Friday, October 19, 2012

Women's Rights and the Temple Mount

From Let the people pray by Dr. Samuel Lebens

...I don’t want to argue that the status quo on the Temple Mount should actually be altered. Sometimes pragmatism has to win out over idealism, and perhaps it just wouldn’t be feasible to protect Jewish worshippers on the Temple Mount, but let’s just analyse the issues.

Women have been arrested for praying in prayer shawls at the Western Wall. Members of the group Women of the Wall were arrested for disturbing the peace; arrested because of a fear that there may be some sort of violent response from Orthodox onlookers...I fear there is a dangerous double standard at play here. Liberal-minded readers will generally empathize with the Woman of the Wall, but not with those who want to pray on the Temple Mount. But, if we believe in the freedom to pray in peace, then we should want to extend that freedom to everybody, irrespective of whether we like what it is that they’re probably praying for and what is that they believe.

I share the fear of religious extremism, of price-tag attacks on the Temple Mount, and of attempts to force a Jewish temple on top of the ruins of a Muslim mosque...I deplore any attempt to force the hand of history – any attempt to build a temple in the place of a mosque – as dangerous and evil. But we have to be careful not to oppose religious freedom.

...I am certainly not suggesting that Jews march into al-Aqsa mosque and start yelling out a Jewish prayer service. That would be disruptive and anti-social. It would be akin to my marching into a female-only prayer group and trying to lead the service. But to suggest that Jews should be forbidden from praying silently in public spaces of the Temple Mount, because we’re afraid of what the Muslim visitors to the site might do; to suggest that Jews should go to prison because of ‘provocative’ silent prayer, is as offensive as the suggestion that women Jews should go to prison because they read the Torah in front of men who don’t think that they should.
...I don’t share the political aspirations of the Temple Mount activists. I’m scared by their extremism. But at a time when Jewish women sit in prison cells for daring to pray in unconventional but peaceful ways, we need to be vigilant in our opposition to religious intolerance, and we must support the right of everyone to pray in peace, and that must also include the right of the extremists.

Dr. Samuel Lebens studies at Yeshivat Har Etzion, holds a PhD in metaphysics and logic from the University of London, and is the chair of the Association for the Philosophy of Judaism.


From Part I:-

In a recent, and fascinating, article for Haaretz, Shany Littman described her fly-on-the-wall experience of the joint directorate of the Temple Movements, and her trip to the Temple Mount...I fear that most readers of Littman’s article will also come away thinking that the very desire to establish a third temple is, irrespective of the political obstacles, an absurd, outdated and extremist desire, worthy of no rational person in this enlightened age. That is a view, not made explicit by Littman herself, that I would like to challenge.

...The desire to run up on to the Temple Mount, to demolish a mosque and a shrine, and to force our temple in to its place, is the desire to force the end; it is the desire to insert messianic notions of peace into our pre-messianic world. It can only result in evil and bloodshed and runs against the probing insight of the Talmudic sages...But I cannot agree that the very notion of a third temple is outmoded and absurd, nor is it extreme. In fact, it is mainstream...Perhaps the third temple complex will be a veritable interfaith fair where all of the monotheists of the world – including Hindu and Sikh monotheists – will converge in their diversity, retaining their distinct communal identity whilst directing prayers from the same place to the same God in different languages and modes.

Yes, it’s a dream. It’s a certain vision of a utopia. It isn’t to be forced upon anybody, but, progressive politics is all about dreams and aspirations. The dream that one day, amidst our religious diversity, the people of the world will be able to celebrate one another’s cultures and to pray together; the dream that one day, no religion will own the Temple Mount, forcing others not to pray within its precincts; that’s a dream that a progressive audience should embrace rather than ridicule. It’s a vision that has sustained the Jewish people for millennia.


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