Jerusalem’s new 662-foot-long suspension bridge from Mount Zion to the Ben Hinnom Valley is an impressive urban development. It is likely to be an impressive tourist attraction that will be enjoyable to pedestrians who can get to Jerusalem’s Old City in a faster and more enjoyable way. This bridge is also the key to Israel’s future and the only way Israel can survive. Why? Because of a story that took place about a hundred years ago.
At the time, the tensions between Jerusalem’s traditional Jews and the secular Marxists living in the kibbutzim of Israel were very high. Like today, it seemed like two irreconcilable groups would never be able to dwell in the same country. The two groups did not have much to do with one another, and any meaningful exchange between the groups was almost unheard of. The person who broke this division was Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, the chief rabbi of Jerusalem at the time. Despite enduring heavy criticism for his connection with the folks on the kibbutzim, Rabbi Kook insisted on seeing the beauty and brotherhood all Jews could share. Despite the fact that many of the Jews on the kibbutzim or who were secular Zionists despised traditional Judaism and had a deep resentment toward all forms of formal religion, Rabbi Kook loved and respected them. He cherished their friendship, admired their work, and appreciated their idealism.
One day, walking outside the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City on Mount Zion, exactly where Jerusalem’s new stretch bridge has been built, Rabbi Kook was accompanied by a critic. The man was astonished that Rabbi Kook would be friendly with secular Zionists, much more so Zionists who openly opposed traditional observance. As the man was complaining about the many transgressions the chalutzim (Jewish pioneers) were committing, he saw Rabbi Kook look away from him, staring intently below at the Valley of Ben Hinom as if he were looking for something. As the man finished his rant against the chalutzim, he finally asked Rabbi Kook why he was staring at the valley below. Rabbi Kook said to him: “I look here, and I do not see anyone burning their child for the Molech idol.”
Rabbi Kook was referring to the barbaric and horrifying practice, common in the later era of the first Temple, of many Jews and non-Jews burning their child as an offering for the Molech idol — specifically in the Valley of Ben Hinom: “And they have built the high places of Topheth, which are in the valley of Ben Hinom, to burn their sons and daughters with fire, which I did not ordain, neither did it enter My mind. (Jeremiah 7:31)
Rabbi Kook’s message has several powerful meanings: firstly, those looking to judge others for religious infractions or for not being more observant should remember that the Jewish people have lived through times of far greater religious infractions — the greatest of all. To pretend something morally horrible and unprecedented is taking place in our times is a falsification of the very history recorded in the books of the prophets. If the Jewish people could carry through those times as a united people, there is no reason we should stop being one people now.
As we see religious intolerance on the rise, rabbis calling for religious war, and a populist movement for Israel to become a religious theocracy, it is time for Israelis to remember that Israel today is far more religious than it has ever been in its entire history — all of it.
Religious fanatics, and every religious person in Israel, should be required to visit the bridge watching over the Valley of Ben Hinom to see how far Israel has come and to remember that if Jews did not decide to go to war against one another back then, there is really no reason to do so now. Each and every one of us must remember the spirit of Rabbi Kook, who believed that bridging all parts of Israel should be the highest priority of our people — not trying to conquer one another. Rabbi Kook believed in coming together despite the greatest possible differences.
While walking on the bridge, we can remember that the last time Jews living in Israel were nearly as religiously committed as they are today — the end of the Second Temple — Jerusalem was destroyed because we went on religious wars against one another. Our inability to tolerate our religious differences helped destroy everything we had.
Jerusalem’s new stretch bridge should be a mandated visit for every Israeli who does not want to see religious war tearing Israel apart. It should be especially mandated for religious Jews who think Israel is religiously worse off than it was in the past. It should be a mandated visit to remember Rabbi Kook and the need to see the good in others no matter what and to seek out the common good necessary for the future of Israel. The horrors of murder, child sacrifice, and idolatry of the Valley of Ben Hinom should remind everyone how far better off we are than in the past, how the past was not all or nearly glorious, and how, no matter what, there should be a way for Jews in Israel to bridge the divides between them.