Jews gather to pray at the Western Wall during Succot.
(photo credit: AFP PHOTO)
Walking the streets of Jerusalem during these festive days, it suddenly struck me just how perfectly timed was the absurd UNESCO decision disconnecting Judaism from the Temple Mount – because no holiday exposes the idiocy of the UNESCO vote better than Succot.
We begin with the commandment in the Bible - written over 3,000 years ago, before Islam’s inception - that the people of Israel were to celebrate on the Temple Mount for the entire duration of the Succot holiday: “For seven days you shall celebrate for the Lord your God, in the place that the Lord will choose.” (Deuteronomy 16:15) This is the only holiday which has a specific command for the Jewish people to celebrate in the Temple for an extended period of time.
The special relationship between the Jewish people and the Temple Mount was cemented when King Solomon dedicated the First Temple on Succot (Kings I 8:2), and when the Second Temple was dedicated on Succot (Ezra 3:4). Both Jewish Temples - which sat right there on the Temple Mount - were dedicated during these days of a Succot! This, no doubt, is a major reason for our national rejoicing during these days.
Lest anyone think that the Temples were built only to benefit the Jewish people, King Solomon offered the following prayer on that first Succot in the Temple: “Also a gentile who is not of Your people Israel, but will come from a distant land, for Your Name’s sake; For they will hear of Your great Name and Your strong hand and Your outstretched Arm – and will come and pray towards this Temple; May You hear from Heaven, the foundation of Your abode, and act according to all that the Gentile calls out to You, so that all peoples of the world may know your Name, to fear You as Your people Israel and to know that Your Name is proclaimed upon this Temple that I have built.”
(Kings I 8:41-43 and Chronicles II 6:32-33) The Jewish Temple was indeed a spiritual home for non-Jews as well. Seventy sacrifices were offered on the holiday of Succot, and many commentators explain that these were offered on behalf of each of the 70 nations of the world.
Quite remarkably, as I write these words, tens of thousands of non-Jews have flocked to Jerusalem for the Sukkot holiday as part of the Feast of the Tabernacles under the auspices of the International Christian Embassy of Jerusalem. Indeed, for 35 years during this holiday, hundreds of thousands of Christians from all around the world have been flocking to the Temple Mount area, in keeping with the biblical description of the Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount on Succot as an address for Gentiles seeking spiritual connection.
This special connection of Jews and non- Jews to the Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount - and to the holiday of Succot - is not limited to the past and the present.
The prophet Zechariah describes a future Messianic time when the Gentile world will unite to serve God at the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem (14:16).
And for those who will reject the Bible as a source, Josephus Flavius, a first-century scholar and historian, describes the Jewish people worshiping in the Jewish Temple during the holiday of Sukkot during the reign of Hasmonean King Alexander Jannaeus (103-76 BCE). Islam would not even exist for another 700 years.
In synagogues throughout Israel and the world, Jews recite the following prayer on Sukkot (and other holidays) and have been doing so for 2,000 years: “We cannot ascend, appear, and bow before You and fulfill our obligations in Your chosen home, in the great and holy house which has Your name on it, because of foreign hands that have control of your Temple.”
Tens of thousands of Jews and Christians flooded the alleyways of Jerusalem’s Old City every day this week as they make their way toward the Western Wall and the Temple Mount area.
There was no greater thrill for me and my family than having to deal with massive crowds joining us on those ancient stone paths as we converged on Judaism’s holiest site. UNESCO may have voted that we have no connection to that holy site, but that vote cannot wipe out 3,000 years of biblical and Jewish tradition. As Knesset Member Yair Lapid put it so poignantly, “The return of the Jewish people to the land of Israel was not to the Azrieli Towers in Tel Aviv but to the Tower of David in Jerusalem, and the heart of Jerusalem is also the heart of Israel.”
So the 24 countries of UNESCO can decide whatever they want. Our response is Succot, in which we reaffirm our commitment to the Jewish Temple, to the Temple Mount, and to Jerusalem.