Opinion |

The State of Israel vs. Shema Yisrael

Israel Harel
Israel Harel
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Jews walk during a visit to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City, Sunday.
Jews walk during a visit to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City, Sunday.Credit: SINAN ABU MAYZER/ REUTERS
Israel Harel
Israel Harel

After World War II ended, Rabbi Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog, the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of the British Mandate of Palestine, set out to comfort the survivors and to retrieve Jewish children who had been hidden in monasteries and convents and bring them back into the fold. At one convent, the mother superior denied that there were any Jewish children there. The rabbi was not so easily dissuaded, and all the children were brought out to the yard. “Who here is a Jew?” he asked. No one raised their hand.

The rabbi covered his eyes and called out, “Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad.” The hands of several children automatically flew up to cover their eyes, as is the practice when reciting the Shema prayer. “These children are Jews,” the rabbi said to the mother superior. I heard this story from former Haaretz writer Nadav Shragai. He heard it from his grandfather, Shlomo Zalman Shragai, who was the mayor of Jerusalem and a close associate of Rabbi Herzog.

Of all the Jewish prayers, none bursts from the heart the way that “Shema Yisrael” does; it accompanies the Jew from birth until his departure from this world. It is the prayer, the cry, the affirmation of all the generations. It is also a symbol of Jewish heroism, of the sanctification of God’s name; the last words uttered by murdered Jews throughout the generations, and by heroes who fell in combat. In our day as well.

Two weeks before Jerusalem Day, marked on Sunday, three youths went up to the Temple Mount, bowed down and recited, “Shema Yisrael.” The police pounced on the criminals and dragged them away. Zion Saharay, the magistrate’s court judge who heard the case, ruled to the astonishment and great trepidation of many Jews that their brethren were entitled to intone “Shema Yisrael” on the Temple Mount, and even, be still my heart, to bow down there.

“The appellants’ conduct does not raise worry of harm befalling national security, public safety or individual security,” the judge wrote. The government and the police were gripped with panic. In order to preempt condemnations and threats from outside, the Prime Minister’s Office quickly issued a statement: “There is no change, nor is any change planned, on the status quo of the Temple Mount. With regard to the specific criminal case in question, the government was informed that the state will file an appeal to the district court.”

The Hashemite Kingdom, to whom the Israeli government has granted the last word on the Temple Mount, preempted the district court, stating: “The decision is null and void and has no legal validity.” Two days ago, the district court in Jerusalem heeded the Jordanian dictate and also banned worship by Jews at their holy site. Judge Einat Avman-Muller said in her ruling: “The special sensitivity of the Temple Mount cannot be overstated.”
Once again, the legal system demonstrated “special sensitivity” to Muslims and zero sensitivity to Jews. For everyone knows, of course, that the Jews have no connection to the place where the Holy Temple stood, and to which their prayers and yearnings were directed throughout two thousand years of exile.

Fifty five years after members of the 55th Paratroopers Brigade gave their lives to liberate the Temple Mount, the State of Israel is preventing Jews from intoning in that place the holiest words that encapsulate their identity, their heritage, their suffering and their heroism. There is no greater humiliation.

Many Israelis and Jews are feeling increasingly distressed over the serious infringement of Jewish sovereignty in their country. They look at what is happening on the Temple Mount, on campuses where enemy flags are proudly waved (with the inspiration of the courts and the encouragement of the university authorities), at the nationalist violence in the mixed cities and on the roads. If the government and the courts continue to ignore these feelings of humiliation, the day is not far off when these groups will take to the streets en masse. The writing is on the wall.

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