This is a response to  Gedalyah Reback’s recent op-ed in TOI entitled, “I’m not an extremist. I want the 3rd Temple,” in which he claims building the third Jewish temple is  ”a rational political demand,” and Chaim Richman’s similar op-ed, as well.

Gedaliyah thinks he isn’t an extremist because he does not want

“to watch a missile cruise into the Temple Mount to make way for new construction.”

But he doesn’t offer any other explanation for how the Dome of the Rock or al-Aqsa will suddenly disappear “in his lifetime.” I’m sure he really does want a peaceful building of the Temple, but just saying that is meaningless. Please explain how Muslims will simply part with their treasured holy site? Or perhaps a convenient earthquake will bring them down? With out providing a peaceful explanation, the very talk of the Third Temple being built in place of the Dome of the Rock is categorically, in realistic terms, a Jewish call to holy war.

Given the primacy of the Jerusalem Temple in ancient Judaism, it is a natural desire for current religious Jews to see that temple rebuilt. However, given the current political climate, anyone sharing this burgeoning desire would do best to keep it in his or her heart. Those who don’t are naively putting Israelis in danger.

***

Jews around the world remember the awful pogrom in Hebron in 1929, in which an Arab mob hacked to death more than 60 Jews, many of them woman and children, and more than 50 were wounded. What is often forgotten is the context of this tragedy.

The Hebron massacre was just one incident in a nationwide bloodbath between Jews, Arabs and the British, during which 133 Jews were killed and 339 were wounded, and 87 Arabs were killed and 181 wounded. The cause of this outbreak in violence? A small simple picture taken out of a Jewish newspaper in New York, in which the Star of David was on top of the Dome of the Rock.

It was with this picture that Amin al-Husayni, the first Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, managed to convince the Palestinians and the wider Arab world that the Revisionist Zionists who were leading a fight for Jewish rights at the Western Wall, also intended on eventually taking the whole Temple Mount. Soon the hatred and fear the Mufti had stirred up spiraled out of his control, and Muslims all over Mandate Palestine slaughtered Jews for four days in defense of the Haram al-Sharif (the Arabic name for Temple Mount).

***

Geographically shared sacred spaces, and especially sacred centers of nations (especially nascent nations) have historically been the theaters for outbreaks of violence. The above-mentioned riots are just one example in Israel’s history. The feud over Israeli and Palestinian control and rights on the Temple Mount also fueled the violent engines of the 1st and 2nd Intifadas (See Roger Friedland and Richard Hecht’s paper, “The Bodies of Nations: A Comparative Study of Religious Violence in Jerusalem and Ayodhya,” for insight into this claim.)

The reason that violence flows outward from sacred space is explained by anthropologists thusly: Sacred space is a place where the fundamental values of any society can be represented physically–it makes sacred culture tangible. As the “primordial signifier,” sacred sights are the objects of desire for those seeking to control and define the group.

In short, sacred sites are powder kegs—they must be dealt with delicately and intelligently. Discussing the Third Temple, while Hamas is gaining popularity among the frustrated Palestinians facing the most conservative Israeli government ever, is neither delicate nor intelligent.

***

In order to avoid violence, a moderate and intelligent approach to sacred space should be adopted.

God does not ordain sacred spaces; rather they are man-made. Some sacred spots are quickly produced by man, while others slowly acquire sacredness through time via the build-up of a religious tradition. Does this man-made quality of sacred space make it any less important?  Perhaps for some, but it should not. Man’s attempt to communicate and create a relationship with the Divine is its most supreme and magnanimous endeavor. At their heart, sacred sites are the great monuments to this task. This is why one may feel akin to and awe from a sacred site of a culture not their own, for in the most profound way, it is still a monument to their own great spiritual endeavor.

The multiplicity of narratives that groups and sub-groups apply to each sacred spot, sometimes overlapping and sometimes mutually exclusive, pale in comparison to the ultimate function of these sacred monuments. It is therefore in the interest of both Jews and Arabs to overlook, when harmful, their own particular connections to the sacred spots they share, and instead, stand in awe at man’s collective hand reaching for God, and together reach higher.

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