 1954, the Jordanians continued their discriminatory program and granted citizenship to the people of the west bank and eastern Jerusalem, specifically IF THEY WERE NOT JEWISH.

These Arab policies of expulsion, exclusion and discrimination would remain in effect until June 10, 1967.

Just as the Jordanians launched an attack on Israel in 1948, it would do so again in June 1967. And just as Israel won more land in its defensive battle of independence in 1948-9, it would take more of the land that had been allocated as a Jewish homeland in international law in 1922.

At the end of the Six Day War the Arab edicts of expulsion and exclusion were eradicated, and Jews once again moved into their holiest city, rebuilt the destroyed synagogues and resumed praying at the Kotel.

However, the stain of discrimination still exists in Jerusalem, as the government of Israel handed administrative control of the Jewish Temple Mount to the Jordanian Waqf in 1967 in an effort to forge peace. To this day, the Waqf continues to prohibit Jews from praying at Judaims’ holiest location.

While June 10, 1967 began the process of dismantling apartheid in Jerusalem, there is still some way to go.


The Kotel in the Old City of Jerusalem
(photo: First.One.Through)


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Dignity for Israel: Jewish Prayer on the Temple Mount

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