The destruction of buildings in Jerusalem's Mamilla neighborhood, in the interest of enabling massive construction, has eliminated a number of charming spots, including a stone wall bearing the pleasant sign, "Holy place - no urinating allowed." It is a fitting Jerusalem response to the simple sign plastered on the wall of my Haifa school, "No urinating on the wall" - that is, no urinating at all, with no distinction between the sacred and the profane.
This is a distillation of the difference in how things are handled in the Holy City as compared to any other city. In Jerusalem, one cannot urinate in holy places, but it is sometimes allowed to urinate on what is not sanctified, even if it constitutes what secular types call "culture" and is therefore dear to their hearts.
In this historic city - which saw King Solomon cavort with his thousand wives, which saw the Bible's heroes failing to overcome their urges and flaws - sanctity today takes another form, that of narrow-minded religiosity. King David would presumably condemn the admonitory posters known as pashkevils in the ultra-Orthodox Mea Shearim neighborhood, while anyone who insists on reading the Song of Songs as a metaphoric ode on love between Israel and God would likely have banned its publication.
For 13 years, the play "Alma," based on Israeli playwright Yehoshua Sobol's English-language script, has been staged worldwide to great acclaim. The play is based on Alma Mahler (Gustav Mahler's wife), who counted many of the great men of her day as her lovers; it therefore has several love scenes and erotic references. Set considerations led the Cameri Theater, in conjunction with Austrian producers, to put on the play in the Underground Prisoners Museum, operated by the Defense Ministry. The ministry later announced that since the work was being performed in a "holy place," it should be modified to fit the prim values of ultra-Orthodox society, as is customary in Jerusalem.
Particularly jarring were the modified nude scenes: Even a doll appearing at the play's end was clothed in the interest of modesty. Sobol was asked to insert changes in the text for Defense Ministry approval, which he obligingly did.
We could, of course, have dismissed this whole story, which could only happen in Jerusalem. But this time, those at fault were not the city council or the ultra-Orthodox, but the Defense Ministry.
Two things are disturbing in this matter: first, the fact that the Defense Ministry sees itself as a cultural censor, and second, the benighted and closed-minded manner in which this body, secular in its very essence, perceives the concept of sanctity.
Whatever sanctity could be attributed to the Underground Prisoners Museum - formerly a British Mandate prison - is the sanctity of life, or the sanctity of the fight for the homeland, or maybe even, as the Defense Ministry likes to say, the sanctity of arms. There can be no starker contradiction than the one between the holiness attributed to those who fought to live freely in their own country - most of whom were secular - and the Defense Ministry's attempts to suit the play to a city that is becoming increasingly ultra-Orthodox.
One could understand if the ministry had forbidden a play with post-Zionist overtones, or a performance slated for the Underground Prisoners Museum that portrayed the suffering of the British occupier. But where is the contradiction between the struggle for liberation, on one hand, and on the other love and eroticism, which are the very stuff life is made of?
If the Underground Prisoners Museum is indeed a holy place, then there, especially, it should be forbidden to urinate on the values of freedom and liberalism - upon which artistic creation is based, and upon which the Hebrew State was supposed to be built.
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