The Agudah and Reform Judaism join forces

The Reform Rabbi Eric Yoffie and the haredi Rabbi Avi Shafran must confront their failings to history, human rights and the value of Judaism.

Jews visit the Temple Mount compound, site of the Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem's Old City, during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, Oct. 8, 2017. Photo by Yaakov Lederman/Flash90.
Jews visit the Temple Mount compound, site of the Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem's Old City, during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, Oct. 8, 2017. Photo by Yaakov Lederman/Flash90.
Yisrael Medad
Yisrael Medad is a researcher, analyst and opinion commentator on political, cultural and media issues.

We have witnessed a remarkable development as a result of the publication of an article by Rabbi Meir Soloveitchik in Commentary titled “The Real Truth About the Temple Mount,” which suggested that “the government of Israel owes it to its citizens, and thousands of years of Jewish history, to state unequivocally that the Temple Mount, and not the Western Wall, is the locus of Jewish longing.” He also did express sympathy for those seeking to ascend to the Temple Mount, enclosed within the Muslim Haram A-Sharif compound, so that they could continue to pray in writing, “For those who care deeply about the Jewish connection to the Mount, and who desperately desire to pray there, it may well be that today it will be achieved first and foremost with finesse.

For Soloveitchik, what is important is foremost “Jewish visits.

The development? He caused the public-affairs director of Agudath Israel of America, Rabbi Avi Shafran, to unite in common cause against Rabbi Soloveitchik’s views with Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president emeritus of the Union for Reform Judaism. A true “only Jewish” accomplishment. Both were united in their negative reactions. Both, however, displayed in their reasoning misrepresentations, misreadings, lack of historical context and even partisan theology.

The first to respond was Yoffie, whose view was encapsulated in the title “How and where to start a holy war between Jews and a billion Muslims,” characterizing Soloveitchik’s article as “deeply disturbing” and “ominous” and “idiotic and potentially catastrophic.” He asserts that the article “calls for ‘freedom of worship’ on the site for Jews.” But it does not; surely, not explicitly. It does note that that right, by the way, one enshrined in law and in many decisions of Israel’s High Court for Justice—an institution Yoffie’s activists turn to as an instrument to gain recognition—was missed, beginning in 1967 when a new form of the old status quo was adopted.

He deceptively accuses Soloveitchik of “undermin[ing] longstanding agreements between Jordan and the State of Israel” while ignoring Jordan’s commitment in its 1994 peace treaty with Israel to “act … to promote interfaith relations…freedom of religious worship.” In reality, Jordan has been the one to ignore its responsibilities, tolerating and even encouraging disruptive and even violent acts at the site and sabotaging security measures, such as surveillance cameras, that could pacify the situation. And if Yoffie is concerned about not only a “confrontation between Arabs and Israelis but to holy war between Jews and more than a billion Muslims,” I suggest that he work harder on getting the United States under this administration to halt Iran’s plans for a new Holocaust.

For Yoffie, in an odd reversal of religious semantics, “the rules set by [Moshe] Dayan have since been sanctified by the Muslim world,” as if “Holy, Holy, Holy.” He then proceeds to praise Orthodox halachah, a legal formula he normally finds disdainful, that was a consensus: “Jews were not to ascend to the Mount.” That consensus, of course, is to be disregarded when Yoffie writes of the rights of women at the Western Wall.  The position of the haredi world is obscurantist for the Reform, but Yoffie wants Muslims to benefit from that outlook. He then lowers himself to unseemly verbiage call those who struggled for that freedom of worship “weirdos and crackpots.

As if he ignores his own thoughts, he then doubles back on his argument writing, “And the humorous part of this whole affair is that if the American Orthodox community cares the least little bit about ‘freedom of worship’ in Israel, it is news to me.” Yoffie perhaps misses that the joke is on him.

From the other extreme, Shafran was of the opinion that Israel’s decision not to let Jews pray on the Temple Mount after its capture in 1967 shows sensitivity and wisdom, and therefore, in NBC’s News Digital “Think” section, published “On Yom Kippur, Jerusalem’s most sacred piece of property must be a place of peace.”

He justifies the “restriction on all but Islamic prayer on the Temple Mount” as “born of compelling practical concerns.” Those concerns were a result of conquest and occupation of Jerusalem by Arab tribes spurred on by a new religion (one that considered non-Sabbath-observing Jews as apes, but that may be more Yoffie’s problem), which facilitated for Muslims an “exclusive […] control” of the site. Any change, Shafran reasons, “would be a gross affront to the Muslim world,” thus joining, as it were, Yoffie’s minyan (prayer quorum) but adding an emotional disrespect as well.

For Shafran, that Jews would “push the prayer envelope on the Temple Mount” is to be a “provocation without a justification.” Why does he adopt such an unctuous, obsequious and even servile attitude? Can he not point out that there is but one mosque there, Al-Aqsa? In blatant disregard for that status quo, Shafran and Yoffie ignore the three new mosques that have been added since 1967.

He is open that as a haredi Jew, he believes that Jews today are forbidden by religious law from ascending the Temple Mount and that until the Temple is rebuilt, it is prohibited. And a rebuilt Temple is “something that can only happen with the arrival of the messiah.” Is there an echo in those words of the Agudah’s pre-Holocaust position? When will he be “practical”?

While he insists that “it is God alone that can herald a new era of history,” is he sure that the reuniting of Jerusalem and the return of Mount Moriah to Jewish control was not God’s doing? That God was not heralding a new historical era? Shafran knows that the sacred Temple Mount is much smaller than the current precincts of the Haram A-Sharif. He knows that the Rambam’s opinion was challenged and that haredi rabbis—beginning with the Chatam Sofer, Akiva Eiger and others some two centuries ago—sought to renew sacrifices and even to permit entry into the area within the constrictions of halachah. Why cannot he be practical and work towards solving the problems the Agudah has with their interpretation?

Soloveitchik states plainly that “certain parts [of the Mount] cannot be entered in a state of ritual impurity.”

His op-ed was initiated by Israeli politicians who voiced the view, one quite wrong, that “if Jews wish to pray, the holiest place for Jews is a few meters from there—the Western Wall.” If the wall possesses any holiness, then it is due to it being an outside retaining wall of the Temple. His main concern was the denying of “historical fact,” which gives “ammunition to enemies of Israel, who seek to lie about Jewish history … provid[ing] propaganda to those who seek to negate the Jewish connection to Jerusalem.

Both the Reform Yoffie and the haredi Shafran still have to confront their failings to history, human rights and the value of Judaism, and their lack of caring deeply about the Jewish connection to the Mount and not sufficiently acknowledging in an unequivocal manner the Jewish relationship with the Temple Mount.

Yisrael Medad is an American-born Israel pundit and opinion commentator.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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