The inevitable tragic outcome of the problem of Jerusalem’s sacred space?
There are humans who claim that certain real estate parcels are special. They call them “Blessed” in English, “Qadosh” in Hebrew or “Muqadas” in Arabic; they all mean meaning sacred, holy, spiritual, inviolable. The sanctity of the designated space sets it apart from nearby secular surroundings.
Often in our human societies, groups of like-minded people, tribes of believers, gather at the sites to perform rituals, animal or grain sacrifices, inspiring chanting of psalms, bows and prayers. prostrations, and to hear the prayers of the ancient sages.
The faithful declare that the soils, stones and structures of these places are holy to them and that all who believe like them can come and perform the sacred acts with them. Those who don’t believe in the inherent uniqueness of the space are usually not invited and sometimes they are barred from entering.
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These “sacred spaces” are then exclusive club houses reserved for members. In our American South, it may be buildings called Protestant churches. In the northeast, they may be called Catholic cathedrals. In some parts of the country they may be called country clubs, maintaining exclusivity of membership without the superimposition of claims of (too) sanctity.
Generally, this idea that an address is sacred and reserved for members, while others are profane and open to the public, is not a dangerous or harmful notion. In fact, the idea of separating amusement parks and calling them “magical kingdoms” or inviting people to join in and have fun – so come” is an enterprising American twist on the notion. special spaces.
One would think that the world is a place large enough to accommodate many distinct designated places of numinous holiness for those who want to set them up, fence them off and gather in place around sacred grounds, stones, trees, walls and altars. , and to bow and sing and sway and sing constantly or daily or seasonally, in peace and harmony with their neighbours.
We Americans are heirs to the idea of the great frontier – the notion that there is space out there for anyone who wants it. “Space – the final frontier” was the tagline for Star Trek, our greatest science fiction television series.
So, we Yankees are thinking, what problem can there be in space?
The tragic fact is that in many places in our wide world people have decided that this is not a big enough place to worship side by side in peace. Their claims for the same space clash. Tragically, this plays out in two bad scenarios. First, when each of two or more stubborn tribes decides that a place belongs to them – and exclusively to them. Second, and more dangerous, when angry warriors take control of the tribe and decide to use the sacred space as a battleground, a launching pad for conflict instead of a sanctuary of sanctuary.
Then, as they say in this totally different space program, “Houston, we have a problem.”
We have such a problem now at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem Israel.
This is not a new problem. Two thousand years ago, competing Jewish religious tribes with conflicting claims over who controls its sanctity fought at this holy site.
Let us return briefly to the history of the conflict. It didn’t end well. To quell the unrest, the Roman government made numerous arrests and inflicted vicious punishments – first by the crucifixion of some loud (and famous) rulers. Later, when years and decades of struggle did not end, they continued the reprisals by expelling the entire population of the “sacred” city. Jerusalem – a city which linguistically means “legacy of peace” – has been emptied of its exiled population. The temple and the city were destroyed and the area plowed up.
After more than 100 years of conflict, rebellion and insurrection, Roman Emperor Hadrian (d. 138 CE) razed the ruins of Jerusalem and sowed the land with salt. He maintained the sanctity of the city with the ultimate irony. He built on the site a Roman city called “Aelia Capitolina” in honor of the imperial family and the Roman god Jupiter Capitolina.
My friends, it seems so hollow and trivial to say that we must learn from history so as not to repeat its tragedies. Civilization has progressed over the past two millennia and we have learned many positive lessons. To the right?
We should have learned that storing stones and arguing over a small plot of land is not a productive path. We should have concluded that tear gas and rubber bullets are not helpful answers.
Our lessons in history and our inherent sanity must have taught us not to rush sadly towards the closure of all – Jews, Christians, Muslims and others – of Jerusalem’s “sacred spaces” by secular authorities.
But it seems to me that we have not learned — that they too will have to close everything and sow the ground with salt. Because we still haven’t learned that what is sacred and special to humanity is not such and such a rock or wall or clod.
It is stability and peace.
Tzvee Zahavy de Teaneck was professor of Near Eastern studies at the University of Minnesota, where he won the Distinguished Teaching Award in 1985. He is the author of more than a dozen books on history and the sacred texts of Judaism.