THE TALE OF A TALL SYNAGOGUE
By Micah Halpern
Thursday March 18, 2010
Jerusalem is the capital city of three monotheistic religions. Judaism, Islam and Christianity all have a stake in Jerusalem's past, ergo, they all have a stake in Jerusalem's future.
It was in Jerusalem that Abraham bound and prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac and it was in Jerusalem that King Solomon erected the temple. And so, the bond between Jerusalem and Judaism was forged. It was in Jerusalem that the prophet Mohammed, on a white stead, ascended to heaven and created the bond between Jerusalem and Islam. And it was to Jerusalem that Jesus made his pilgrimage and sparked a bond between Jerusalem and Christianity.
In Jerusalem, emotions run high.
The inauguration and re-opening of an old / new synagogue in Jerusalem, a synagogue that has been in ruins since its destruction by the Jordanians in 1948, has touched not only the soul but also the nerves of everyone who cares about or is involved with the City of Jerusalem. The synagogue, called the Hurva, which literally means destruction in Hebrew, has remained a hollowed out shell for well over half a century.
The Hurva synagogue has a long and repetitive history. The name tells it all, the Hurva has almost since it was first erected, been a symbol of destruction. When the Jordanians destroyed the synagogue in 1948 the explosion could be seen for miles. The dome crowning the Hurva was the highest architectural structure in the entire city. The building was the tallest and most magnificent in the entire Old City of Jerusalem.
In cities like Jerusalem battles are often fought building by building. The tallest building is a symbol. The height of the Hurva synagogue was the Jewish check against the Moslem holy sites the Dome of the Rock and the Christian Church of the Sepulchre.
The Muslim Dome was only visible from certain angles. The Church was built even lower in the city. The dome of the synagogue could be seen by almost everyone, everywhere - even outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. The Hurva is and was situated high up on a plateau and center stage in the Jewish Quarter of the city. That is why it had been desecrated and destroyed in 1721. And that is why the Jordanians had to destroy it, again, in 1948.
According to Islamic law it is forbidden to build any local building taller than the local mosque. The law is clear, it is stated in the Pact of Omar. Christianity has similar laws and rulings. Building the Hurva as they did was an act of arrogance. The same is the case when the Altneu Shul, a synagogue in Prague, was built. The architectural design was to dig deep down in to ground - and then up. The building, instilled with grandeur, is one of the most spectacular buildings of Europe and circumvented the law.
The re-opening of the Hurva Synagogue has stoked the flames of an already flammable situation. The call to violence and Jihad has been announced by Arab leaders and Imams. Many of their followers are preparing to rise up in defense of holy Muslim sites, to protect them from the Jews.
There are those in the Muslim world who say that the new / old synagogue is breaking the foundation of the holy site al Aqsa on the Temple Mount. On al Jazeera television a cleric explained that the footing of the shrine known in Islam as Haram al Sharif, the holy sanctuary which is itself crowned by a golden dome, is threatened. Geographically and archaeologically the cleric is incorrect, but this is not about fact and accuracy- it is about symbolism.
The Imams and Islamic leaders are correct when they talk about how Israel is destroying the foundations of Islam in the Holy City. But it is their symbolic foundations that Israel is checking. The holy ground is not being uprooted, destroyed or sullied, it is the Jerusalem skyline that Judaism is recapturing.
The Hurva has always been a threat to the Muslim world. Not because it is a synagogue in Jerusalem, because it is such a tall synagogue in Jerusalem. In Jerusalem, literally and figuratively, symbols taken on heightened significance.
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