Unity Around the Really Important Things – The Heritage of the Temple Mount

We find ourselves a few days before Rosh Hashanah, in these days of controversy among the people of Israel, when questions are being discussed like what kind of majority is needed to make essential and fundamental decisions.  At such a time, it is worth noting two lesser known events in which a wall-to-wall consensus was revealed between the sectors of the people on ethical and political issues.

The first is the assembly of renewing the covenant between Jewish people and God that took place in the Temple Mount on the first day of the seventh month (the date of the feast of Yom Teruha – Rosh Hashanah) during the days of the Return to Zion (Nehemiah 7:18 – 8:17). On this occasion, Ezra the Scribe read the Torah before the whole nation, and since then, Jewish communities begun reading the Torah on Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. The text of the Torah became more central in the spiritual life of the people, and not only the domain of the Levites, Cohanim (priests) and the scribes.

Ezra stands on a wooden tower near the water gate and reads the Torah. Jan Luyken, after Bernard Picart, 1700 Amsterdam

Another event, less well-known, took place about 23 years ago, in which there was no large gathering of people, but a rare consensus was revealed, which was expressed through a document. This is a petition that dealt with the most sensitive political issue, and was published in the Haaretz newspaper on the eve of Shavuot, June 8, 2000.  It was signed by figures from the entire political spectrum in Israel, from the extreme left to the extreme right, ultra-Orthodox to secular, including more than 82 members of the Knesset, in addition to famous writers, retired senior judges, mayors, retired generals, and archaeologists.

The petition called on the Prime Minister at the time, Ehud Barak, to stop the destruction of antiquities on the Temple Mount, emphasizing the paramount importance of the Temple Mount. Such a broad consensus was not present even for the Declaration of Independence, which notables like Menachem Begin did not sign, nor did the representatives of the ultra-Orthodox public. Attorney Yisrael Caspi worked diligently on this petition for several months, after hearing about the terrible destruction of antiquities that took place due to the excavation of the large pit near Solomon’s Stables at the end of 1999. Caspi founded in those days the Committee to Prevent the Destruction of Antiquities on the Temple Mount.

This petition was the driving force that allowed us to establish the Sifting Project, without fear of being perceived as serving a political agenda of one party or another, but as a project whose goal is to save, expose, preserve, research, and make accessible to the general public the heritage of the Temple Mount. 250 thousand people have so far participated in the sifting, and it seems that there is no other archaeological excavation that has been so accessible and exposed to the public.

It turns out that the people of Israel know how to unite around the really important things. Shana Tova – Happy New Year.

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