Whenever I bring first-time visitors to the Western Wall, I like to add a little dramatic flair. There’s a wonderful vantage point, just atop the Chabad soup kitchen, that offers an incredible view of the wall, the prayer plaza before it, and the Temple Mount – sporting the gold and tarnished silver domes of the Muslim shrine and mosque – behind it. And best of all, because of all the twists and turns of Jerusalem’s old city alleyways, it comes as a sudden and dramatic “reveal.” So I take advantage of the hidden view – just around the next turn, unbeknownst to the tourist – to tell the history of the Temple Mount just before they get their first glimpse.
The spot where I give my quick thumbnail sketch of the Mount’s more-than three millennia history of occupancy is right near one of the many alleys where the Jewish Quarter meets the Muslim Quarter. As such, Muslims and Jews alike pass by as I weave my tale of what was built, by whom, how long it was there, and why it was destroyed (or not). For the most part, no passersby have ever bothered to comment on my narrative (if they were listening at all). But such was not the case last Friday.
I was with a small group of four men, two of whom had never been to Israel. So as not to make it seem a blasé event, I very enthusiastically told the tale of the two Temples that once stood on Mount Moriah, giving it the title of the Temple Mount. As I told the story, and older Muslim man stopped walking to/from wherever he was headed/leaving to listen in to what I was saying. He listened very patiently and respectfully.
When I got to the point in the history at which the Romans destroyed the second Temple in 70 CE, he politely interrupted, asking if he could comment. Naturally, I consented. He then informed me that the information I had shared was just my opinion, and had no basis in historical fact. There is no archaeological evidence, he smilingly explained, that proved any Temple had ever existed there.
“You’re right,” I replied. What else could I say? He is right. But I continued to tell him that it’s unfair to say there is no proof while at the same time support the Waqf (Muslim religious body given control of non-security matters on the Mount) which will not allow any archeological digs to look for any such proof. You can’t hide the potential proof of a claim and then deny that very claim due to lack of proof. Well, you can, but it’s a jerk move.
“But without proof, it’s just a story,” the passerby said.
“True,” I replied, “but it’s a story that the Waqf themselves believed.” I then told him of a 1925 guidebook published by the Waqf in which they say the “identity [of the Temple Mount] with the site of Solomon’s Temple is beyond dispute.” (page 4, second paragraph)
The man quickly said that the Waqf guidebook could not be trusted since it was written for the benefit of the British, who were not trustworthy.
So the question is: can we trust the Waqf? I mean, if you can’t trust a religious organization known for its intolerance of other faiths, overshadowed only by its denial of other narratives and complete refusal to even search for historical facts on the site it’s charged with maintaining, who can you trust? But seriously, if we can take them at their word, then the official Muslim opinion is that the Temple did indeed stand where the golden Dome of the Rock is today. If we can’t trust their word, then how can we believe them when they deny the Temple was there?
I, for one, am in favor of getting to the bottom of this. I say we get on up there and find evidence for one narrative or another. Of course, that becomes increasingly difficult every time the Waqf allows blatant destruction of priceless artifacts, but I’m sure there’s ample proof one way or the other.
Post script: Just before the older Muslim man left us, he pointed out that Arabs and Jews got along much better back “in the good ol’ days” before the British came.
Sure, buddy. It was good – for the Arabs. The Jews had to pay a dhimmi tax just to avoid mass slaughter; basically a religious mafia-style protection racket. If you consider that “getting along,” then it was a regular hoot for us, too.