Empathy’s an important Jewish virtue.
One might empathize with an Israeli Arab who sees himself, despite the freedoms and opportunities afforded him, and his ability to petition a fair court system, as living “under occupation.” And, with a bit more effort, perhaps even with a Palestinian who has been fooled into believing that Israel is bent on harming the mosques on the Temple Mount. States of ignorance, too, have some claim on empathy.
When delusions, however, lead to violence against innocents, all rights to empathy are lost. Once stabbings are the chosen means of expressing dissatisfaction, the knife-wielders forfeit any sympathy, and are rightly stopped in any way possible.
Can any truly human being even begin to inhabit a mind that inspires its owner to slam a car into pedestrians at a bus stop? And then to exit the vehicle with a butcher’s cleaver and hack at the prone victims of his assault?
Empathizing with evil is immoral.
And abetting it, even unintentionally, is regrettable.
It would be hard to find a more inflammatory illustration of this than the rhetoric and incitement surrounding Har HaBayit, or Temple Mount, which has fuelled so much of the current violence in Israel.
Even the “paper of record” has no immunity from this. The New York Times recently owned up to what some of us have been claiming for many years; when it comes to the Temple Mount, it seems deliberately oblivious to the historical record.
Two years ago, a Times video referred to the site as the place “that Jews call the Temple Mount” and that “Jews widely believe was the site of the Temples.” Call the Temple Mount? Believe was the site of the Temples?
And just over a week ago, Rick Gladstone, of the Times’ foreign desk [October 8] characterized the question of “whether the 37-acre site, home to Islam’s sacred Dome of the Rock shrine and Al Aqsa Mosque, was also the precise location of two ancient Jewish temples” as “never definitively answered.”
Presumably, outrage was registered, because, the following day, an online correction was offered: “An earlier version of this article misstated the question that many books and scholarly treatises have never definitively answered concerning the two ancient Jewish temples. The question is where precisely on the 37-acre Temple Mount site the temples had once stood, not whether the temples had ever existed there.”
And the print edition published a letter written by University of South Carolina Professor Jodi Magness, who was cited by the piece, in which she stated that she knows “of no credible scholars who question the existence of the two temples or who deny that they stood somewhere on the Temple Mount.”
This, though, only after having bolstered the widespread Arab delusion that the Temple Mount, the focal point of Jewish prayer nearly 1,500 years before Islam’s founder’s grandparents were born, has no demonstrable connection to Jews.
It’s a notion that fuels the popular delusion held by many Arabs, who are convinced that Jews seek to destroy the Al-Aqsa mosque. Anshel Pfeffer’s recent Haaretz piece quotes a grocer named Ahmed who explains: ‘They are digging beneath Al-Aqsa,” he revealed, “and building an entire city. I’ve seen it with my own eyes.everything is happening now in Jerusalem because of Al-Aqsa.”
Ahmed is certainly correct about the detonator of the current murder spree.
Which brings us to the other irresponsible abettors of the current violence against Israeli Jews.
In 1967, after Jerusalem was reunited, a decision was made to not disturb Muslim worship on the Temple Mount. Some, including Moshe Dayan, toyed with the idea of razing the mosques there, but reason won out – with the encouragement of great rabbinic figures of the time.
It was hoped that giving the Waqf control of the use of the Mount (with security controlled by Israel) would result in a peaceable status quo at the site. And that is in fact what resulted.
Enter, in recent years, Jewish “activists” who seek to assert the Jewish claim to the site by high-profile visits to it, and demanding the right to pray there.
Leave aside the fact that Jews are prohibited by Jewish law, as interpreted by its most recognized arbiters, from ascending the Mount. (Israel's Sephardi Chief Rabbi recently decried "those who think nationalism trumps Jewish law... This halakha must be repeated: Dozens of sages throughout the generations wrote that one shall not ascent to the Temple Mount." and the renowned Ashkenazi Rabbi Moshe Sternbuch went further, declaring that the "handful of people who go up on Har Habayis will be held accountable for this [wave of attacks]...They are also causing this to become a religious war because Har Habayis is considered a holy place for the Arabs.”
Is the nationalistic rush born of physically asserting that the Har HaBayit is Judaism’s holiest site worth the hatred it has spawned among violent Arabs? Is the “victory” of praying in a holy spot worth the innocent blood spilled as a result?
It is not.
Arab terrorists who are shot as they try to kill Jews learn that actions have repercussions. Some among us Jews need to learn the same thing.
Rabbi Avi Shafran is a columnist for the American edition of Hamodia and blogs at www.rabbiavishafran.com. He also serves as Agudath Israel of America's director of public affairs.
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