Ehud Bandel, Haredi
by Jonathan Rosenblum
Jerusalem Post International Edition
March 16, 2001
Ehud Bandel, president of Israel’s Masorti (Conservative) Movement, set off a firestorm of controversy within the movement with a recent oped in the Jerusalem Post entitled ``Leaving Religion out of Politics." Many within the movement understood Bandel to be arguing that religious issues like the sanctity of the Temple Mount should not be allowed to intrude into political decisions over the Temple Mount’s sovereignty.
Those angered by the article viewed Bandel, who once served as an aide to Meretz leader Yossi Sarid, as using his position as head of the movement to advance the Meretz agenda. They charged that the official leadership of the movement has become ``monolithic" in its support of the peace process, and that Bandel’s statement reflected the same cast of mind that led a recent Conservative rabbinical delegation to Israel to meet with politicians overwhelming tilted to the Left and to pointedly avoid venturing beyond the Green Line outside of Jerusalem.
In his defense, Bandel insisted that he had not intended to take any position on the sovereignty issue. The only point he was making was that Halacha does not require that the State of Israel ``maintain secular sovereignty over the Temple Mount. The sanctity of the Temple Mount does not depend upon a secular flag flying over it."
Bandel’s pious invocations of the Temple Mount’s ``sanctity" might have been a trifle disingenuous. At least as far as Ismar Schorsch, Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, the Conservative movement’s flagship institution, is concerned, the Temple Mount has no sanctity. The Temple service, Schorsch writes in his March 3 weekly commentary was a ``retrograde form of worship" that has been superseded by the superior modern understanding of the Conservative Movement. Thus the movement has excised all passages relating to the Temple and prayers for its restoration from its prayer books. (Schorsch does not explain why the movement continues to read the lengthy sections of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers devoted to the laws of the ``priestly cult.")
What is more curious about Bandel’s remark is that it dovetails with classic hareidi theology, according to which the State of Israel has no theological significance, and therefore its sovereignty, or lack thereof, over the Temple Mount is irrelevant. Attempting to wake-up my students at an eminently respectable Orthodox seminary recently, I asked them, ``When G-d rebuilds the Temple, do you really think it makes any difference to Him whether the Palestinian or Israeli flag is flying there?"
I hope that at the end of the discussion, however, they understood why it makes a great deal of difference – not just for religious Jews, but even more so for the not yet religious. The religious have long ago learned to deal with the degraded state of the Temple Mount. The Talmud relates that Rabbi Akiva and his colleagues were walking in the ruins of Jerusalem and they saw foxes rutting where the Holy of Holies had stood. His colleagues cried; Rabbi Akiva laughed.
Rabbi Akiva explained his laughter. Seeing the fulfillment of the prophecy ``Zion [the Temple Mount] will be a plowed field," proved to him that another prophecy would also be fulfilled: ``. . . and the streets of the city [Jerusalem] will once again be filled with boys and girls playing in its streets."
Anyone who cares about the future of the Jewish people cannot remain neutral about the issue of Israeli sovereignty over the Temple Mount. Palestinian leaders, from Arafat on down, have repeatedly denied any historical connection between the Jewish people and the Temple Mount. If sovereignty were in their hands, they would do everything possible to remove all traces of the Temple. The Moslem Wakf has already carried excavations on the Mount over the last two years that have, according to Israel’s leading archaeologists, irreparably damaged numerous priceless artifacts from the Temple. No people in whom any sense of national pride still exists can willfully allow its most treasured historical sites to be wantonly destroyed.
Granting sovereignty to the Palestinians would convey the message to Israeli youth that the past is irrelevant. It would be one more cut severing any connection between our present and our past. How ironic that the people with longest continuous history, the people whose very survival through two millenia of exile depended on the collective memory of events thousands of years earlier, should have returned to its homeland only to lose all sense of historical continuity.
Without our past, we have no more claim or attachment to Tel Aviv or Haifa than to the Temple Mount. If we lose the connection to our past, we might as well turn out the lights right now.
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