Posts Tagged 'The Temple'

Myth and Modernity: The End Point of Zionism

On June 10, 1967, just three days after Col. Mordechai “Motta” Gur had famously declared, “The Temple Mount is in our hands,” Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Isser Yehuda Unterman said that Halakha (traditional religious law) forbade Jews to visit the site. Two weeks later, a leading Sephardi authority, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, stated that even flying over the site was forbidden. Following a similar note, the religious affairs minister at the time, Zerah Warhaftig, noted that, according to Halakha, the Third Temple has to be built by God. “This makes me happy,” he said, “because we can avoid a conflict with the Muslim religion.” The days Israel’s religious affairs minister was made happy by avoiding conflict are over.

My previous article (The Love-Hate Relationship Between Zionism and The Temple Mount) examined the transformation in the thinking of significant segments of the religious-Zionist movement about the Temple Mount. The change, which overturns the tradition with regard to visiting the site, stems from the strengthening of the national over the halakhic element, and by the infusion of a messianic eros, which did not realize itself under the old Gush Emunim paradigm. In short, the struggle for the land shifted to the Mount.

Still, we should consider all aspects of the national aspect of the modern yearning for the Temple Mount, as this longing is interwoven with the Zionist movement and modern nationalism on a number of levels.

First, in the simplest sense, the yearning for the Temple Mount and the Great Temple is a result of the concrete possibility of reaching it. Technically, that is, it is contingent on Israel’s establishment in the Land of Israel and on the conquest of Jerusalem. Thus, the practical possibility exists to change the physical reality to enable a new temple to be built.

Second, and more important, the desire to build the Temple is related to the desire – which also became a realistic possibility upon the modern ingathering of the exiles and Israel’s creation – to unite the whole Jewish people under one national-religious leadership. While during the ancient temple’s time the Jewish people were never united, never committed to the same place or form of worship, it is the imagined community of the modern nation state that ironically makes this presumably possible.

Ultimately, however, yearning for the Temple Mount and the Temple is intertwined with Jewish nationalism because it is the end point of Zionism – the point at which Zionism self-destructs. For Zionism, which proposed the secularization of Judaism and its conversion from religion to nationality, built itself on the ancient messianic scaffolding of the hope for the ingathering of the exiles. The ultimate goal of the Jewish messianic tradition was always to establish a kingdom, and the independent Jewish state definitely meets the initial conditions to that end.

However, the messianic myth also has as-yet unrealized conditions: Temple and king. The question, then, is whether secular Zionism could decide to halt its headlong dash on the messianic track at a particular point only because it would be less convenient to continue further.

This is not a question of government decisions or military capabilities, but about the internal logic of a particular ideology: whether the ideology can develop critical reflexivity and demarcate an internal boundary that entails a halt or change. Aditionaly, it is a question about the encounter between modern consciousness and the religious and mythical elements that are churning in its depths, between the modern, secular subject and the primeval religiosity that is embedded in its psyche and interwoven into its culture.

Dormant mythic seeds

This last issue, reflecting the explosive encounter between rationalism and mysticism, between secularity and religion, is almost taboo in the world of modern research. Nevertheless, it needs to be asked. In fact, if we believe that we do not possess a pure and immortal soul, and that our inner life reflects only a complex, integrated crystallization of genetic and cultural conditions, the question of their design is doubly important. For if we are in our essence not separate from this world and its material conditions, it follows that those conditions are what our psyche consists of, and, as such, determine its mode of existence and guide its path.

If we add the supposition that not only present-day culture, but also the entire course of history and development exert influence in shaping us, we can conclude that ancient cultural forces continue to reside within us, and that even if they have undergone various transformations and sublimations, they continue to guide our behavior in covert ways.

ScholemWas this not what the scholar of Jewish mysticism, Gershom Scholem, was referring to in his famous letter, in 1926, to the theologian Franz Rosenzweig? That was the gist of this “declaration of allegiance to our language,” as the letter became known, and that was its warning: that in the long term, it would not be possible to evade ancient residues latent within our culture.

According to Scholem, the renewed encounter with Hebrew and its innate sanctities was a “threat [that] confronts us [as] a necessary consequence of the Zionist undertaking … Will its submerged religious power not erupt one day?” He went on:

Each word that is not newly created but taken from the ‘good old’ treasure is full to bursting with explosiveness. A generation that inherited the most fruitful of all our sacred traditions – our language – cannot, however mightily it could wish, live without tradition … God will not stay silent in a language in which he is invoked a thousandfold back into our life … The revivers of the [Hebrew] language did not believe in the Day of Judgment, to which they destined us by their acts. May the recklessness which has set us on this apocalyptic path not bring about our perdition. [Based on published translations of the text by Gil Anidjar, Jonathon Chipman and Alexander Gelley.]

Scholem is talking about secularized Hebrew, but secular Zionism itself, with its project of ingathering the exiles and establishing a sovereign state, is no more than the secularization of the Jewish messianic tradition. Can it be the case that not only language but a national framework, too, can revivify dormant mythic seeds and allow them to flower?

‘Water of life’

In March 1936, Swiss psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung published an essay about events in neighboring Germany. Jung viewed the rise to power of the Nazi Party as a process of mass psychological enthrallment. Indeed, as a surrender to ancient mythic forces that were repressed for thousands of years and now, as he watched, terrified, were returning to seize the consciousness of the Germans.

JungThe essay’s title, “Wotan,” indicates the primal source of the resurgent myth: Wotan was the god of storm, rage and war of the ancient Germanic tribes. For Jung, Wotan is not an autonomous heavenly entity, but a collective archetype implanted within the heart of a human community, a nation.

According to this viewpoint, German culture has never freed itself of Wotan, and the god’s patterns of existence are waiting to be realized in the culture’s forms of expression. According to Jung,

An archetype is like an old watercourse, along which the water of life has flowed for centuries, digging a deep channel for itself. The longer it has flowed in this channel, the more likely it is that sooner or later the water will return to its old bed.

Odin, Wotan's nordic parallel, 18th centuryAn archetype is a track, a pattern of thought and action. Like a neurological path in the brain, which steers the individual toward habitual actions, an archetype steers cultures toward actions which, even if forgotten later on, in the present, are faithful to their collective psyche, more available and inviting than other paths. Observing the rise of the National Socialists to power in Germany, their political posturing and the fascist aesthetic of their symbols and parades, Jung concluded that the old pagan god had recaptured the hearts of the Germans, casually brushing aside the Christian framework they had ostensibly assumed. "We are always convinced," wrote Jung,

that the modern world is a reasonable world, basing our opinion on economic, political and psychological factors … I venture the heretical suggestion that the unfathomable depths of Wotan’s character explain more of National Socialism than all three reasonable factors put together … a god has taken possession of the Germans and their house is filled with a ‘mighty rushing wind.’

Without any desire to draw a demagogic comparison between present-day Israel and 1936 Germany (a baseless and deplorable comparison, of course), and even if one doesn’t subscribe to Jung’s overall approach (I certainly don’t) – his remarks invite us to reflect on the power of the cultural archetype in our contemporary context. According to Jung, an archetype acquires access to modern consciousness when the individual becomes part of the mass, or when he encounters a situation which resists standard treatment. Have Zionism and Israel reached that point?

Israel’s most intractable internal rivals

Like Scholem, Baruch Kurzweil – the Israeli literary and cultural critic – also discerned the danger of implosion created by the Zionist state’s sovereign rule over the Temple Mount. Back in 1970 he wrote,

The year 1967 confronted pragmatic Zionism, which can be only political and state-oriented, with its most critical decision … Zionism and its offspring, the State of Israel, which reached the Western Wall by the route of military conquest, as the fulfillment of earthly messianism, will never be able to abandon the Wall and forsake the occupied sections of the Land of Israel, without denying their historiosophic [philosophy of history, a term coined by Scholem] conception of Judaism. Pragmatic Zionism is caught in the web of its achievements. Abandoning them would mean admitting its failure as the voice and executor of Judaism’s historical continuity … It is inconceivable to halt the headlong rush of a messianic apocalypse in order to allow the passengers to get out and look at the spectacular views of the Day of the Lord.

KurzweilThese words remain startlingly relevant. Is it indeed the case that, apart from obvious practical obstacles, there is another reason, internal and inherent, that explains the enormous difficulty Israel encounters whenever it tries to retract its military achievements in that fateful war? Kurzweil is talking about the conquest of Judea and Samaria as a whole, but certainly the jewel in the imperial crown is Jerusalem, and its apex is the Temple Mount. We have reached the time when the State of Israel is faces a confrontation with them, its most intractable internal rivals. Its kryptonite.

In this regard, Kurzweil would say, Zionism is laid bare, stripped of the secular covering it assumed, its naked theological core revealed. Zionism grasps that it was always only an outer shell for traditional Judaism – more precisely, for the messianic tradition. Under the force of this revelation, its self-image crumbles and is voided of content.

Oedipus discovered that he was of royal lineage at the very moment of realizing that he had killed his father and slept with his mother. Zionism discovers that it is of religious lineage at the very moment when it conquers Judea, Samaria and the Temple Mount. Its underlying driving force of messianism is revealed, even as the Western liberalism it had imagined was its foundation is shaken.

At the same time, the Temple Mount also represents deadly internal logic for halakhic Judaism. Building a temple, completing the messianic tradition, will render halakhic Judaism obsolete. Those who yearn for a new temple dream of a pre-halakhic Judaism: the period of the priesthood, when blood was splattered on the horns of the altar. In the priestly paradigm, control is in the hands of a priestly caste that is centered not around schools of Torah study but around one temple; one that does not pray but sacrifices animals, does not seek God in holy actions and at holy times, but at one special holy site.

Chief Rabbinate sign forbidding entrance  to the Temple MountIndeed, the entire Halakha can be said to be a delayed-action mechanism of the messianic myth, or a vast jigsaw puzzle that is never completely assembled. The Temple is the last piece of the puzzle, and once in place it creates a whole picture that obscures the import of each separate part, each religious injunction. The fact that once there is a temple there will no longer be a Halakha is grasped, consciously or not, by the leading rabbis who oppose visiting the Temple Mount.

It was not by chance that Zionism sanctified the Western Wall nationally, and not by chance that the rabbinate did so halakhically: Both sides found it convenient to see the Mount but not to approach it. Until now, the halakhic consensus has spared Israel the need to address the possible realization of the myth that is churning in its depths, by curbing religious passions with religious force. But as Orthodoxy grows weaker and ethnic nationalism and Temple-driven messianism gain strength, the Israeli state must resort to the use of secular-bureaucratic tools to restrain the religious-mythic thrust. This is a formidable task for the state, as the messianic forces are dislodging it from its traditional course.

House of prayer for all

For all the reasons noted above, the myth cannot be simply repressed, still less annulled. (I am indebted to Prof. Haviva Pedaya for her assistance with this insight.) Zionism’s underlying political theology must be coped with directly and creatively. Secular Zionism’s practice of ignoring this, and its exclusionary attempts in regard to the Temple Mount – and in regard to the content of traditional Judaism as such – must end. In addition to the self-denial involved, this posture is allowing fundamentalist, antidemocratic forces to appropriate Judaism and, in the absence of an alternative, to attract those seeking an answer.

If, as I believe, Zionism is a true and authentic continuation of the Jewish tradition, it must posit a valid alternative to the narrow interpretation of the Temple as an altar around which a family dynasty of priests revolved. Theodor Herzl, the founder of political Zionism, spoke of a modern temple as a kind of philanthropic international institution. However, we also need to consider a religious – and interreligious – center that will be responsive to the religious elements of the messianic vision. In fact, the myth itself allows us to propose this: “for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples,” as Isaiah [56:7] prophesies.

Understandably, this approach obliges respectful and close cooperation with the Muslim institutions that are traditionally responsible for the Al-Aqsa compound. To begin with, Israel’s leaders must make it unequivocally clear that Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock shrine are an integral, eternal part of every skyline and every future vision for Jerusalem, and that the Muslims’ rights of worship will be upheld fully.

In addition, all talk supposedly hinting at the building of a temple in place of the Islamic holy places must be roundly condemned – that can be done only alongside them, preferably with them. Even though a joint arrangement seems far-fetched now, there is reason to hope that when the national component of the conflict is resolved, or on the way to resolution, the way will be opened to cooperation at the religious level.

Zionism is one of the most dazzling success stories of the 20th century, both pragmatically and conceptually. However, it has not properly addressed its religious core. And within it, at its center, the Temple Mount, which can no longer be a black hole of insignificance. This is the time to talk about it, to reinterpret it. And, as explained earlier, this is also in the interest of the halakhic clergy.

Beyond this, even if it were possible to build a temple without being plunged into a religious war with the whole Muslim world, a temple in its premodern sense would simply be a disappointment. It would be the end of the myth’s existence as a fruitful conceptual framework and the onset of its existence as a limited reality; the end of its existence as an erotic, creative force, and the start of its collapse into a caricature of men in white robes – a grotesquerie of blood, sweat and guts.

“An archetype is like an old watercourse, along which the water of life has flowed for centuries,” Jung says. “Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like watercourses in the Negev,” the famous Psalm prophesies. Both Jung and the psalmist draw a connection between the realization of the myth and the water that flows into the dry riverbeds of the desert.

At this time, many waters are again filling the dry riverbeds of our consciousness. The question is not how to block the waters; the question is how and where to channel them.

Published in Haaretz. This is the second of two articles on the subject of the Temple Mount. the first is The Love-Hate Relationship Between Zionism and The Temple Mount.

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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

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