Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Yom Yerushalayim - A Heart of Many Rooms

(to hear a radio recording of IDF troops entering the Old City in 1967 click here )

Last year during Ulpan, we were taken on a guided tour of the Western Wall tunnels. Now I’m not the sort of person that gets excited by seeing the closest point to the Holy of Holies but I was still amazed; after all what we believed was the Temple’s Western wall was actually only 10% of it…and now we've discovered the rest! But at the same time I felt uneasy, after all, the opening of the tunnels in 1996 had resulted in bloodshed and riots. We may have been enjoying a spiritual journey in ancient Jerusalem, but there was a political and security price to pay for it.

It is that mixture of simultaneous amazement and uneasiness that pervades me on Yom Yerushalayim. On the one hand is the joy at the liberation of the Old City, the shiver when I hear the words Har Habayit BeYadeinu, the Temple Mount is in our hands, the emotion of seeing paratroopers dancing by the wall, the memory of unadulterated joy by Israelis of all stripes over the miracle that took place 40 years ago, when our people went from digging mass graves to celebrating the liberation of our historical biblical homeland. In short, the amazement of 'seeing' God's hand in history.

But at the same time, its difficult to divorce all that from the political consequences of the war; The fact that for all the rhetoric to the contrary, no viable regional deal can be reached here without compromising on Jerusalem. Or how we talk about our eternal indivisible capital yet most Jerusalemites would never want to even set foot in the Shuafat Refugee Camp (many are too scared to even walk through the Muslim quarter of the Old City).

It’s a day that through no fault of its own somehow turned from being national to nationalist, from being about our ability to pray at the Western wall to banging on Arabs’ doors in the old city.

I haven’t resolved this yet, but it reminds me of my favourite Tosefta text (it didn’t have much competition) that Rabbi David Hartman mentions in the introduction to one of his books.

The Tosefta explains that a person might ask, ‘Since the House of Shammai declare unclean and the House of Hillel clean, this one prohibits and that one permits, how then can I learn Torah?’ The Rabbis answer by advising someone to create ‘a heart of many rooms' into which they should bring the words of the House of Shammai and the words of the House of Hillel, the words of those who declare unclean and the words of those who declare clean.

Similarly today one may ask 'Since Yom Yerushalayim moved from thanking God for saving His people to convincing the police to allow Rabbis onto the Temple Mount how can I celebrate? Since the war marks our liberation yet another people’s occupation how can I take part?'

It’s not easy to hold the idea that our eternal indivisible capital jars with the political and demographic reality that many of our leaders refuse to see. But maybe we all need to build ourselves a heart of many rooms where we can hold all of these things, even if they contradict one another.

Chag Sameach (and don’t forget to say Hallel with a bracha).

and thanks to everyone who spent time voting for this blog in the JIB Blog Awards


Avi said...

Excellent post.

We need to understand our rhetoric and understand reality - and sometimes they can be melded together.

Paul G said...

Great piece my friend.

I am not as torn as you on this, though I agree that the opening of the tunnels in 1996 (like much that Bibi did in his first term) was unecessarily provocative.

I think the concept of holding contradictory views is incredibly prevalent in Judaism. How many Jews accept the basic gender discrimination of "Orthodox" halacha but are also opposed to gender discrimination in every other (secular) part of their lives?

BraveJeWorld said...

Is it not divided already?
Jews on one side, Arabs on the other.

Greg John said...

I think the first thing we need to do is drop the phrase 'eternal and indivisible'. Nothing is eternal or indivisible - they are only presented as such by people who want us to think they are.
What price peace?