Something astonishing, even alarming, is taking place in the battle over the future of Jerusalem. Even as Palestinian rioters run amok on the Temple Mount, egged on by the radicals of the Islamic Movement, much of the anger and dismay in the Israeli and international press is being directed, ironically enough, at Jews who merely wish to visit the site.
Mustering all the righteous indignation at their disposal, the media have been filled in recent days with all kinds of pejoratives to describe them, ranging from "extremist" to "fringe" to "ultra-right-wing,' as though a Jew's desire to exercise his basic, fundamental rights somehow constitutes an act of provocation.
Local pundits and commentators alike have also joined the fray, going to great lengths to justify the restrictions imposed by the police on Jews wishing to visit the Mount, even accusing the would-be pilgrims of seeking to trigger a firestorm of Islamic fury. It does not seem to bother them one whit that the policy in place today is entirely discriminatory in nature, as the followers of Muhammad are allowed to visit and pray where Solomon's Temple once stood, but not the followers of Moses.
Indeed, all the enlightened defenders of civil rights, and the champions of equality before the law suddenly fall silent when capitulation to Muslim threats is given preference over respecting vital Jewish rights.
And why not, you might be asking. After all, if it is just a bunch of kooks who want to ascend the Mount, why go to all this trouble on their behalf? Needless to say, this approach plays straight into the hands of our foes, whose ultimate goal is to wrestle the holy site away from us by denying its historical and spiritual connection with the Jewish people.
AND WHAT a sad and pitiful sight this is to behold. Before our very eyes, we are witnessing a concerted effort to delegitimize and even demonize our people's most cherished dream: the longing for the Temple. The very aspiration that was born in the moments when Roman flames engulfed the Second Temple more than 1,900 years ago, and which was carried in Jewish hearts throughout centuries of exile, has now become an object of scorn, mockery and ridicule.
Make no mistake: This is nothing less than an unbridled assault on Judaism itself, and it is time for the derision and name-calling to stop.
Opine all you want about how to "solve" the Jerusalem issue, but don't
belittle the place of the Temple in Jewish eschatology or belief. Like it or not, the longing for a rebuilt Temple is no less central to Judaism than the desire for peace or social justice. And dreaming of a time when the Temple will stand again is no more fanciful or fanatical than hoping for the day when poverty and hunger will be eliminated.
Just open any prayer book and you will see what I mean. Every day, three times a day, Jews conclude the Amida prayer, which is central to our liturgy, with the following plea: "May it be Your will, O Lord our God and the God of our forefathers, that the Holy Temple be rebuilt, speedily in our days."
Does this mean that every Jew who prays daily is a wild-eyed extremist? And just a few weeks ago, in the Musaf prayer recited on the festival of Succot, we implored God to "be compassionate to us and to Your Temple with great mercy, and rebuild it soon and magnify its glory."
Is this utterance the province merely of the "ultra-right-wing"?
The Temple and its sacrificial rites are a core component of our faith, and they play a central role in the Jewish vision of a better world. Vilifying those who uphold this belief is simply an act of small-minded intolerance and bigotry, and it has no place in the current debate.
And denying Jews the right to visit the Temple Mount is no less objectionable, for it tramples upon the principal constitutional values which underpin our democracy.
As Thomas Jefferson pointed out some two centuries ago, "The most sacred of the duties of a government is to do equal and impartial justice to all its citizens." That means that when Palestinian Arabs try to prevent Israeli Jews from visiting the Temple Mount, it is the responsibility of the powers that be to come to the defense of the latter, rather than to capitulate to the former.
So let's stop bad-mouthing those who want to visit or pray where our forefathers once stood. And let's bear in mind one very important rule: The real extremism is not to dream of a Temple, but to attempt to silence those who do.