Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Holy Jerusalem

Here is a little thought experiment. Imagine that both the Islamic world and the Palestinian nation suddenly agreed that the mosques on the Noble Sanctuary in Jerusalem's old city were not that holy after all; that the Jews were welcome to take them down and build a temple if they wanted to. Could Jews really want this? Okay, forget the animal sacrifices. I mean a temple that, whatever its rites, purports to be ground zero of divinity, the building of buildings on the spot of spots--the here and now of a holy of holies. If Jews believed in such things would they be practicing Judaism at all?

This is not a merely hypothetical question. Very few Jews speak seriously about rebuilding the temple in question, but very many--perhaps a majority--are deadly serious about the divinity of the mount in question. From the mayor on down, ordinary Jews in this city seem overwhelmed by the mount's gravitational pull. Close, it is said, matters only when playing at horseshoes, but close also matters greatly when playing at Jerusalem. Most reject out of hand any notion of surrendering Israeli sovereignty over the mount. They think next to nothing (to take just one example) of leveling the Arab neighborhood of Silwan in order to build a kind of biblical theme park close to the mount. Even secular writers say casuistic things like "there is no Zionism without Zion," Zion being the mount overlooking the mount. (In fact, the original halutzim, and Zionism's Emerson, Achad Haam, avoided the place, but never mind.)

JUST TO BE clear, I am not speaking here about "holy" in the garden-variety sense of being understandably valued, sacred in the way your dead father's tallis is sacred, or even possessing what Walter Benjamin called "aura." I don't mean a very, very important place of prayer, a place of utmost authenticity, a place whose stones and contours organize a collective experience that harkens back to a cherished remembered experience. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is holy for Christians in this sense: they don't know where Christ was actually crucified, but they know (as Mark Twain writes) where others before them acted as if they knew. It is good enough for pilgrims to follow in the footsteps of pilgrims.

Indeed, the Noble Sanctuary, whose gorgeous mosques still call the faithful to prayer, is holy even to vaguely secular Muslims in just this sense. Who knows exactly where Mohammed ascended to heaven? Nobody. But all know where generations since the 7th. century ascended to pray. Similarly, the Wailing Wall (whose sovereignty is not in dispute) is "holy" for most every Jew. The night my son was born, in June 1973, I myself cradled my head in its stones and shared my joy with my deceased parents. But I did not do so because I thought I was close to the destroyed ancient arc of the covenant. Rather, I thought I was close to the ghosts of the many Jews who had wept there before me, nursing their losses and mysterious hopes.

Anyway, Jews who claim the Temple Mount today mean holy in a more muscular sense than this. Their Psalmist's Hebrew often sounds like a mental straight-jacket. They imply that the soil of the mount carries traces of God's existence, like basements carry radon. They mean holy in the take-off-your-sandals sense of the word: objectively dangerous, not subjectively poignant. They mean something they are prepared to take on the whole world for, fight and die (and kill) for. Is this Judaism?

MY WIFE SIDRA DeKoven Ezrahi writes more eloquently about these matters than I can here. But even on their surface, her answers make you wonder where traditional Judaism has disappeared to, and how crazed Jerusalem is making its inhabitants. For Judaism, Sidra explains, has always been a religion of distance from the divine, a religion of substitutions. The synagogue is a mikdash m'at, a little temple, that stands-in for the place that is gone, the way debate over Jewish law stands-in for a divine intention, and the Torah stands-in for a God that--so the Torah says--cannot be seen face to face. To put things simply, perhaps a little melodramatically, if the ancient temple were to magically appear, Jews--who are, after all, not just ancient Judeans--would have to destroy it themselves, much the way they would have to break idols and reject a man who claimed to be God.

The Wailing Wall, insofar as it is a kind of synagogue, has something authentic for traditional Jews, she concedes, but not really because of where it is. The wall gestures, like all synagogues only more so, toward what is missing (as does the golden-domed Mosque of Omar, ironically). The wall suggests the supersession of a form of worship which has been long abandoned, and was challenged by Pharisees even in its time--abandoned for good (Hegel might say cunning) reasons that Roman centurions could hardly understand when they tore the temple down: a self-perpetuating priesthood, a hierarchy of fetishists, a sacrificial cult, a comic understanding of sin.

Sidra insists that, after the temple was destroyed, Jews were left, not with divine places or stuff, but only metaphor (God is like this, God is like that). This invitation to poetic innovation engendered our talent for freedom. The Wailing Wall's holiness depends on the Temple Mount being bare of anything meaningful for Jews except for the reminder of the immensity of absence itself. The wall is the evocative symbol (in a religion of symbols) of what is no longer there and, by itself, no longer evocative.

Nor does one have to be a Jew to grasp Sidra's point. My friend Jim Carroll was once asked if his faith in the Resurrection would be shaken if the bones of Jesus were found. No, he said, and he meant pretty much the same thing. Perhaps the most beautiful contemporary work I have seen about the supersession Sidra is talking about is Denys Arcand's Jesus of Montreal. (Trust me: see the film and you'll understand.)

In any case, something new is happening in this city, and it isn't either the Judaism I knew as a child or a return to an ancient practice. It is a hybrid politicized religion, if that's the word; a new claim of return, much like Mussolini's claim to return to Rome; a claim carried by ward-of-the-state orthodox families averaging seven children each, reinforced by neo-Zionist devotion to settlement, and a deep sense of grievance over a more recent destruction of European life, what Sidra calls Judaism's new "ruined shrines."

Make no mistake: the people who wish this new Jerusalem to rise will not be talked out of their goals, certainly not by speeches or editorials (or bloggers). The only hope is that what's left of Israel's secular majority will be pushed, and supported, by what's left of the West to stop them. One more generation, I am tempted to say, and it will be too late. But nothing is ever too late for this benighted, beautiful city, which thrives on the hubris of every conqueror.

17 comments:

Shoded Yam said...

"...Make no mistake: the people who wish this new Jerusalem to rise will not be talked out of their goals, certainly not by speeches or editorials (or bloggers). The only hope is that what's left of Israel's secular majority will be pushed, and supported, by what's left of the West to stop them."

I concur. But before this can happen, there will have to be blood. As it was once necessary to sink the Alatalena and then send Begin on the lam, it will now become necessary to liquidate some of the more rancid extremists, imprison dozens more, while encouraging a hasty departure for such luminaries as Brauch Marzel. Finding a good reason to do so, I'm sure will not be a problem. As American pressure grows to freeze construction of the settlements, as Israel begins to feel the wrath of the American people's displeasure, the extremists will become more unhinged. It's only a matter of time before they shoot a gov't official or an IDF soldier. Israeli society won't tolerate it. Then we will have our cassus belli. Then we will be able to correct our 40 year old error and right the ship of state.

I do not say this lightly and contrary to popular belief, it gives me no pleasure to do so. I say it as a father of a 3 year old boy named Gideon, the apple of his mother & fathers eye and an Israeli citizen. When Gideon was born, his mother expressed how difficult it will be to give him up to the Army. I replied; "Why worry? Thats almost 20 years from now. Surely they'll have cleaned up this mess by then." My wife replied; "Oh yeah? Thats exactly what my parents said."

Unholycity-Jerusalem blog said...

Spot on, and well said.
Michael Zank

Anonymous said...

The Israeli secular left for the most part still sees a non-zionist vision as more threatening than radical zionist vision (or for the very least, many are frightened by either option.)

The new laws are not just a move to the right and towards more blatant racist policies, they are also a mean to curb dissent within Israeli Jews (Organizations like Zochrot for example).

Zionism might have been a noble movement within the European context - but within the Middle Eastern context, it is a movement and ideology that in its name many atrocities have and still are being committed.

Israel is replete with street and building names bearing the names of Zionist figures, many of them directly responsible for the Palestinians' plight.

This is not a matter of "two different narratives" but more in the vein of Orwell's '2+2=5' - the Palestinians dispossession by the Zionist movement is not a narrative, it is a fact.

The Zionist movement still has full monopoly over the military and governance of the state of Israel - it is unlikely that they will reform themselves out of power.

Hopefully, one day enough Israelis and Jews would realize that it is ok to admit that "2+2=4" and that the ugliest truth is still better than the most beautiful lie.

Grumpy Old Man said...

The Orthodox pray for restoration of the Temple.

Do they really want a sacred abattoir?

Y. Ben-David said...

To Grumpy Old Man-
The answer is YES.

If you don't like it then tell Muslims to give up their "Id al-Adha" festival in which every family sacrifices a goat or sheep.
Or is is only Jewish practices that are "primitive" in your eyes?

Y. Ben-David said...

Dr Avishai, regarding your complaint that the Orthodox are having too many children, my question is what are you planning to do about it? Are you some new Pharaoh who has to figure out how to stop the Jews who don't think like you from multiplying?

Shoded Yam said...

"..Are you some new Pharaoh who has to figure out how to stop the Jews who don't think like you from multiplying?"

Lets for the sake of argument that he is the new Pharaoh. The man is an economist. For him, there would be nothing to figure out. He'd simply make you start paying for your 7 children, instead of asking the Israeli taxpayer to do it for you.

Anonymous said...

Is that paper by your wife available to people without MLA subscriptions? Thanks.

Y. Ben-David said...

Shoded Yam-
It is interesting how "peace lovers" like yourself don't seem to have any kind of good will for Jews who don't think like you ("we need a new Altalena...liquidation....we need a casus belli".) That is why your camp (the so-called "progressive, peace-camp") is in terminal decline. You have no answers for the Israel of today. MAPAM's old hero Stalin is dead...you had better get used to it.

For your information, child allowances were drastically cut by Netanyahu and you can't make a living out of collecting them. The state punishes people for having large families because of the school fees, high taxes on large automobiles, etc, etc. People have large families because they want them, not because "it pays". But, of course, it is not suprising that you don't know what is really going on.

Shoded Yam said...

"...For your information, child allowances were drastically cut by Netanyahu"

Big deal. Now because for a whole two months you've had to live like everybody else, the last 60 years of parasitical behaviour disappears? Come off of it. Lets see the effects of Netanyahus "cuts" in say 5 years. Than we'll talk, welfare momma.

I have no good will for jews who enjoy a susbsidized life style, molest children, launder drug money, abuse women and whenever this unlikely state of affairs is threatened, actually have the temerity to demand support and succor from the very Israelis for whom they have nothing but contempt and spend almost every waking hour trying to disenfranchise, spiritualy and temporally.

And BTW sparky, its only because I DO know whats going on, that you're responding at all. An ineffective attempt at damage control at best. But keep trying, you'll get it right someday.

Shoded Yam said...

("we need a new Altalena...liquidation....we need a casus belli".) That is why your camp (the so-called "progressive, peace-camp") is in terminal decline."

Don't kid yourself, ben-david. This is the reality that dare not be uttered but is understood by most secular Israelis. What do you think Dr. Avishai means when he says; "...Make no mistake: the people who wish this new Jerusalem to rise will not be talked out of their goals, certainly not by speeches or editorials (or bloggers)" Hmm? Do you think they have any illusions about people who when faced with the reality of a Prime Minister assasinated by one of there own, spent the next 15 years making excuses for him, while trying to shift the blame to the victim? Do you think they've forgotten the incitement, threats and attacks against their sons and daughters in uniform who have faithfully and dilligently carried out the will of their gov't? Heres a newsflash. They haven't.

You're living in the past, old man. As to all this prattle about what the last election proved or didn't prove, I'll just paraphrase Mr. Clemmons, and say that the pronouncements of the left's demise are greatly exaggerated. What the election did illustrate however, is that Israelis are concerned about security and are willing to vote in a secular right wing prime minister( even one that is beholden to dreck) to achieve it. It also illustrated, that they have no great love for the religous or the settlers and statistically would have no trouble cutting you lose if it means achieving a peaceful solution with all the necessary security arrangements. I would'nt count on their continued largesse and goodwill if I were you. The days of the tail wagging the dog are over, and the rabid amongst the pack must now be put down.

Raghav said...

Part of this is doubtless true, as Gershom Gorenberg observed here, or indeed, as the Rambam himself gestures at in the Moreh Nevuchim. But surely the whole coherence of the Jewish enterprise is sustained by the hope of a rebuilt Temple, in the same way its practical universalism is undergirt by an extreme ideological particularism. We look forward to the re-establishment of the Temple, but relegate it to the Messianic Age, when the problematic aspects of the sacrificial cult will conveniently be solved—by definition, almost.

But don't you see that calling such explicit attention to this (and especially suggesting that were the Temple rebuilt, we would have to destroy it, chas v'shalom!) upsets the dialectic just as surely as the Temple Institute crazies? It makes me despair of those who don't hold by Orthodoxy—let alone those actively hostile to it—ever gaining a sympathetic understanding of the halakhic way of life.

Duncan Cookson said...

That was a really interesting piece, the Gershom Gorenberg article mentioned above too, I'd never thought of things that way.

It's an interesting debate, one I don't know enough about really. Most of what I know comes from Wikipedia and the occasional TV feature but I'll delve in anyway :) It's an interesting question about holiness. Are the Dome and the Mosque holy sites or symbols of conquest? That leads to the question of how much of religion is about spirituality and how much is about politics. They're forever intertwined of course, which is why I imagine a lot of jews get very upset about it. Not only is it a desecration and a political humiliation but it also holds a mirror up to the artifice of their religion and all religions. Quite a conundrum. I can see why some jews would want to flatten it.

ibrahim said...

Sesli sohbet Sesli chat
Seslisohbet Seslichat
Sesli sohbet siteleri Sesli chat siteleri
Sesli Chat
Sohbet Sesli siteler
Sohbet siteleri Chat siteleri
Sohbet merkezi chat merkezi
Sesli merkezi sesli Sohbet merkezi
Sesli chat merkezi Sohbetmerkezi
Sesli Sohbet Sesli Chat
SesliSohbet Sesli chat siteleri
Sesli sohbet siteleri SesliChat
Sesli Sesli siteler
Seslimuhabbet sesli muhabbet
sesli sohbet sesli chat siteleri
sesli sohbet siteleri sesli chat
seslisohbet seslichat
seslikent sesli kent
sesli sohbet sesli sohbet siteleri
sesli chat sesli chat siteleri
seslisohbet seslichat

Star said...

Jerusalem is such an amazing place, I really like this. By the way I went there for my honeymoon and was even perfect 'cause my husband and I looked for Kamagra .

Anonymous said...

The county's flourishing economy in spite of the recession has made it a target for massive advertising campaigns by most designer cheap replica watch brands. Looking to capitalize on this factor, Tag Heuer's Indian ambassadors are some of the most influential role models within the culture.

ekle paylas said...

nice blog Thanks for sharing. voicesohbet was really very nice.
sesli chat siteleri sesli sohbet
sesli sohbet siteleri sesli chat
seslichat seslisohbet
sesli siteleri chat siteleri
sohbet siteleri sesli siteler
voice sohbet sesli sohbet siteleri
sesli sohbet seslisohbet
sohbet siteleri sesli chat siteleri
seslichat sesli chat
herkesburda herkes burda
sohbetmerkezi sohbetmerkezi