Some 77 years ago, the Chief Rabbi of the Jews of the Land of Israel, Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog—Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s grandfather—entered one of Europe’s convents and categorically demanded that the mother superior release Jewish children who were hidden there during the Holocaust.
“There are no Jewish children here,” she said innocently, but the rabbi insisted, and the children of the Christian institution were brought into the courtyard and arranged in rows before the rabbi and his entourage.
According to the testimony of my grandfather, Shlomo Zalman Shragai, who accompanied Rav Herzog on this trip—as mentioned in Rabbi Haim Sabato’s book Be-Shafrir Chevyon—the rabbi asked, “Who here is Jewish?” several times, but was met with total silence. His entourage encouraged him to leave for the next convent in order to search for more Jewish children; but then, a moment before they left, Rabbi Herzog suddenly wandered amongst the rows of children and shouted out loud: “Shema Yisrael, Hashem Eloheinu, Hashem Ehad” (“Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is One”). The small hands of seven children rose of their own accord in order to cover their eyes, and the rabbi shouted in excitement: “They’re Jews, this is how their mothers taught them.”
There is no phrase more Jewish than the basic declaration of faith “Shema Yisrael.” There is no prayer more Jewish than the one that accompanies us from the moment we enter the world until the moment we leave it. And there is no more natural place to say it—quietly or demonstratively—than the Temple Mount.
We need to remind ourselves of these simple truths today, when Israeli policemen drag Jews who recite “Shema Yisrael” off the mount; and court cases are presented for the record as “The State of Israel vs. ‘Shema Yisrael.'”
There is no greater disgrace than this, except perhaps the disgrace of he who doesn’t understand the problem. One of the judges at the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court, Zion Saharai, tried on Sunday to remove this stain. He followed another judge from the court, Bilha Yahalom, who six months ago revoked a restraining order that had been placed on a Jewish worshipper there. She even noted, correctly, that “the state does not dispute that many Jews pray on the Temple Mount, and this activity in itself does not violate police instructions.”
But the madness still reigns. The state plans to appeal the Saharai petition, just as it appealed the Yahalom decision (which was reversed in district court).
Around seven years ago, Likud Knesset member Gilad Erdan opened the gates of the Temple Mount to Jewish visitors and their quiet prayers. Now Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett have a similar opportunity. They can stop the appeal against the Saharai decision. They can return a little sanity to the conduct of the state of the Jewish people on the Temple Mount. If they are resolute, there is also a chance that the Muslim side will accept this natural reality; just as, until recently, it accepted quiet Jewish prayer at the site.
Nadav Shragai is an author and journalist.
This article was originally published by Israel Hayom.