On the Destruction of Jewish Holy Places in Modern Times



The looting and destruction of the great Jewish holy places is an enduring wound to Jewish pride. Languishing in apathy, we remain silent as the ruthless enemies of our people triumph in supremacist glory over their desecrations. From one generation to the next, tyrannies of various shades of barbarism have trampled over our magnificent architectural achievements - Egyptians, Assyrians, Hittites, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Christians, Muslims, Spaniards, Poles, and Germans. In our own age, it is the Muslim hatred that is most virulent. Just this very morning, during the month of Av in the Hebrew calendar, on the ninth day, an ancient and monumental day of mourning for all of Israel, we were witness to a new attack of this Islamic variety.

The desecration, destruction (see also here) and usurpation by Muslims of Jewish religious and communal sites is one component of a much larger Islamic campaign to consume the history, co-opt the traditions, and deny the validity of Judaism itself. The site of today's attack was the Tomb of the Patriarchs, arguably the most sacred Jewish holy site in existence. Not merely a holy site, it is also an unparalleled archaeological treasure, and historically the only fully surviving Herodian structure from the period of Hellenistic Judaism. So we are confronted directly by our enemies' annihilationist tendencies: our holiest religious site is desecrated on the darkest day of our calendar. What does this savagery reveal to us about our enemies? What does this attack indicate about the future survival of Israeli sovereignty and power? How does such an act reverberate in the wider Jewish and Islamic worlds? How does the response of the elected representatives of the Jewish state and the Jewish faith affect the spiritual vitality of the common Jewish citizen and believer?

Recently, a NAZI swastika was unfurled from the roof a prominent mosque in an Arab village in Israel. A Jewish resident of the adjacent town reflected that Muslims "no longer feel the need to hide their murderous tendencies, announcing out loud that they wish to annihilate us." Surely, the Jewish faith runs deeper than any territory or symbolic display of sovereignty. But we should not underestimate the power of spiritual symbolism and fraternal brotherhood. Yes, the bedrock of our faith is the monotheistic creed, the belief in one God. But it is my contention that the ideals we revere and the public spaces where we gather play an integral role in unifying our nation. Thus, the attack on the tomb of our patriarchs and this braggadocious display of fascistic supremacism are intolerable provocations that demand a response. The great culminating question is whether Israel, that remarkable and miraculous Jewish instrument of power, will meet this menace by submission or by resistance. Israel should seize this opportunity to participate in a modern day reincarnation of the biblical narrative, by beautifying, rededicating, and defending this eternal and magnificent resting place of our great Patriarchs and Matriarchs.