A few weeks ago, during a family vacation, we visited the Hebrew Music Museum in Jerusalem. It’s a new museum that was opened a year and a half ago by businessman Laurent Levi together with Eldad Levy, a composer and santur player, according to the museum’s website. As a music lover I was excited about the visit, particularly given the museum’s maxim – “We believe that music touches everyone without discrimination, segregation or prejudice” (also from its website).
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We were handed tablets at the entrance and continued to the exhibit rooms. We were impressed by the variety of musical instruments from all Jewish communities and enjoyed looking at the exhibits. But a deeper look turns up a few things that are difficult to ignore.
I would have expected a museum in Jerusalem that believes that “music touches everyone without discrimination, segregation or prejudice,” even under private ownership, to caption its displays not just in Hebrew, English, French, Russian and Spanish, but also in Arabic, which is still one of the country’s official languages and is spoken by a third of the residents of the greater Jerusalem area.
The reason for ignoring the Arab public, which might also want to enjoy music’s ability to “unite, gladden and awaken each person’s inner good” (as written on the museum’s website), becomes clear when one reaches the highlight of the museum: the Hebrew Room, which features a model of the Temple in Jerusalem and includes a virtual reality tour. Here you discover the museum’s other objectives, which go beyond music. Here the Third Temple takes shape and form – virtual for now, but with a physical model. This is how the museum serves as another tool for preparing people for its construction.
There is a clear connection between music and the Temple. The custom during the morning prayers is to recite the “song of the day,” the chapter of Psalms that was sung by the Levites on a given day of the week during the daily tamid sacrifice. During our visit to the Hebrew Room, my family and I were treated to a tour of the Temple and a view of how the tamid sacrifice was performed (through virtual reality goggles – for now).
A visit to the website of the museum’s founder, Laurent Levy, sheds light on his worldview. He notes that “In the Torah there are several explicit mentions of the place of residence of the Jewish people. The borders of the Promised Land, the Land of Israel, are also clearly defined. In 2012, 46% of the Jewish people were living in the land the Lord bequeathed to them for generations. The return of Jews of the Diaspora to the land and to the Torah are two phenomena that we will witness in Israel in the coming years; that is, we will study Torah more intensively and thus reveal more of the Divine aspect of the world for the benefit of Jerusalem, Israel, the world and everyone on earth. That’s how the Third Temple will be rebuilt.”
The museum does not solicit contributions and is not supported by any government agency. But many students have already visited it on organized school tours and it is in the process of becoming a recognized institution, at least according to the representative who met us at the entrance. The museum is certainly beautiful; it’s clear that a great deal of thought and investment that went into the design of the space and the exhibits. But it is not just a museum of Hebrew music. It is another stage in the preparations for rebuilding the Temple, since, as its founder notes, “In the Temple it was forbidden to offer sacrifices, to confess sins or to come close to God without the music.”
The museum’s founders are ignoring the words of the prophet Isaiah, “For my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples,” (Isaiah 56:7), which requires respectful cooperation with representatives of all religions, including Islam – and certainly doesn’t call to exclude them.
The founders missed the opportunity to achieve their declared goal to “unite, gladden and awaken each person’s inner good” through music. The museum is another indication of the trend we are witnessing in educational and cultural institutions to exclude Arabic while conveying messianic-religious messages in the guise of educational content.