By Ohr Margalit
Bar-Ilan University in Israel
As the Obama Administration pursues the latest peace initiative in the Mideast amid renewed world hopes, it will ultimately face once again the seemingly intractable issue of the future status of the Temple Mount (Al Haram Al Sharif in Arabic). Situated in the center of Jerusalem, it is the site of the Dome of Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosque, sacred to Islam, and also the site of long-held aspirations by Jews for a rebuilt temple as expressed to this day in daily prayers.
Contention about this spot is incongruous given its shared spiritual significance for Jews, Muslims and Christians alike. The Dome stands at the place where all three religions believe that Abraham was prepared to sacrifice his son before an angel stayed his hand. The Jewish Temple, from the initial consecration address by King Solomon onwards, was always intended to manifest the One God for all, Jew and non-Jew alike, as well as the universal ideal of God’s moral order reigning supreme. References in sacred Jewish texts and history to the role of non-Jews in the Temple are numerous and striking.
But this sanctified spot was subsequently tarnished by the destruction of the first and second temples, the latter by the Roman general Titus in the year 70 preceded by deadly infighting of Jew against Jew. In modern times, the Camp David negotiations of 2000 broke down in part over the issue of the Temple Mount, and the second intifada that followed was sparked by a violent incident there. Given the conventional assumption that Jewish law mandates the spot of the Dome as the site of a future rebuilt temple, avoidance of this topic by all mainstream religious bodies is understandable. But it remains a central, if unspoken, obstacle to a peace settlement.
A recent article published in the leading journal of religious law in Israel, Tehumin, however, opens the potential for restoring this now-contentious spot to its original sacred role as God’s Holy Mountain, a house of prayer for all people (Isaiah 56:7). Although the arguments are detailed and technical, the main point is that Jewish doctrine regarding the rebuilding of the temple emphasizes the role of a prophet (one deemed authentic by contemporaneous sages) who would have extraordinary authority, including the discretion to specify the temple’s precise location, regardless of any diverging Jewish traditions.
This article considers the scenario of a holy revelation given to an authentic prophet that the temple be rebuilt on the current or an extended Temple Mount in peaceful proximity to the Dome, Al Aqsa Mosque, and nearby Christian shrines. According to Jewish law, the article concludes, such a prophetic mandate would then be binding. It would also be in keeping with the words of the 12th Century Jewish sage Maimonides that Christianity and Islam are part of God’s ultimate plan “to direct the entire world to worship God together.” Interestingly, Theodore Herzl, the preeminent secular Zionist, detailed the same vision for a rebuilt temple in peaceful proximity to Islamic and Christian shrines on what he called “the holy region of mankind.”
While compromise is admirable in the pursuit of peace, a rebuilt temple according to this vision would be nothing of the kind. It would be the radical fulfillment of God’s original mandate to the Jewish people and of the original purpose of the Temple, to manifest the One God to the world. This would be more powerfully accomplished with Christian and Muslim shrines nearby along with the pilgrims that visit them. At the very same time, with a rebuilt Temple in peaceful proximity, Allah would be more powerfully manifested in the Dome and in the Al Aqsa Mosque, and likewise for God, the Prince of Peace, in surrounding churches. All would occur simultaneously because the world would then understand and embrace the prophecy of Zechariah 14:9, “On that day, God will be One and His Name One.”
These initial findings and the painting of this vision will be presented at a launching event on June 18 in Jerusalem, sponsored by the Interfaith Encounter Association. This event will be preceded by a separate panel discussion among distinguished rabbis, sheikhs and Christian clergy about this prophetic verse. We hope that among other potential ultimate developments, ensuing dialogue and study can further the understanding that Jews, Muslims and Christians were put together in the Mideast not to acquiesce in conflict instigated by tyrants throughout history but to fulfill the prophecy of Zechariah 14:9.
Ohr Margalit, Ph.D., teaches rabbinic studies at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, is a former Harry Starr fellow at Harvard, and directs the study project described here.