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Do Jews Stop Others from Praying Where They Wish?
Last uploaded : Wednesday 15th Oct 2003 at 00:56
Contributed by : The Editor



[Editors' Note and update 31 October 2003: Please also read:]


An editorial in Ha'aretz to accompany our article on the 'Geneva Accords' appears at:


Whenever I read about ?Jews not being allowed to pray at the Temple Mount? I go crazy. Here I am, a follower of the Liberal-Progressive tradition , and I am defending the rights of the pious to daven at that most holy of places.

This has nothing to do with being orthodox or liberal. It has to do with the deeply-ingrained tradition, first disseminated by the Founding Fathers, of freedom of worship in my native USA. This is a fundamental tenet of American liberty. Yes, we have ?separation of church and state,? so no one religion holds sway. But nowhere in the United States of America, a nation that is vilified every day in European and British newspapers for one heinous misdeed after another, will one find the religious fury and bigotry that exists between, for example, Protestant and Catholic in Britain or between various sects in Iraq at the present time. Yes, Utah is not going to invite thousands of Hindus and Jews to open temples tomorrow, but if a place of worship is shared by traditions the very idea that one group would be ?prohibited? from praying there makes my Yankee blood boil.

So, why am I ?hakking a chaynik? about this tonight? I have been reading about the Geneva Accords agreed today amongst Palestinian , Israeli and other interested parties in Jordan; it is a peace agreement that serves as an alternative to Oslo, the Road Map and other efforts at a solution to what some like to call the ?Hundred Years War Against the Desecration of the Arabian Wasteland by a Jewish Presence.?
( when one reads about the ?desecrations? one is reminded of that wonderful book, ?Days of Our Years,? by Pierre van Paassen, a Christian writer who lamented the way the enlightened, generous and industrious Jews were thwarted by hostile Arabs in the early decades of the Yishuv.)

The Geneva Accords have a proviso that discourages Jews from praying at the Temple Mount, in exchange for painful concessions by the Palestinians. I do appreciate that concessions, like the elimination of the Palestinian Right of Return, are of enormous importance to Israelis and that trade-offs have to be made.

However, the very idea that any group would think it is alright to stop another group from praying wherever they wish grates on my Jewish-American soul with surprising intensity. We now have several countries who receive warm welcomes at the UN but who are Judenrein. No Jew may travel to Saudi Arabia; Libya; Pakistan or Iran. Even liberated Iraqis, from the most secular to the most devout, are roused to wrath when they hear a rumour that a Jewish soldier is inside the country, or that ?a Jew is trying to buy a house.?

Hey, guys, how far would I get if I said that Muslims may not pray at a synagogue in, say, Philadelphia, that used to be a mosque? Oh my goodness, would the ACLU be on my back, and Benjamin Franklin?s ghost would be haunting me in Elfreth?s Alley. Let?s take the hypotheticals one step further: how far would the USA get on the world stage if, say, Vermont became Christian-only ; New York Jewish only and New Jersey Moslem only? (And if you cross the line, you are covered in sand and stoned to death or chopped up like Danny Pearl.)

Am I being disgracefully politically incorrect by saying that the right of a people to declare their nations Judenrein -- and to warn Christians not to desecrate their soil by staying there -- is apartheid and racism? Is it not ethnic cleansing? When an elderly war veteran wandered into a Muslim neighbourhood in Bradford three years ago and suffered a brutal beating for ?desecrating ? the pavement near the mosque, is this what we wanted from ?multiculturalism?? Tragically, terrible destruction ensued and the Muslim community also suffered violence and loss from angry whites, but had the issue of ?desecration? not come up in the first place could the two communities not have benefited?

Many who read this site on a regular basis know that I have no shortage of venom for the Orthodox Jewry of Great Britain who engaged in a public brawl over the non-attendance of the late Rabbi Hugo Gryn?s funeral in August 1996 by the Orthodox British Chief Rabbi, Dr Jonathan Sacks. No event in my lifetime has so ?Jewishly ?horrified me as the assertion by Rabbi Sacks in a letter to a Dayan (reported by ?The Jewish Chronicle that year) that Rabbi Gryn, an Auschwitz survivor, was a ?destroyer of the faith,? hence his non-attendance at a Reform rabbi?s funeral. (The service was attended by the most eminent of the nation?s clergy of all faiths.) I am also a wearer of a tallit and a reader of the Torah; these are elements of the Progressive tradition. Indeed, a lively female rabbi (who, incidentally, keeps a kosher home) encouraged me to become more involved in Jewish life. So, perhaps it is my liberal soul that cringes at the idea that any religion can stop anyone from praying where and how they so desire.

I am feeling emboldened writing this piece because I heard a remarkable speaker in London last night, Tarek Heggy, an Egyptian scholar and businessman who delivered a lecture on the rise of extreme Islam. Here was a proud Egyptian and Muslim who was expressing despair: no longer could he reach up to a bookshelf in Cairo and buy an English translation of Racine or Moliere; only holy books are on sale these days. His apprehension is the same as mine. If a religion begins to restrict the very air one breathes, it is no longer a faith or practice; it is a stifling form of repression.

I am sure in my lifetime Jews will continue to be prohibited from praying at the Temple Mount and from visiting Mecca and Tripoli and Islamabad.

But any Muslim who wishes may visit my synagogue in St John?s Wood! That is a fact. I ask Muslim readers of this column to reflect on this. It troubles me deeply and does not make me optimistic about the future of the world in which I grew up -- a world full of ballerinas and symphony conductors and baseball heroes and my mother?s pictures of her career as a WAC in the US Army. It was a world that welcomed all beliefs and I want my world to stay that way.


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