Above the fold: Cultural synapse on Jerusalem

The Jewish perspective on Jerusalem has evolved out of necessity.

December 20, 2017 22:13
4 minute read.
Above the fold: Cultural synapse on Jerusalem

THE CURRENT Lord Allenby and his mother, Sara Viscountess Allenby, pose for a photo with actors at the reenactment of Allenby’s entrance into the Old City of Jerusalem, along with John Benson and his wife, Christina, in the back row.. (photo credit: BARRY LEVINSON)


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When one society cannot fathom the rhythm and heartbeat of another’s culture, when teaching one people about another’s tradition is almost impossible, when the chasm dividing two cultures is too large to be bridged, it’s called a cultural synapse.

“Jerusalem” has become the quintessential example of “cultural synapse.”

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Israelis and Jews value Jerusalem. It’s plain, it’s simple, and for Jews, it’s obvious. Jerusalem is a symbol – not a parcel of land – dating back centuries, even millennia. Jerusalem is where, in the Book of Genesis, Abraham came for the binding of Isaac. It is where Solomon built the Temple, where the remains of Herod’s expanded Second Temple lie today. Yet for Jews, Jerusalem is more than a tiny spot on a mountain where sacrifices were offered. It is much bigger than a city and much more than a place of worship. Jerusalem symbolizes the reestablishment of the democratic Jewish State of Israel.

For Muslims and for Christians Jerusalem is a mystical place – it is a religious epicenter. For Jews it is that, plus. It is a place where one pays taxes, buys groceries, sends their kids to school and worries about sanitation, the health care system and municipality strikes. Jerusalem is where Jews live today, not only yesterday and yesteryear.

One of Judaism’s most revered texts is the Jerusalem Talmud. Despite its name, the Jerusalem Talmud was not authored or produced in Jerusalem. It was produced in the north of Israel in the cities of Tzipori, Beit She’arim and Tiberias. The more accurate and more precise title for the Jerusalem Talmud is the Talmud of the Land of Israel, as it is sometimes called, or the Palestinian Talmud. But it is called the Jerusalem Talmud because Jerusalem is not a single, small spot but a synonym for all of Israel.

Neither the Arab mind nor the even-larger, collective Islamic mind, sees Jerusalem as a modern city with an ancient past. When it comes to Jerusalem, the Arab world has tunnel vision. For it, Jerusalem begins and ends with al-Aksa Mosque. It is, as it is called in the Koran, the “furthest mosque.” For the Arab mind, Jerusalem can be stretched only so far as to include the shrine with the golden dome, the Dome of the Rock as it is called in English, but the entire area is still referred to as al-Aksa. It is also called Haram al-Sharif.

So important and so limiting is the site that Islamic protocol states that no other mosque may be built near al-Aksa Mosque. And indeed, there are no other mosques in the area. All Muslims are expected to walk to al-Aksa for prayers.

The Islamic world does not care about modern Jerusalem. The Arabic name of Jerusalem is Al-Quds. It is derived from the same cognate, the same etymology as “kadosh,” which in Hebrew means “holy.” Al-Quds, the Arabic term for Jerusalem, is a description, not a name.

The idea of another society controlling al-Aksa is unfathomable for Islam. The Mount cannot be shared. So here’s the problem: The Mount is not shared! Jordan controls al-Aksa, not Israel. The status quo is exactly what the Arab world is demanding, but they refuse to recognize that they have already received what they’ve asked for. Jordan controls all activities on al-Aksa. Jordan pays the Wakf, the Islamic religious trust that is in charge of the area on top of the mountain.

Like the Islamic world, the Christian world also clings to an unrealistic view of Jerusalem.

The Christian mind is filled with images of the Jerusalem of Jesus. Try as they might, Christians cannot connect to a modern Jerusalem or an earthly Jerusalem. For many Christians, Jerusalem contains two simple dimensions: the Jerusalem of Jesus, especially his last days and his crucifixion, and the heavenly Jerusalem.

Both Muslims and Christians are guilty of first creating and now perpetuating the cultural synapse over Jerusalem. They have no understanding or recognition of a larger Jerusalem. At this point, they don’t want to understand.

The Jewish perspective on Jerusalem has evolved out of necessity. It was born out of a realistic need to blend the heavenly, spiritual Jerusalem with the needs of a real and vibrant city. Jews lived in Jerusalem. They watched Jerusalem grow and shrink. Jerusalem during the period of the Mishna helps us understand. The Mishna – on which the Talmud is based – describes the tensions between a heavenly Jerusalem and an earthly Jerusalem and weaves them both into the fabric of Jewish thought and aspirations. And hope. And so there was no synapse for Jews regarding Jerusalem.

The Western Wall, the links to the past, are important to Jews. So too is the new city of Jerusalem.

The author is a political commentator. He hosts the TV show Thinking Out Loud on JBS TV. Follow him on Twitter @MicahHalpern.

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