Awarding the Wolf Prize for architecture to my brother Peter Eisenman for his splendid Holocaust Memorial in Berlin was a noble gesture. Having said this, let me observe that while we Jews – in Israel and abroad – excel at commemorating our tragically obliterated dead even on the very boulevards in Berlin where these exterminations were planned, we lack memorials for the living in our Altneuland of Jerusalem. I speak now of the Temple and Temple Mount. I wrote about this issue last year in this publication (“Remember the Temple was built by Herod” and “Digging on the Temple Mount”).
In his Auto-Emancipation, a half-century before the Holocaust, physician Leo Pinsker, having witnessed the pogroms in 1870s Odessa, identified the lack of desire for nationhood as something akin to a disease. At least this was how he claimed it was perceived by outsiders, as what he designated “Judeophobia.” He even spoke of how Jews appeared to those surrounding them as apparitions. For him, therefore, anti-Semitism was merely “a fear of ghosts.”
His analysis might now seem a little quaint, the Jewish people having been overtaken by a tsunami of hatred the likes of which even Pinsker could not imagine. But, unfortunately, it is possible to observe the same lack of feeling now infecting the Jewish people, whether here or abroad. They go in all sincerity and kiss stones set down by the archenemy of the Jewish people, Herod.
One cannot blame them for this. They are trying to express something – however bizarre it might appear. I speak about the lack of feeling for or need of a Temple. Of course, this is what the yearning at the Western Wall really represents. Everyone knows it, though no one is prepared to speak of it in polite society. Of course, any “normal people” that had been through the horrors the Jewish people has been through, to say nothing of the redemption of returning thereafter, would have been at work to ameliorate this situation years ago.
SO HERE we are, worshiping at stones set down by one of our cruelest nemeses for his self-glorification and to keep the people occupied rather than revolting. In the wake of the Temple’s destruction, our humiliation was made manifest in the images on the Arch of Titus in Rome and the Judea Capta
coins issued by these predators to commemorate the events. Nor is this to say anything of the Roman Colosseum, in which so many died horribly, built with booty from the Temple treasury, just as depicted on the Arch of Titus.
And yet we have returned. We have triumphed in the face of such odds, in the face of the sacrifice of six million. But one would hardly know it. There is so little awe, joy or pride. The return and its aftermath have not been commemorated. Oh yes, the country itself may be a commemoration, but as “the Wall” so unfortunately and graphically illustrates, people need something more – something they can feel and touch and see.
This is what a temple would mean. One knows the arguments for and against, the “dos” and “don’ts,” the difficulties, talking points, religious injunctions, commandments – the whole subject is fraught with nuance pro and con. These I would not even attempt to sort out, as they are far beyond my abilities – probably, in fact, beyond all
our abilities (though I am sure similar issues were explained to Alexander on his way to conquer the Orient, including Jerusalem. I also doubt if Herod would have taken much notice of them).
BUT 25 years ago, when Yuval Ne’eman was minister of science, I was invited to participate in an assistantship capacity. As a professor at a California university, the logistics prevented me from doing so in any formal way. But when asked for new ideas his ministry could promote, I proposed an international architectural competition called: “Temple Mount 2000: Holy to Three Faiths,” with a call to all the great architects of the world to participate.
The best architects, city planners, sculptors, memorialists, artists – even archeologists – would be invited to contribute models, designs and suggestions for how to deal with the situation on the Temple Mount in its totality – what to construct anew, what to add, what to bridge. The proposals, of course, would be completely theoretical – just innovative ideas for the enormous space involved.
No one could really object to a competition to suggest modern reflections of ancient issues, but people would be unable to resist the call to help solve the burning issues inherent in a reconstruction of the Temple Mount that incorporated a monument, temple or field of sculpture not for commemoration of the dead but to inspire the living.
What was needed was a memorial for the future, to celebrate the Ingathering and the fulfillment of the Zionist dream. Such a structure need not be exactly on the site of previous endeavors, nor on the previous “rock,” as even the Talmud agrees that Herod totally deconstructed the Ezra/Nehemiah/Maccabean structure. But it had to be on the Temple Mount; nothing less would do.
Of course, nothing was done. Now perhaps something could be. The people’s sensibilities and emotions require it. Enough crying over Roman reverses or Herod’s stones! For those who wish to continue this tradition, let them do so. For the rest, let us move forward in a sensitive, historically informed and spiritually insightful manner to create this monument for the living.
To start, let us hold this architectural competition and consider the
most serious and insightful ideas. Nothing would have to be rearranged
or moved. Then let us proceed to do and perhaps even build something on
the Temple Mount where it should be – who knows yet what? In the words
of “the historical school” of Leopold Zunz and Nahman Krochmal, “the
spirit of the age” could and would determine this.
Let us begin.The writer is the author of
James the Brother of Jesus and
The Dead Sea Scrolls and the First Christians and co-editor of
The Facsimile Edition of the Dead Sea Scrolls and
The Dead Sea Scrolls Uncovered.
He is professor of Middle East religions and archeology, and director
of the Institute for the Study of Judeo-Christian Origins at California
State University, Long Beach.