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101 American Rabbis Call For Sharing Jerusalem's Temple Mount

Allan Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
January-February 2001

More than 100 American rabbis have issued a statement saying that there is no religious reason to require exclusive Israeli sovereignty over the Temple Mount, the stone plateau in Jerusalem considered holy by both Jews and Muslims, that has been at the center of recent violence in the Middle East.  

The rabbis said that a Muslim presence on the mount was implicit in the prophet Isaiah's visions of a "house of prayer for all nations." Two Islamic shrines, Al Aksa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, sit atop the mount. The rabbis said they are seeking to calm Muslim fears that Jews are seeking to destroy the two sacred structures on the mount.  

"There is no reason why it can't be shared," said Rabbi Arthur Green, a professor of Jewish thought at Brandeis University, who helped write the statement. "The prophecy of Isaiah says the mount is meant to be a house of prayer for the whole human race, and not just the Jewish people. The Jewish people should therefore welcome the Muslim presence, and of course we think the Muslim authorities should also welcome the Jewish presence on the mount."  

The New York Times (Dec. 7, 2000) reports that, "The statement, signed by 101 rabbis, was written and circulated by Dr. Green and Rabbi Roland Matalon of B'nai Jeshurun Synagogue in New York City...Most of the signers are from the Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist movements, though a few are Orthodox."  

Writing in The Forward (Oct. 6, 2000), Leonard Fein notes that the intimate juxtaposition of Jewish and Muslim holy places "renders the Temple Mount unique." He argues that, "It is the place where the heavenly Jerusalem and the earthly Jerusalem meet, a place where the sacred and the symbolic have a physical geography. Plainly, there can be no such thing as sovereignty over the heavenly Jerusalem—not, at any rate, sovereignty as understood conventionally...What is required is...that the religious imagination be nudged into a recognition that it is precisely the centrality of the Temple Mount that renders it a genuine corpus separatum, God's little acre, that cannot, ought not, and need not, be owned by anyone...."  

Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami told American Jewish leaders in December that his government is prepared to surrender Israeli sovereignty over the Temple Mount as part of a peace agreement with the Palestinians "according to a transcript of the conversation provided by one of the participants," The Washington Post (Dec. 23, 2000) reported. The Post noted that, "The offer is a major concession by Israel, whose leaders have long insisted that it would never part with a site revered by both Muslims and Jews..."  

At the same time, Rabbi Avi Shafran, spokesman for Agudath Israel, an Orthodox group, criticized those calling for shared sovereignty of the Temple Mount, saying that it is a "radical revisionist view" to say that Isaiah was thinking of Muslim shrines when he spoke hundreds of years before Islam was founded. An advertisement was placed in newspapers across the U.S. declaring that, "Israel Must Not Surrender Judaism's Holiest Site, the Temple Mount." It was signed by, among others, past chairmen of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations Kenneth Bialkin, Julius Berman, Shoshana Cardin, Lester Pollack and Leon Levy. (Washington Jewish Week, Dec. 28, 2000)  

Gershon Gorenberg author of the book The End Of Fundamentalism And The Struggle For The Temple Mount, wrote in The Washington Post (Dec. 21, 2000): "Sooner or later...Israelis and Palestinians must find a way to resolve the essentially symbolic issue of sovereignty at the Mount. In fact, a solution is already available—if the sides can find the courage and mental flexibility to reach out and take it...The solution has two pieces. The first is to work out the nuts and bolts of administering the holy place—an achievable task. Since the Israeli conquest, Jews have prayed at the Western Wall, on the outer edge of the Mount, while al-Aqsa has remained under de facto Muslim administration. The Barak government is apparently ready to make the arrangement de jure as part of a peace accord. Israel's moderate chief rabbi, Eliahu Bakahi-Doron, declared before Camp David that the status quo of Palestinian administration at the site could remain in force, providing an essential religious endorsement. For the Palestinians, one of the most painful aspects of occupation has been Israel's ability to restrict Muslim access to the holy site...Prime Minister Barak is now ready to cede a swath of East Jerusalem to the Palestinians, ensuring free access to al-Aqsa. The Palestinians... have reportedly expressed agreement to drop their longstanding claims to the Western Wall area...With such arrangements in place, sovereignty would cease having practical import; it would be a purely symbolic issue."

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