Yom Yerushalayim

by Rabbi Jeremy Rosen


Sunday May 29th is Yom Yerushalayim. Some people may say it was a miracle, to regain the Old City of Jerusalem after two thousand years. I think it was proof that only by being proactive and determined can one survive and thrive in a hostile world.


In 1948 Jordan had unilaterally conquered the Old City of Jerusalem, baring Jews from entry, destroying synagogues, and desecrating Jewish burial grounds. On June 5, 1967, Hussein of Jordan had been asked not to get involved in the war that the Arab world declared on Israel. He refused and attacked. Initially, the Israeli general staff had no intention of taking the Old City. The leadership in Tel Aviv was against going onto the offensive. They did not want to upset the non-Jewish world over the Holy City. The reserve unit commanded by Motta Gur, which was supposed to go to Sinai, was only sent to Jerusalem instead when heavy Jordanian shelling and the attack on the United Nations headquarters in southern Jerusalem shattered the illusion that the Jordanians were only offering token support to the invasion.


Motta Gur and his troops saw an opportunity to capture the Old City. They decided to ignore external considerations and took the city. The individual initiative won the day. In one way the appeasers were right. Much of the world now use this as another excuse to condemn Israel and deny its right to the Old City. Of course, it is a city holy to other religions too and Israel has been very particular in respecting this.


What is the real reason that the Palestinians and their allies are so incensed over Israel’s presence in Jerusalem and its right to defend its citizens when they are attacked there? Sadly, what was and is simply a territorial conflict has now been turned into a Religious War with the Mosque used as a propaganda tool.


The holy cities of Islam under Mohammad were Mecca and Medina. Jerusalem was not mentioned in the Koran, and a mosque was not built on the temple site until almost a hundred years after Mohammad. There were later traditions such as Ibn Athir’s Chronicle (1160-1233), that Muhammad was carried on a magical horse from Mecca to Jerusalem where he entered the mosque Bait al-Maqdis. Note the similarity to Beyt HaMikdash. And then ascended to heaven. But there was no mosque in Jerusalem until after Muhammad died. There are other Muslim Holy places of greater significance.


All the areas conquered by the Muslims under Muhammad, Omar, the Umayyad dynasty, and later the Ottomans and Mamelukes, became Islamic territory, Dar al-Islam, the World of Islam a thousand years after Solomon built the First Temple. Jews were subject to military conquest. Living under Islam they had to resign themselves to being second-class citizens (dhimmis) and were required to pay a tax to Islam, the jizya. Life, though not a bed of roses, was still far better than under Christianity.


The Middle East was constantly changing hands and populations migrated as different invaders took hold. Tribes were fighting tribes and sects massacring each other. It was always a turbulent area. With occasional periods of brilliant creativity, far more civilized than Europe. But at others descending into barbarity, corruption, and poverty.


Then nationalism began to spread. After the First World War, the victors started to carve up the Ottoman empire. They arbitrarily set boundaries and spheres of influence. The victors tried to recognize different nationalities in the middle east including the Jews. Others like the Kurds and Christians failed to gain support. But just like Russia after the Soviet Union collapsed, the Arab world, although it was allocated far more states than any other nationality, wanted to reclaim everything for Islam. Initially secularly, but subsequently religiously. And that meant resenting the independent Jewish presence.


Emir Faisal met Chaim Weizmann in 1919 and reached an agreement. But Arab nationalists vetoed it. Those few Arab leaders wise enough to try to work together with the Jews were either murdered or sidelined. The use of violence as a political tool began with the Arab riots of 1922. The argument that the Western powers were imperialists might have been true when it came to dismantling the Ottoman Empire, but Jews had been living in the Middle East from way before Islam began.


Pride and honor play an important part in Islamic culture. The idea of an inferior people standing up to Muslim power was, in the eyes of radical Mullahs, an affront and a repudiation of Islamic power and honor. But the greatest humiliation of all is the reminder that a few million Jews are still standing. This can only be explained as the work of the devil, and Jews must be the agents of evil!


Although many moderate Muslims reject extremes and antisemitism, the simple populace, whipped up by fanatics, and paid to demonstrate, have been fed a constant diet of antisemitic tropes and the constant preaching of hatred. All supported by Left-Wing parties around the world.


Abbas claims, that the Jews have no claim whatsoever to Jerusalem or Israel. His statements are nothing compared to the hatred coming out from Hamas spokesmen in Gaza who want to destroy Israel altogether. If they are the sole voices of the Palestinians, the only result that I can see is continuing violence and a war of survival.


If only I could see any movement in the direction of genuine peace, I would feel much happier about excoriating Israel for its failures. But meanwhile, there is nothing on the table that makes sense. And in the Middle East riven with conflict, between Muslims themselves, let alone others, there is no logic to Israel letting down its guard.


In justifying the presence of the Jews and their right to call Jerusalem their capital, I am not supporting a right-wing nationalist agenda to try to take back Muslim religious sites or control them. Indeed, I prefer the Charedi refusal to go up to the site known to Muslims as al-Haram ash-Sharif and the Al-Aqsa Compound, for religious reasons. But I do want to present another narrative to that which anti-Jews claim that we are colonial interlopers with no rights rather than indigenous, returning refugees.


Besides, who else has prayed three times every day for two thousand years to return to Jerusalem?


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Jeremy Rosen was born in Manchester, England, the eldest son of Rabbi Kopul Rosen and Bella Rosen. Rosen's thinking was strongly influenced by his father, who rejected fundamentalist and obscurantist approaches in favour of being open to the best the secular world has to offer while remaining committed to religious life. He was first educated at Carmel College, the school his father had founded based on this philosophical orientation. At his father's direction, Rosen also studied at Be'er Yaakov Yeshiva in Israel (1957–1958 and 1960). He then went on to Merkaz Harav Kook (1961), and Mir Yeshiva (1965–1968) in Jerusalem, where he received semicha from Rabbi Chaim Leib Shmuelevitz in addition to Rabbi Dovid Povarsky of Ponevezh and Rabbi Moshe Shmuel Shapiro of Yeshivat Be'er Ya'akov. In between Rosen attended Cambridge University (1962–1965), graduating with a degree in Moral Sciences.