Wednesday 22 September 2004

The New Cult of the Temple

by Uri Avnery

The Security Service is haunted by a terrible fear: that another Israeli prime minister will be assassinated. The extreme right wing, which does not hide its admiration for Yigal Amir and his deed, harbors some who dream of a similar action. After all, if Amir succeeded in murdering the Oslo process, why shouldn't another Amir succeed in murdering the process of dismantling the settlements in the Gaza Strip?

But the Security Service also entertains an even greater fear: that a Jewish terror group will bomb the mosques on the Temple Mount.

Years ago, a Jewish underground organization was preparing to do exactly that. It was uncovered before it could carry out its plans. Now similar plots are afoot.

The Security Service believes that this action is intended to put an end to Ariel Sharon's disengagement plan. Bombing the al-Aqsa Mosque and/or the Dome of the Rock would inflame the whole Arab and Muslim world. It would cause profound upheavals, bring down Arab regimes, perhaps ignite a fundamentalist revolution throughout the region. In such a situation, who would think about evacuating settlements?

All this is true, but it does not touch the roots of the conspiracy. The bombing of the Haram al-Sharif mosques is an enterprise that goes well beyond topical issues – it is a revolutionary act that would change the Jewish religion itself. From the point of view of the potential bombers, that is the main thing.

In Israel, Jewish history is divided into three "houses," meaning three temples:

The First Temple was supposedly built by King Solomon in the tenth century BC and destroyed by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar in the year 568 BC. The people of Judea were taken as captives to Babylon and about 50 years passed before they were allowed to return to Jerusalem and build the temple again.

The building of the Second Temple was finished in 516 BC. It was renovated and expanded by King Herod around 20 BC and destroyed by the Roman general Titus in 70 AD.

The Third Temple does not exist, but the new Jewish community that started to establish itself in Palestine in 1882 often calls itself the "Third House." (When Moshe Dayan became hysterical at the beginning of the Yom Kippur war, he started lamenting the "Destruction of the Third House"). But this is only a symbolic term – not one of the Zionist movement's Founding Fathers nor any of the founders of the State of Israel dreamed of building a new temple.

The reason for this is rooted in the events of 1,934 years ago. When the Romans besieged Jerusalem, before the town fell and was destroyed, a leading rabbi, Yokhanan Ben-Zakkai, was smuggled out in a coffin. He approached the Roman commander and succeeded in getting permission from him to establish a Jewish religious center in Yavneh, between Jaffa and Asdod.

That was the beginning of a revolution in the Jewish religion.

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