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Where is Judaism’s holiest site?

No, it's not the Western Wall -- and these days precision regarding Jerusalem's Jewish sites matters a lot

The international delegitimization campaign waged against Israel by the Palestinians and their supporters consistently attempts to deny Jewish connections to Jerusalem and its holy sites.

The recent visit of US President Donald Trump to Jerusalem’s Western Wall brought a huge amount of media attention on the iconic Jewish holy site.

First daughter Ivanka Trump tweeted:

Indeed, the Western Wall was where new US Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman immediately headed upon his arrival in the country:

Well, it was a long trip. We’re a bit tired, but we wanted to come straight to the holiest place in the entire Jewish world, the ‘Kotel Hamaaravi,’ the Western Wall, so we straight came here.

Indeed, there is no other holy site that is so closely identified with the Jewish people in the minds of both Jews and non-Jews. Certainly enough for many to label the Western Wall as “Judaism’s holiest site.”

Numerous media outlets also described the Western Wall in almost identical terms.

Except that the Western Wall isn’t “the holiest place in the entire Jewish world.”

While the Western Wall is the holiest site that Jews are allowed to pray, the Temple Mount, the site of two ancient Jewish temples is, in fact, Judaism’s holiest site.

How is it that Ivanka, one of the most prominent Jewish women in the world right now, and Ambassador Friedman, a proudly orthodox Jew, have inadvertently contributed to the very delegitimization campaign that they would undoubtedly oppose?

While theoretical at present, should discussions arise concerning the status of the Temple Mount, Israel will be in no position to make demands for sovereignty over the site if the prevailing narrative fails to recognize its most crucial importance to the Jewish faith.

HonestReporting has achieved recent corrections on this very issue from media including the New York TimesWashington PostAssociated PressDaily MailThe Independent, and The Times of London.

So The Guardian’s response came as a surprise after complaints concerning three references to the Western Wall as “Judaism’s holiest site,” “Judaism’s most holy site” and the “most revered of Jewish holy sites.”

The Guardian’s readers’ editor replied: “These are shorthand ways of describing the Western Wall, and in these three cases I believe them to be accurate and adequate in their contexts.”

This he based on examples including the aforementioned comments by the US Ambassador as well as a quote from the Western Wall Heritage Foundation‘s website:

We all know that the Western Wall, the Kotel, is the most significant site in the world for the Jewish people.  We know that it is the last remnant of our Temple.

The readers’ editor concluded:

There may be occasions when the context would require that a fuller explanation be given of the fact that the Western Wall is a part remaining of the Second Temple which stood on the Temple Mount, and that because Jews are not allowed to pray on the Temple Mount they traditionally pray instead at the Western Wall, considered to be the closest point to the peak of Mount Moriah.


But in my view the three references you have raised, in their particular contexts, do not require that amount of detail.

Except that HonestReporting had not necessarily demanded a more detailed explanation of the status of the Western Wall or Temple Mount for the Jewish people – only that the Western Wall not be inaccurately referred to as Judaism’s holiest site.

Even the BBC, hardly a friend of Israel, as far back as 2008, was forced to uphold a complaint on the same matter, amending a story and stating:

Although the Western Wall is the holiest of those places whose locations are known and accessible, the site of the Holy of Holies of the Temple (which is on Temple Mount, though its exact location is not known) is regarded by religious authorities as the holiest place in Judaism.

Some people may treat this complaint as pedantic. After all, the Western Wall is technically a retaining structure of the Temple Mount. Yet the context is all important in the face of efforts to diminish Jewish historical and religious rights to Jerusalem, such as that seen most recently at UNESCO.

This has nothing to do with arguments over existing Jewish prayer rights or restrictions on the Temple Mount or even calls from a fringe minority for the imminent construction of a third temple.

It’s about basic journalistic accuracy, something that The Guardian appears not to be bothered about. The Guardian is in no position to unilaterally decide what is holy or otherwise for the Jewish people.

We need to make sure that it doesn’t.

About the Author
Simon Plosker is the Managing Editor of HonestReporting. With overall responsibility for HonestReporting’s content and output, Simon joined the organization in November 2005 following several years working in a variety of non-profit organizations and immigrating to Israel from London in 2001. He has a BSoc.Sc in International Studies and Political Science from the University of Birmingham and a MSc in History of International Relations from the London School of Economics.
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