The Temple Mount is Jewish

There is much in the world right now that might lead one to conclude that it has collectively lost its senses. Be that as it may, this was only heightened by the recent decision by UNESCO to ratify a resolution generated by certain members of the UN that disavowed any historical Jewish connection with the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. According to the authors of the resolution its stated aim of the text was “the safeguarding of the cultural heritage of Palestine and the distinctive character of East Jerusalem” (see link below). The absurdity of the description and the falsity of its basic premise was ably summarised by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who said in a Facebook post that UNESCO had become a “theatre of the absurd” in taking “another delusional decision”. He continued “To say that Israel has no connection to the Temple Mount and the Western Wall is like saying that China has no connection to the Great Wall of China or that Egypt has no connection to the pyramids. By this absurd decision, UNESCO has lost what little legitimacy it had left.”

There are, thankfully, few within the Jewish world who would support such historical revisionism as is now accepted by the UN. The reasons for the outcry are, however, more nuanced. In a world where materialism and consumerism rule the conceptual roost it is fashionable, and has been for some considerable time, to see the world of faith a something purely ethereal and singularly spiritual by nature. This presentation of the Jewish faith merely sees faith wrapped up in joy, ecstasy or an emotional response to loving G-d. It is not even that unusual to hear the old ‘physical is bad, spirit is good’ dichotomy, taught by the ancient Greek philosophers. While it is true that the spiritual world underpins the physical, ignoring the physical is quite simply unjewish and unbiblical. In Judaism our faith is precisely rooted in the physical, the historical, the real world. G-d didn’t theoretically take us out of Egypt as a theological teaching tool, He actually DID take us out. Jewish faith is as much to do with dates and events as spirituality. We detect the Hand of G-d at work IN and THROUGH the physical real world around us. The reason why answered prayer is so powerful is because it shows that our G-d, while omnipotent, is not just so in theory: He can break through into this creational shell that is our temporary home. When He sent His salvation into human history He was born in a certain time in a certain place. Salvation has historicity.

To deny the physical reality of the spiritual is to follow through with the UNESCO resolution. Some may argue it makes no difference. It does. It is a crucial difference. Our G-d reigns not just on an ethereal plane but in reality in human lives, in time and place. Faith has a history, and it is important.

What the UN did with this resolution was not an action to side with an Islamist agenda regarding history. No, this was to take sides against the G-d of history who has left His fingerprints on the earth, in time. As such our response is not to become anti-Islamic but to recognise that we must work to become a stronger nation with all the historical ties to the Land legitimised in ways that only we can do as its inhabitants. A stronger national connection is the only answer to such historical revisionism. Ironically, by adopting this resolution, the UN has itself become an historic irrelevance, a footnote in man’s attempts to fight the G-d of Israel.

The last Trump

While our thoughts and prayers go out to all those who are suffering in the recent earthquakes in Italy and New Zealand, there has been another ‘earthquake’ in the last week that has the potential to realign the geopolitical tectonic plates around the world: the election of president-elect Donald Trump to the White House. The unrest that this has stirred coupled with the fact that well over 70% of the Jewish community in the US didn’t back Mr Trump (source Jewish Chronicle, 11th Nov 2016) means that this ‘shock result’ can not be ignored, despite some residual reluctance to appear partisan. According to reports in the Jewish Chronicle this week some US Jewish commentators are lining up to attack Trump’s election to what is arguably the most powerful political position in the world. Dan Friedman’s comment is typical: ‘The Jewish community is united in its opposition to Trump (….) he is mostly anathema to the Jewish vote’. Apparently even our Prime Minister, Netanyahu, has been less than effusive in his congratulations.
What should our response be? In an early response to the events Apple CEO Tim Cook wrote to all his employees quoting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who said 50 years ago: “If you can’t fly, then run. If you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk, then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” As Jews this sentiment has deep historical resonance for us. There simply is not a good day to stop moving. To stop is to surrender, to give in to a force that may feel overwhelming but in reality will pass. Despite the right-wing rhetoric bordering on anti-Semitism coming out of the Trump support base, we cannot, and must not conclude that the game is up. Cook continued in his communication: ‘While there is discussion today about uncertainties ahead, you can be confident that Apple’s North Star hasn’t changed.” If the CEO of a multinational can make that claim, then how much more so the Jewish people, the nation G-d has called into existence through Avraham avinu. Our continued presence on this planet is a provocative challenge to a human history littered with countries and leaders whose sole ambition it was was to see us annihilated. Israel’s ‘North Star’ is our G-d, our Redeemer, the One who has become our salvation. THAT will never change.
In Israel one can often hear the phrase ‘yehiyeh tov’ – it will be well. Indeed it shall be. Such confidence is born out of the solid covenantal conviction that G-d has not, does not and will never leave us. To take on the Jewish people is to attempt the impossible: to defeat G-d. As was spoken through the Prophet Daniel, the Lord ‘removes kings and raises up kings’. Blessed be the name of the Lord. History with its empires and kingdoms has ebbed and flowed with time, some have been kind to us, some less so. But Israel continues. Our G-d IS a G-d of justice and righteousness, His verdict is just and we can trust Him to be so. Whatever may yet come our way, from history, and Scripture, we know one fact: G-d is in control. Lift up our eyes, for our redemption is near. All will be well.

Architectural Falsehoods

A few years ago on one of my regular visits to Germany I happened to be in the beautiful city of Wittenberg, the spiritual home of Martin Luther whose writings and protests at the theology of the Catholic Church played such a part in the so called, and aptly called, Protestant Reformation. Any visit to that city will inevitably involve a walk down the main street ending at the church where Luther’s 95 theses were nailed to the front door in dramatic style. This act reverberated through ecclesiastical history as loudly as, if not more so, the slamming of Helen Huntingdon’s bedroom door against her husband…
While Luther’s protest was ostensibly about the theology surrounding indulgences, we cannot overlook the background to the church and its very sad inherited history, nor dare we forget Luther’s own commentary to the said events. It was there that in 1305 a carved image of the ‘Judensau’ (Jewish pig) was fixed high on the building, an image of Jewish people suckling on the teats of a pig while yet another examines the rear end of the animal. In Luther’s discussion of this some 200 years later he describes how this represents the Jewish people seeking the source of the unutterable Name in Judaism. Such appalling and shocking words are rightly today rejected by many if not most Christians, yet represented at the time a considered and widely accepted Christian theological position. In the Jewish Chronicle (see link below) Max Privorozki, a local German-Jewish leader, comments “There is no doubt that the Judensau sculpture is unseemly, obscene, insulting, offensive, libellous, a portrayal of hate speech and anti-Semitism and that it defames Jewish people and their faith. However, it should be seen within the context of the time period in which it was made.” Indeed. That the sculpture still exists has provoked a backlash today with plans suggested to remove it. Yet Privorozki continues that the sculpture should not be removed, as it “represents a testimony of medieval thinking and Christian architectural tradition”.

Such defamation and persecution was not, and sadly today is still not, that unusual in the world. Anti-Semitism lives on as strongly today as it ever has, and the ancient Catholic tradition of interpreting the Scriptures in this anti-Judaic (read anti-Semitic) way has either by accident or with malice aforethought contributed to the fuel used to fan such fires. That Christians today should be repenting of such attitudes is an excellent first step, yet as Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, Chief Rabbi of Moscow and President of the Conference of European Rabbis, said: “Removing statues can be, on the one hand, symbolic. On the other hand, it might not be enough. The question is, to what extent the Protestant churches have gone through their history, liturgy, statements and religious texts to distance themselves from teachings which have elements of anti-Semitism.” Indeed again. It is simply too easy to argue that the Church of that time was misguided or not well enough informed, or even worse that such events were driven by those who were not ‘real’ Christians. None of the above is true and represents an escape clause and ‘get out of jail card’ for today’s believers who wish to distance themselves from anything too distasteful by today’s standards. The truth is that such events were driven by an integral and core theology that began in the late first to early second century, and was well under way by the fourth: Christian anti-Semitism. At times latent and better hidden, at others more open and hostile, the ‘necessary’ theological distancing of the nascent gentile body of believers spawned this institutional anti-Semitism, a sad and inevitable backlash against the ‘defeated’ nation of the Jewish people. The rest as they say is history. Rabbi Goldschmidt is totally correct in his view: repentance is fine, but a root and branch eradication of all early theology that was anti-Judaic MUST now happen too.

That this is needed was amply demonstrated by the reaction from one man who upon seeing us in Wittenberg crossed the road to speak to us and confront us with the Judensau to our faces. It wasn’t pleasant, yet affirmed that the spirit of anti-Semitism is still feeding off the sculpture and its history. By all means remove the image, but remove everything else too.