Gershon Baskin strongly believes that no stone sanctified by man is worth the blood, death and destruction that its sanctification brings.
The Temple Mount is not really “in our hands” – and I really don’t want it to be. Yes, I know it is “the holiest place in the world for Jews” and yes, it was the site on which the First and Second Temples stood. But I don’t want a third Temple and I leave “redemption” to the Almighty – not Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government.
Growing up I sang “yibenai, yibenai, yibenai Beit Hamikdash” (the Temple will be rebuilt) just like everyone else.
I sang it until I met an ultra Orthodox Jew, a rabbi and a scholar, who said to me “after you sing that phrase you should whisper to yourself ‘yibenai – but not in my lifetime.” That got me thinking. I don’t want to be part of a religion that engages in animal sacrifices. I don’t want Judaism to return to its pre-Temple-destruction pagan-like days. I don’t want to see Temple priests and religious functionaries – we already have too much with the official Orthodox rabbinate, its corruption and monopoly on matters of personal status, and the lack of separation between religion and state.
Building the third Temple would be the destruction of modern Jewry and would, I believe, lead directly to the end of the modern State of Israel. So, as far as I am concerned, I want the status quo – let the Muslims worship on the Temple Mount. Let the Wakf have full control. Let the Jews who want to continue to pray at the Western Wall and let us agree that no one, and no government will change that arrangement without mutual agreement. And if there is a God, and if God favors the Jews and wants to rebuild the Temple – then let’s leave that in the hands of God – not in our hands.
Every person who loses their life in the name of a holy site, or in the name of God or religion, in the name of al-Aksa or in the name of the Holy Temple, is a desecration of God’s name, religion, faith, monotheism and what it is that all people should be praying for – a good and worthy life in this time and redemption or paradise in whatever afterlife or afterworld they believe in. No stone sanctified by man is worth the blood, death and destruction that its sanctification brings. If the Muslims are prepared to set this place on fire, I will not be a partner to that.
I will respect their holy site and agree without a shadow of doubt that as long as God wills it, they have control and ownership over the Temple Mount – and as far as I am concerned they can call it whatever they want – al-Aksa or Haram ash-Sharif or whatever. I don’t even really care if they think the First and Second Temples were not there. I know it was, we know it was, and that knowledge and belief should be enough for us. If one Jew dies in trying to assert a false belief or a need – religious or national – to prove that the Temple Mount is ours or is in our hands, then for me, that place loses its significance and its importance. Lives are more important that symbols – religious, national or otherwise.
Until we reach political agreements with the Palestinians, and religious agreements with the Muslim authorities on the site’s permanent status, we must make it clear that the State of Israel, working with the Muslim authorities, will make all efforts to protect the holy Temple Mount/Haram ash-Sharif, for all people who visit there and for the physical well-being of the mosques and institutions there.
The State of Israel will continue to prevent Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount until the Muslim authorities agree, perhaps at some time in the future, that Jews can pray there. Israel will not dig or tunnel at all underneath the Haram ash-Sharif.
If the mosques falls down, it will not be because of Israeli hands. Jewish aspirations for a physical temple will have to remain in the framework of prayer and not actions.
My ultra-Orthodox scholar and rabbi friend said to me that real redemption is in the spiritual sense and that “yibenai” is a reference to spiritual building, and not building a great marble structure with an altar and animal sacrifices. For me, that is a much better understanding of Judaism and as I have learned, the lessons from the destruction of the Temple – of sinat hinam – of hatred and corrupt and immoral behaviors should be that in coming back to our ancestral land we have to become and exemplary society having the highest moral standards.
That is the main lesson of 2,000 years of exile and of redeeming ourselves in the land from which we came to the land of which we dreamed. We have to get it right. Our days of redemption should be now, and redemption is earned from the peace we make within ourselves and between us and all of the others with who we share this land and this earth. Amen.
Gershon is an advisor to Israeli, Palestinian and International Prime Ministers on the Middle East Peace Process and the founder and director of IPCRI, the Israeli-Palestinian Public Policy Institute. He was the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel between Israel and Hamas for the release of 1,027 prisoners – mainly Palestinians and Arab-Israelis of which 280 were sentenced to life in prison for planning and perpetrating various attacks against Jewish targets that resulted in the killing of 569 Israelis in exchange for one Israeli soldier, Gilad Schalit. Gershon is actively involved in research and advocacy concerning topics such as social policy, environmental security, political strategy, peace education, economics, culture and in the development of affordable solar projects with the goal of providing clean electricity for 50 million people by 2020.