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August 1, 2017
By: Sondra Baras

Today is the 9th of Av, the day according to the Hebrew calendar that commemorates the destruction of both Temples in Jerusalem: Solomon’s Temple and Herod’s Temple (which was a rebuilt version of the earlier Temple of Ezra and Nehemiah).  For centuries, this date marked the terrible fate that met the Jewish people since our exile from the Land of Israel nearly 2,000 years ago and, in fact, many of the harshest events in our history actually fell on this date.  The Bar Kochba Rebellion came to a tragic end when the town of Beitar fell to the Romans, on this date.  Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of Spain expelled all that kingdom’s Jews on the 9th of Av in 1492.  And the Final Solution was also signed and sealed by Hitler on that date in 1941.  One  year later, the first transport of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto arrived in Treblinka and were murdered in the gas chambers on that date, the 9th of Av.

But today, in Israel, we are forced to reconsider our relationship with this day.  On the one hand, we still suffer from anti-Semitism and the recent boycotts of Israel, the terrible lies that abound in the international media and such horrible denials of Jewish history such as the recent UNESCO decision to recognize Hebron as a Palestinian heritage site, all remind us that we are still mourning.  On the other hand, I almost smiled as I read a prayer in the synagogue today that Jews have been saying on the 9th of Av since the destruction of the Second Temple.  These are some of its words:  “Oh Lord our G-d, comfort . . .the mourners of Jerusalem and the mourning, destroyed, shamed and desolate city, who mourns without her children and whose homes are destroyed.”  How can we, in good conscience, still say this prayer?  Jerusalem is one of the most beautiful cities in the world.  The city has been rebuilt in splendor, including the beautiful ancient city.  The Hurva synagogue again rises in all its glory, higher than the Mosque on the Temple Mount.  There are hundreds of thousands of Jews who live freely and under Jewish sovereignty in Jerusalem and the Government and the Knesset of Israel are headquartered in Jerusalem.

Of course we still mourn the Temple Mount and the travesty that has become that holiest of places.  The very place where our holy temple stood is now occupied by the Dome of the Rock.  And just along the edge of the Temple Mount is the Al Aqsa Mosque.  While I do not believe it is our job to destroy those mosques to make room for a temple, I do believe that one day the Temple will again be built on that Temple Mount.  But even today, in our very imperfect world, I cannot understand how anyone can reasonably justify prohibiting Jews or Christians from praying on that site.  I have no interest in preventing Muslims from praying there.  One of the most poignant Jewish voices on behalf of the Temple Mount is that of MK Yehuda Glick.  Glick has called repeatedly for unlimited universal prayer on the Temple Mount — each human being to have the right to pray as his conscience and his faith leads him.

And why not?  I believe fervently that my faith is the right one but my Christian friends believe that their faith is the right one and Muslims believe that their faith is the right one.  But I am tolerant of other faiths and respect other faiths, so long as those faiths are based on principles of good and justice and kindness.  This is the foundation of religious freedom!

I also believe that one day, G-d will reveal Himself clearly to all humanity and we will all join together as one to serve the One G-d of Israel.  I read Isaiah 2: “It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say: ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that He may teach us His ways and that we may walk in His paths.’  For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem..” That mountain is the Temple Mount!

And yet, today, in 2017, Muslim terrorists murder Israeli policemen of the Druze religion on the Temple Mount and no one in the Muslim world expresses horror or regret.  The Government of Israel installs metal detectors  and cameras to protect people of all faiths on the Temple Mount and the Muslim world goes ballistic.  Pressure is put on the Israeli government from Jordan and from the US, and Netanyahu capitulates, to the dismay of most of Israel.

None of this makes sense.  Everywhere in the world, freedom of religion and religious expression is an exalted value.  And the freedom to pray and visit a religious site of any faith is fundamental in an open democracy.  I visited the Vatican last year and while I was expected to respect the Roman Catholic faith, I was pleased that security is strong and that people of every faith are invited to visit.  The Western Wall, a center of Jewish prayer located at the base of the Temple Mount, is open to people of all faiths.  And people of all faiths pass through its cameras and metal detectors and are then free to pray as they will.  Just recently, President Trump visited the Western Wall and offered his own prayer to G-d.  And Trump is not Jewish.

Why then does the international community endorse discrimination against non-Muslims on the Temple Mount, the holiest site to Jews?  Why are Jews forbidden to pray on the Temple Mount?  Why do Muslims refuse basic security measures on the Temple Mount, which would protect them as well as people of other faiths?  When Muslims are anti-Semitic, intolerant of other faiths and violent, how is it they can put forward irrational demands and their demands are accepted?

So while Jerusalem has been rebuilt and the “Comfort” prayer is indeed anachronistic, we still have much to mourn for.  May G-d hasten the final redemption and may He reveal Himself to all humanity so that we may all pray together on His Temple Mount.