Posts Tagged 'The Temple Mount'

The Temple Totem and the Mythification of the Likud

The attempted assassination of Temple Mount activist Yehudah Glick, to whom I wish a speedy recovery, comes as a culmination of a growing trend in the Israeli public sphere. It is a trend that finds clear expression amongst the ruling political party, the Likud, and one which Glick was a leading advocate of. In recent years the Temple Mount movements have acted intensively to increase the number of Jews going up the mountain and concurrently to raise awareness to the situation there. This situation includes a de-facto ban on public Jewish prayer and an increase in violence, mostly verbal, by Muslim Palestinians towards Jews going up on the mountain. Among the most prominent achievements of the Temple Mount proponents was obtaining the explicit support of about half of the Likud Knesset Members.

The Likud movement always had a fondness for national myths, but even among its members Zionism was first and foremost about settlements and security, not religious salvation. The growing interest in the Temple Mount among Likud members embodies the change that has taken place in the political discourse in Israel, one that if not understood, will render our understanding of the current tensions and violence in Jerusalem incomplete. At that same convention at the Begin Center following which Glick (who himself ran for Knesset on the Likud ticket two years ago) was shot, under the title “Israel Returns to the Temple Mount”, the Chair of the Interior Committee of the Knesset, MK Miri Regev, and the Deputy Speaker of the Knesset Moshe Feiglin, both of Likud, called for a return of Jews en masse to the Mount. Regev tied “Our right to pray on the Mountain” together with “Our right to the Land” and demonstrated in clear fashion the mythical coating covering the new Likudnik nationalism.

This is but the peak of a multi-year process, in the course of which the ruling party has turned from a traditional-secular party professing a security-based rejection of territorial compromise, into an ethnic-nationalist party which places at the center of its agenda a mythological concept. This mythic narrative is based on the belief that the Temple Mount constitutes a metaphysical focal point for the People of Israel, a sort of divine power socket, the connection to which charges the nation with force and vitality. Back in 2012 Yuli Edelstein, now the Speaker of the Knesset, stated that “My job is to deal with the daily process, connecting and building the People of Israel, which leads to the Temple.” Influential MK Ze’ev Elkin, meanwhile, explained that “It is important to remove it [the Temple Mount] from the purview of the wild-eyed religious. We must explain to broad swaths of the people that without this place, our national liberty is incomplete.”

Make no mistake – this is not about untrammeled longing for the burning of sacrifices. It is neither the observation of the biblical commandment nor the upholding of the Halakhic stricture that matter to these Knesset Members, even the religious ones among them. The Temple Mount serves Regev, Feiglin, Edelstein and Elkin as a national flag around which to rally. The location of the temple to them is nothing more than a capstone in the national struggle against the Palestinians, and the sovereignty over the mountain becomes a totem embodying the sovereignty over the entire country in its commanding figure. This is why Elkin speaks of “Our national liberty”; this is why Tzipi Hotovely said on another occasion that “The construction of the temple in its place on Temple Mount should symbolize the renewal of the sovereignty of the People of Israel in its Land.”

It was only this past February that Coalition Chair Yariv Levin waxed poetic regarding the importance of the mountain at the center of Jerusalem: “No living organism can function without a heart. It seems to me that when Jews for so many years sat in exile and prayed for a return to Zion, they did not mean Tel Aviv, but Jerusalem. They did not dream of returning to the Knesset building and the Prime Minister’s office, but to someplace else – to the Temple Mount.”

But when Jews sat in exile and prayed for Zion and Jerusalem, they continued to sit in exile and pray; only when they dreamed of Tel Aviv and of the Knesset building did they rise up and build a state. Secular Zionism invested its blood and sweat in building the country, not in religious rites and sacred sites. It is no coincidence that Moshe Dayan handed control of the Temple Mount to the Muslim Waqf immediately following the Six-Day War – he believed the place to be diametrically opposed to the Zionist spirit upon which he was raised and in which he believed.

But what is note-worthy in Levin’s words is not the historical inaccuracy, and not even the organistic view of the nation (as though what a state in which one third of the children are below the poverty line needs is a “heart” in the form of a temple on a mountain). What should cause unease, if not outright concern, is the mythical-messianic promoted by Levin et al through political means. The Temple Mount becomes a pawn to be used in the struggle with the Palestinians, and the discussion of prayer rights for Jews, while justified in and of its own, becomes a political hatchet. Perhaps this is what Leibowitz meant when he cried out against the “prostitution of religion for national interests”.

Gershom Scholem once said that “The salvation of the People of Israel to which I aspire as a Zionist is not at all identical to the religious salvation for which I hope in the future. I am unwilling, as a Zionist, to satisfy the ‘political’ demands or yearnings which take place in an utterly religious a-political field, in the domain of the end-times apocalyptic.” Shalom understood full well the danger in basing a political discourse upon a religious one. Danger to religion, for this way it may be prostituted into a political tool, and danger to the state, for it is very difficult to act in a judicious manner out of messianic fervor.

Religion and politics have been entwined since the dawn of time, but in the last few centuries the Western world has chosen to separate the estates in order to promote a democratic and tolerant public sphere. Before our very eyes we are witnessing an attempt to re-couple the religious myth with the political-diplomatic sphere. The political discourse is undergoing a transformation: It is gathering mythological charges onto itself, reestablishing itself not on the foundation of security but on that of salvation tales, and is served up coated in religious folklore and messianic shmaltz. Whether due to naïve faith and whether to preclude any possibility of political compromise, the Jewish prayer and the Diaspora are invoked, and fiery talk is heard of heart and longing and age-old yearning. Before you can say “A national home for the Jewish people”, the government of Israel has been turned into an agent of the messiah and a contractor of the almighty. Presto – we have entered the domain of the end-times apocalyptic.

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Published in Hebrew in Haaretz.

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The Absolute Necessity of Building the Temple, The Simple Requirement of it Being Defiled

A call for donations from the Israeli Temple Institute to Christian Evangelicals. Click the picture for the detailed request

When the ax fell on the neck of Charles I, king of England, the lion’s share of the booty went to Oliver Cromwell. He became the first ruler in the history of England who was not of royal blood and ruled the kingdom for some years, until his (nonviolent) death, in 1658. Cromwell, who experienced a religious revelation, was a pious Puritan, and it was during his rule that Jews were permitted to resettle in England, for the first time since their expulsion from the country, in 1290.

That decision was not due to a sudden outburst of love of Zion on Cromwell’s  part. In fact, he and his fellow Puritans planned to convert the Jews who returned to Christianity. In addition, among the reasons in favor of allowing them to come back was none other than Deuteronomy 28:64: “And the Lord shall scatter thee among all peoples, from the one end of the earth even unto the other.” Since it was clear to the English that they were indeed at the end of the earth, and since they were convinced that Jesus would not return and redeem the world until all that Moses spoke in his prophecy had come to pass, it followed that there was no choice but to allow “Carnal Israel” to return and inhabit their land.

An example like this, of the interdependence between Christian redemption and the acts of the Jews, was once rare, but no more. Nowadays its signs are
easily discernible, even if we do not identify them at first glance. “Replacement Theology,” which posits Christianity as “the true Israel” that replaced Judaism in its exclusive proximity to the Creator, is not in fashion today: Indeed, Protestant Evangelicals reject it explicitly. They insist on the cast-iron nature of the covenant between the Jews and God.

These are the same Zionist Evangelicals who oppose any peace agreement in which Israel will cede parts of the homeland, and who customarily make donations to various right-wing associations in Israel. For them, Israeli sovereignty over the Holy Land is fraught with redemptive meaning. Only the continuing and eternal covenant between the Jewish people and God in heaven can lend messianic significance to its deeds on earth. It was such a frame of mind that prompted the well-known Evangelical preacher Jerry Falwell to assert, back in 1988, that “the most important date we should remember [since the Ascension] is May 14, 1948.” The reason is because, in his view, the creation of the State of Israel “is the greatest single sign indicating the imminent return of Jesus Christ.”

But there’s a snag: Two months ago we celebrated the 65th anniversary of Israel’s creation,  and for some reason Jesus has not yet appeared. What could be the explanation for his tarrying? Here our remarks move closer to Tisha B’Av, the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av, the day on which the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed. As we know, since the destruction of the Temple the Shekhinah, the divine presence, has been in exile. However, what many do not know is the scale to which this state of affairs is also playing havoc with the efforts of the son of God to return and redeem the world.

John Nelson DarbyThe Temple, certain Christians will maintain, is essential for Christian redemption. To understand why, we have to probe the intricacies of the messianic belief held by the Zionist Evangelicals hoping to see the sacrificial rites resume. Most subscribe to the doctrine of an Irish Evangelical named John Nelson Darby (1800-1882). Darby viewed the Scriptures as a uniform prophetic continuum, all of whose parts are connected and interwoven. He developed an interpretation which finds in the textual concatenation recurring hints and hidden predictions of a redemptive historical occurrence that is divided into stages, an occurrence on the brink of which we stand today. According to Darby, Jesus’ second coming will begin when he appears in the heavens and draws his believers to him. This sudden “rapture” will cause millions of decent Christians to disappear instantaneously from the face of the earth.

Then begins the second stage. While those Christians dwell in heaven for seven good years, the earth is to be wracked by ordeals and tribulations. From natural disasters to war, life becomes hell for everyone who did not rise to the upper worlds. The Jews specifically will have a harsh passage. True they will be living in their land in full sovereignty, but they will be unable to accept Jesus into their hearts. Instead, they will prefer to consider one of their own as the messiah. To our great regret, that figure will be, in effect, an Antichrist.

This false messiah will sweep the Jews in his wake, build the Temple and reinstate the practice of sacrifice. The rest of the world will not remain idle: Hostile armies will invade the Land of Israel (more or less all of Asia, Africa and Europe); two-thirds of the Jewish people will be slaughtered in the vast wars that will ensue. The remaining one-third will decide,at long last, to convert to Christianity. At the end of seven years, Jesus will descend from heaven together with his believers, expel the false messiah and rule for 1,000 years from his capital, Jerusalem.

This apocalyptic scenario obliges his adherents to believe that for redemption to occur the Jewish people must establish a state (which was done in 1948), rule Jerusalem and the Temple Mount (1967), and rebuild the Temple (pending).Building the Temple is critical, because according to Darby’s vision the Jewish false messiah will be bound to desecrate it. Based on an interpretation of verses from the Book of Daniel and the Gospel According to Matthew, Darby stated that the ruler will place an “abomination that maketh desolate” in the Holy of Holies. It is not clear what this is, but it is clear that it will defile the Temple. This, according to Darby, will be a definite sign that the
second coming of Jesus is nigh and with it the start of his millennial dominion.

Thus, realization of full redemption requires the desecration of the Temple. However, before a temple can be desecrated, there first must be a temple. In his 1970 book The Late Great Planet Earth, which became a mythical best seller and sold more than 15 million copies, Evangelical writer Hal Lindsey sums up the conditions for redemption:

The main points are these: first there will be a reinstitution of the Jewish worship according to the Law of Moses with sacrifices and oblations in the general time of Christ’s return; secondly, there is to be a desecration of the Jewish Temple in the time immediately preceding Christ’s return … If this is the time that this writer believes it is, there will soon begin the construction of this Temple. (p. 57)

Lindsey further exhorts his believers: “Look for movements within Israel to make Jerusalem the center of the world and to rebuild their ancient Temple on its old site” (page 184). Indeed, he and his followers have been looking ever since, and, of late, finding.

Cooperation between Jewish temple activists and Christian groups began back in the 1980s, but only as the millennium approached did it become closer and more routine. Apart from political and financial support for the positions espoused by the Israeli right, Evangelical groups donate funds for the activity of the Temple groups. In recent years, a gathering has been held every Sukkot in the Jerusalem Convention Center, attended by thousands of Evangelicals, as well as by MKs from right-wing parties. Just a year ago, during a visit to Israel, the Evangelical preacher John Hagee (who in the past has made donations to the  nationalist Im Tirtzu organization) declared that after the pre-redemption wars, the Temple Mount “is where the temple of the lord Jesus Christ will be when he rules and reigns the earth from the city of Jerusalem for a thousand years.”

The relationship between Christian Evangelicals and Temple activists is warmer
today than ever. It is a strange alliance, in which each side is using the other to further its own redemptive goals, knowing full well that the other has a completely alternative, indeed opposite picture of the way redemption will look. As the Emperor Vespasian said concerning the tax he levied on public urinals in Rome, Pecunia non olet, that is, “money does not stink”. That’s why you can take it from whoever hands it to you. And yes, that is the same Vespasian who commanded the campaign to crush the Great Revolt of 67 C.E., and whose son, Titus, destroyed the Temple. Darby was right: Everything is connected.

People have a God-given right to believe what they want, of course, and freedom of religion should be among the foundations of every democratic society. The State of Israel goes further than that, however: It not only upholds the religious rights of those who yearn for the Temple, but also does not hesitate to finance these groups and even to send schoolchildren on guided tours to their facilities. It is at this juncture that religious belief becomes a tool to further a nationalist agenda.

Here the struggle for domination of the Temple Mount is used as part of the campaign for Israel’s domination of the land occupied in the 1967 Six-Day War, and the Temple activists as soldiers furthering the state’s supposed interests.
I don’t believe that the State of Israel is interested in building a temple on Mount Moriah. However, by encouraging these activities it is taking the risk of being understood that way. Some Muslim groups might well view Israel as being in conspiracy with its Christian friends against them and against their sacred sites on the mount. The stakes here are high, some would say, the highest. By all informed opinion, the Temple Mount is a highly charged,hazard zone, and playing with ideological matches around it should be very much discouraged. Tisha B’Av, which was marked this week, reminds us of the unbearable price we might pay for such irresponsible acts.

Published in the English edition of Haaretz, today.


Tomer Persico

“The blog of one of the conference participants, Tomer Persico, has made him one of the most consistently interesting observers of Israeli religious life.”

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