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November 18, 2014 8:01 pm

Prayer on the Temple Mount Isn’t Necessary

avatar by Albert Wachtel

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Temple Mount. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The rebirth of Israel, 2000 years after Rome undertook to destroy the nation by calling it Palestine, deserves celebration. And now, in the face of destructive and unrelenting attack – most recently the Muslim terrorist murders of five innocents at prayer in a Jerusalem synagogue – Israel needs and has powerful defenders.

That said, we should not keep fighting over the Temple Mount. It has been magnified out of proportion – by Palestinian Arabs, who are always looking for a cause, by Jordanian authorities who want to be seen as defenders of their faith, and by religious Jews who have not looked with objective eyes at the Hebrew Bible.

Zion, because of its past religious significance, is very important to Jews. But a careful review of its history reveals that the Temple Mount is not religiously central to Judaism. Solomon, who built the First Temple, also defiled it – worshiping the pagan gods of his foreign wives. For those sins, 1 Kings observes, the divinity decided to divide Israel into two kingdoms, with Solomon’s son Rehoboam keeping control of Judea, inhabited by the tribes of Judah and Benjamin – and Jeroboam, Solomon’s most gifted associate, embraced as king by the ten northern tribes, which kept the name of David’s formerly united kingdom, Israel.

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Within the lifetime of the king who built the Temple, worship there was already compromised. Thereafter, a series of prophets including Isaiah condemned Temple worship. Righteousness, they tell us, not burnt offerings, is what divinity seeks.

That is true from the start of the Torah, in which Adam and Eve were expelled from paradise because of their disobedience and in which Noah was given basic rules of human morality (that most of subsequent humanity has failed to follow).

Jeremiah, after the ten northern tribes fell and before the Babylonian destruction of the First Temple, told Judea that sacrifice by people who are moral failures was useless: “Your burnt offerings are not acceptable. Nor your sacrifices pleasing unto me.” It is true that he anticipates a time when decent Jews will once again sacrifice in a Jerusalem Temple, but the essential value is human virtue.

That same requirement inspired the writings of Hosea, Joel, Amos (who points out that the people who left Egypt with Moses were sustained without sacrifices) and even Jonah, in whose book honorable pagan sailors, intent on saving the prophet, offer sacrifices that are not rewarded. Micah deplores lavish offerings when made in the context of moral depravity, and Malachi declares that both damaged and “pure oblations” are rejected on moral grounds.

Such recognitions led the Pharisees – the New Testament’s misrepresentations of them notwithstanding – to oppose Temple worship and to stress human decency, characterized by prayer, obedience to Mosaic laws, and the study of the Torah and Talmud. That vision, embraced by the Diaspora, insured Jewish survival, and it should now inform Israel’s relation to its geography.

The Jewish people have returned to their place of origin and prospered. But it is crucial for them to recognize that, just as slipping paper wishes between the stones of the Western Wall is of no religious value, prayer on the Temple Mount is not more valuable than other prayer. What is crucial is decency, and this is what Israel must focus on.

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  • Mitchell Wachtel

    My Uncle,
    That your readers will not declaim your sentence about Pharaisees an anti-Christian juggernaut, some background might be of interest. Research methods that proved to Deuteronomy’s author differed from that of the prior biblical books, have also been applied to the New Testament, albeit with far less public notification. Concerning the Pharisees, William Nichols summarizes matters thus:
    [I]t is far from clear that Jesus put forward any systematic religious program of his own that could have come into conflict with that Church found itself in conflict with the leaders of early rabbinic Judaism, the successors of the Pharisees of Jesus’ own time. The writers read the later conflict back into Jesus’ lifetime, incorporating a negative picture of the Pharisees into the myth. History does not support this picture. The bad reputation of the Pharisees in the Christian world comes from the Christian myth, overlaying and distorting the historical record.
    Some well-qualified scholars, including David Flusser and Hyam Maccoby, even believe that Jesus was or could have been regarded as a Pharisee himself, so great is the similarity between their views and his. However, if the Gospels represent him correctly, Jesus had little interest in either legal scholarship, or in purity regulations, which, according to some prominent scholars, were a major concern of the Pharisees. Even if he was not actually a Pharisee, Jesus probably belonged to the large majority of nonsectarian Jews who sympathized with and respected the Pharisees.
    “Christian Anti-Semitism”, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. Chapter 2, Section 2. 1993.
    Relative to this, the Vatican concludes:
    But it must be admitted that many of these passages are capable of providing a pretext for anti-Jewish sentiment and have in fact been used in this way. To avoid mistakes of this kind, it must be kept in mind that the New Testament polemical texts, even those expressed in general terms, have to do with concrete historical contexts and are never meant to be applied to Jews of all times and places merely because they are Jews. The tendency to speak in general terms, to accentuate the adversaries’ negative side, and to pass over the positive in silence, failure to consider their motivations and their ultimate good faith, these are characteristics of all polemical language throughout antiquity, and are no less evident in Judaism and primitive Christianity against all kinds of dissidents
    http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/pcb_documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20020212_popolo-ebraico_en.html#A. General Conclusion
    That, to me, is the key point in any case, perhaps best expressed in the following famed lines:
    We cannot revive old factions
    We cannot restore old policies
    Or follow an antique drum.
    These men, and those who opposed them
    And those whom they opposed
    Accept the constitution of silence
    And are folded in a single party.

  • Mitchell Wachtel

    My Uncle,
    That your readers will not declaim your sentence about Pharaisees an anti-Christian juggernaut, some background might be of interest. Research methods that proved to Deuteronomy’s author differed from that of the prior biblical books, have also been applied to the New Testament, albeit with far less public notification.

    Concerning the Pharisees, William Nichols summarizes:

    [I]t is far from clear that Jesus put forward any systematic religious program of his own that could have come into conflict with that Church found itself in conflict with the leaders of early rabbinic Judaism, the successors of the Pharisees of Jesus’ own time. The writers read the later conflict back into Jesus’ lifetime, incorporating a negative picture of the Pharisees into the myth. History does not support this picture. The bad reputation of the Pharisees in the Christian world comes from the Christian myth, overlaying and distorting the historical record.
    Some well-qualified scholars, including David Flusser and Hyam Maccoby, even believe that Jesus was or could have been regarded as a Pharisee himself, so great is the similarity between their views and his. However, if the Gospels represent him correctly, Jesus had little interest in either legal scholarship, or in purity regulations, which, according to some prominent scholars, were a major concern of the Pharisees. Even if he was not actually a Pharisee, Jesus probably belonged to the large majority of nonsectarian Jews who sympathized with and respected the Pharisees.
    “Christian Anti-Semitism”, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. Chapter 2, Section 2. 1993.
    Relative to this, the Vatican concludes:
    But it must be admitted that many of these passages are capable of providing a pretext for anti-Jewish sentiment and have in fact been used in this way. To avoid mistakes of this kind, it must be kept in mind that the New Testament polemical texts, even those expressed in general terms, have to do with concrete historical contexts and are never meant to be applied to Jews of all times and places merely because they are Jews. The tendency to speak in general terms, to accentuate the adversaries’ negative side, and to pass over the positive in silence, failure to consider their motivations and their ultimate good faith, these are characteristics of all polemical language throughout antiquity, and are no less evident in Judaism and primitive Christianity against all kinds of dissidents

    http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/pcb_documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20020212_popolo-ebraico_en.html#A. General Conclusion

    That, to me, is the key point in any case, perhaps best expressed in the following famed lines:

    We cannot revive old factions
    We cannot restore old policies
    Or follow an antique drum.
    These men, and those who opposed them
    And those whom they opposed
    Accept the constitution of silence
    And are folded in a single party.

    _______

    Let us strive above all for peace, sacrificing minor, disputed rights in its interest. We Jews can live without access to this place. What we cannot abide is persons entering our synagogues & killing people because they are Jewish.

  • Ben

    Well that settles that. Thanks Mr. Wachtel. So what can you tell us about the Arabs’/Muslims’ competing religious claims to the Temple Mount that makes their side of the fight so deserving?

  • B. B. GRACE

    Just last night I said to myself, “I need to stop wishing and begin praying”. Those slips of paper embedded into the Kotel are prayers, not wishes. That said, Israel needs to take back the Temple Mount to proove they are not illegitimate occpiers who have no right to exist while delivering evil unto the poor Palestinian Muslim as most Americans believe, and the UN defines, impotent resolution after cursed resolution. For there to be peace, Israel must show proof of ownership, and that means making their most holy site legitimately theirs. I pray Israel will find the strength to deliver peace.

  • Gershon Ben Daniel

    For Jews to give up the Temple Mount, is taken as weakness by Muslims and Palestinians. Weakness brings on violence by enemies of Israel. There is no alternative, therefore, but for Israel to insist that Jews be allowed to pray at Temple Mount.

  • Gabby

    You are so inaccurate in saying the Temple Mount is not necessary to Jews. Say that to HaShem…the one who told us to bring our offerings to Him there. That is our Holy place to meet Him at and to pray. Learn the history before you go spouting off

  • M McL

    Very sweet.

  • Sinn Fein

    “a careful review of its history reveals that the Temple Mount is not religiously central to Judaism.” The writer is clearly either delusional or deliberately obtuse. Wow

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