Sunday, October 10, 2004

Temple activists gone mad

I'm not sure which is more twisted, this event or the article reporting it.

I have no problem in principle with those who reenact Temple rituals in the anticipation of its eventual rebuilding. It's a legitimate educational tool and a way to bring our heritage to life.

I do think that those who believe the rebuilding of the Temple to be imminent are mistaken. But I appreciate their desire to reconnect to our ancient practices, even if they are unlikely to be restored soon (though we continue to pray that they will).

Regardless: connecting such a reenactment with contemporary politics is absurd, and in fact undermines any potential constructive impact it might otherwise have.

A group of right-wing Jewish activists reenacted a religious ritual from the First Temple period at the Shiloah Spring in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan Tuesday night, with the goal of removing Prime Minister Ariel Sharon from power and instituting a Jewish monarchy.

The connection between the water drawing ceremony and their wish to depose the prime minister is what, exactly? And the monarchy they call for - is it to be a figurehead, or a replacement for democracy? I suspect the latter.

With shofars blasting in the background, the group - led by Prof. Hillel Weiss, a well-known Temple Mount activist and a lecturer on literature at Bar-Ilan University, and Rabbi Yosef Dayan, who recently threatened to instigate a death curse against Sharon - conducted the nisuah hamayim ritual, which they said "will begin the process of removing the secular Israeli government."

Note to reporter: That's "nisukh hamayim", not "nisuah hamayim". The water was poured, not formulated.

"This ceremony will lay the foundations for instituting a Jewish king, a Jewish court, and the Third Temple," Weiss told the 40 participants sitting near the Shiloah Spring. "We will draw inspiration and strength from the ceremony as the holy priests did in Temple times, and we will ensure that the Jewish people will not be removed from their land."

The water libation ceremony was part of the general Sukkot theme of prayers for rain. It's not about "inspiration" or "strength", let alone politics (unless you mean Pharisees vs. Sadducees!).

Standing next to the running water, said to also be used in Temple times to spiritually cleanse the high priest during the Yom Kippur services, Dayan blew the shofar while Weiss collected holy water.

"Holy water"? Is this the reporter's gaffe or the participants'? Well water is ritually pure (tahor), but not holy (kadosh).

"The purpose of the ceremony is to remove the current government, and in order to do so we need to draw strength from the pools of salvation," Weiss said. "If we want to make a revolution, then we need to change the course of the winds blowing among the people."

Right. And drawing well water is clearly going to convince the public to replace the government with a monarchy and rebuild the Temple. On the say-so of a literature professor and a rabbi.

Weiss, who recently published a book calling for the institution of a Jewish monarchy in the State of Israel, refrained from spelling out how he intends to "remove Sharon," but did say that the "religious powers will grant us the strength to do so."

Oh, "religious powers". Has he been talking to Madonna lately? She's into holy water too.

Dayan, rabbi of the settlement of Psagot, was not so reluctant.

"Sharon's plan is insane and I wish for his death," he said. "We want a Jewish monarchy in Israel and not a secular government with secular political parties. The decisions made by the majority are not decisions since the majority is stupid."

Clearly an expert in the art of persuasion. This rabbi must be in advertising.

(Update: Dayan is also not the rabbi of Psagot!)

The nisuah hamayim ritual finds its source in the Mishna. During Succot in the time of the Temple, the priests would gather water from the holy Shiloah Spring and would pour it onto the tabernacle in the Temple, accompanied by songs and trumpets. The religious meaning behind the ritual, Weiss said, was to draw strength and spiritual powers from the water, which would then sustain the priests throughout the year.

Huh? "Pour it onto the tabernacle in the Temple?" That's the altar in the Temple. (The Tabernacle was the predecessor to the Temple.) I'm sure Weiss and Dayan didn't pour any water onto the altar, since it doesn't exist. And this mumbo-jumbo about strength and powers is just that, mumbo-jumbo. The ritual was a religious obligation, and that's why it was performed.

For that matter, wine was poured onto the altar every day of the year, with the daily animal sacrifice. Why don't they reenact that, while they're at it?

Last month, Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz decided not to launch a criminal investigation against Dayan, who had said that he would be prepared to instigate a death curse against Sharon. Mazuz arrived at his decision after an examination of the comments made by Dayan and the conclusion that they did not contain a basis for criminal charges of incitement to violence.

"I definitely want something bad to happen to Sharon so that he will cease doing whatever it is he does," Dayan said on the eve of Rosh Hashana. "Nobody has called on me. A person can pray to the heavens on any subject he wishes."

Clearly, being a nut shouldn't be a crime. Giving the nuts front-page coverage in the Jerusalem Post is another matter.

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