'Christian Zionism and Jewish Extremism'

Friday, December 03, 2004

Jewish Apocalypticism

Judaism too has its version of the apocalypse. In fact, eschatology originally entered Christianity by way of the Jewish Scriptures.

Old Testament eschatology centers on the conviction that the catastrophes that beset the people of Israel happened because of the Jewish people’s disobedience to the laws and will of God. Subsequent conformity to the will of God will result in the spiritual and physical redemption of the Jewish people. Because the Scriptural references upon which this belief are based were almost all written during periods of exile, this redemption takes the form of the return of the Jews to the Land of Israel and the reestablishment of the Golden Age of the Kingdom of David.

But the return also has a spiritual component, in the form of a return to righteousness in compliance with the Law. Only after the symbolic cleansing of the Jewish people, will Israel be “a light to the nations” tasked with spreading God’s word to the other nations of the world.

Jewish eschatology is thus closely bound up with the concept of a redemptive history, in which the Jewish people are viewed as God’s chosen instrument for the carrying out of his purpose. Thus upon the fulfillment of God’s promises, the Jewish people are to be the vehicle for both their own salvation and that of the rest of the world.

Throughout history Jewish apocalypticism has waxed and waned with the fortunes of the Jewish people. However, with the establishment of the State of Israel, such beliefs have come to be seen by many Jews as a tangible pattern being worked out in modern history. The recapture of the Old City of Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Six-Day War, brought about a distinct change in Jewish apocalyptic yearnings. For the first time in over 2,000 years, a Jewish government controlled the Temple Mount, the site of the first two Jewish Temples. Several prominent rabbinical authorities came to believe that Israel was already living in the End Time, and that the Jews must now do their part to prepare the way for the Messiah.

But preparing for the Messiah is not a mere spiritual matter. In the modern reality of the Middle East, it has significant political overtones. The Temple Mount is holy not just to Jews, but over Islamic history has come to be regarded as the third holiest shrine of Islam as well. It is the site of two venerated Islamic holy places—the Dome of the Rock, and the al-Aqsa Mosque, from which according to legend Mohammed ascended to Heaven.

In an article entitled, “The Threat of Jewish Terrorism in Israel,” ICT Islamic expert, Reuven Paz emphasized the growing importance of these shrines to Islam:
Jerusalem in general and the Aqsa Mosque in particular have since 1967 achieved an increasing importance in the eyes of most of the Arab Muslim world, both for governments and for peoples.

The radical Islamic revival in the Arab world has succeeded in establishing Jerusalem and the Mosque as the major point of contention between Israel and the Arabs.The situation is made all the more volatile by the fact that this elevation in sanctity comes at this particular point in history:
This increase in the sanctity of the of al-Aqsa to Muslims takes place on the background of the growing importance of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount to the Israelis in general and to Jewish religious-political groups in particular, particularly since 1967. The issue of Jerusalem has become crucial to both sides, not only as a point of political dispute, but even more as the focus of religious-Messianic contention.

Any attempt therefore, to carry out a terrorist operation in the area of the Aqsa Mosque could be interpreted in the Arab world as part of the Muslim-Jewish global war.

The complexity of the matter was illustrated by Lawrence Wright, in his article, “Forcing the End”:
Soon after the Six-Day War was over, Shlomo Goren, who later became the Chief Rabbi of Israel, led a group of fifty followers onto the Mount, where they fought off Muslim guards and Israeli police and conducted a prayer service.
A week later, the Chief Rabbinate ordered that signs be placed in front of the gates saying that no Jews should set foot on the Temple Mount. The reasoning was that, because Jews are ritually impure, they might accidentally step on the place where the Holy of Holies once stood. Such a desecration is punishable by death at the hand of God. This was supposed to put the Temple Mount theologically off limits…

Despite this proscription, there are several Jewish fundamentalist groups who are convinced that the time to rebuild the Temple is now at hand. The obvious drawback is that the Third Temple cannot be built while the Muslim shrines still stand. There have been several serious attempts to blow up the Muslim holy places. Both Israeli and Islamic authorities are extremely concerned that the ill-conceived actions of a small number of Jewish fanatics may set off a violent confrontation between Muslims and Jews.

One of the more volatile Jewish apocalyptic groups is the Temple Mount Faithful, led by Gershon Salomon. Among the group’s stated long-term objectives is “Liberating the Temple Mount from Arab (Islamic) occupation.” According to the Temple Mount Faithful, “The Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa mosque were placed on this Jewish or Biblical holy site as a specific sign of Islamic conquest and domination.”

While the Temple Mount Faithful do not directly call for the destruction of the Muslim shrines, their own suggestion, “that they be removed, transferred to and rebuilt at Mecca,” does not appear to convey much conviction, even within the group itself. [http://www.templemountfaithful.org/obj.htm]

The secular millennium holds no significance for orthodox Jews, who eschew secular New Year celebrations as being alien to Judaism. The irony is that it is precisely here that Jewish apocalyptic aspirations coincide with those of the fundamentalist Christians, who foresee a cataclysmic war in Israel. For nothing would be as sure to set off such a war as the fulfillment of the designs of the Temple Mount Faithful. Any harm to the Muslim shrines on the Temple Mount would be almost certain to bring about a violent confrontation—one that could easily rage out of control.

Nadav Shragai, a reporter for the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz and the author of a 1995 book, “The Temple Mount Conflict,” estimates that there are about a thousand active supporters of the most radical Temple Mount movements.[Quoted in Wright] The potential of the Temple Mount Faithful to stir up conflict in this most sensitive of places is illustrated by an event that occurred in 1990. Salomon led a group of his followers to the Mount in order to lay a “cornerstone” for the Third Temple. As many as five thousand Muslims of all ages turned out to “defend the sanctuaries,” and began hurling stones onto Jewish worshippers at the Western Wall below. The situation rapidly deteriorated into a riot. The Israeli authorities, who had failed to reinforce a police garrison on the Mount, dispatched border guards to control the situation. In the resulting struggle seventeen Muslims were killed and hundreds of people on both sides wounded.

Just how sensitive the site is can be seen in the fact that the opening of an archeological site near the Temple Mount to tourism in September 1996, led to riots by Muslims throughout the country. In the disturbances eighty people were killed..

In a way, the Temple Mount Faithful are only the extreme manifestation of an underlying trend in Jewish fundamentalism, whose more moderate expressions can be seen in the increasing political activity of Israel’s religious population.
Some see the increasing political involvement of religious Jews as stemming primarily from an apocalyptic view of modern history. According to Emmanuel Sivan of Hebrew University, “Jewish fundamentalism of the nationalist branch is mostly the product of the Six Day War.

The fact is that until ‘67 the national religious camp was a very moderate Zionist movement. It has turned extremist because of this apocalyptic vision.” [Quoted in Wright]

Fortunately, the more extreme forms of apocalypticism are in a vast minority in Israel, and are actively represented in only a few organized movements. Israel’s General Security Service is faced with the unenviable task of struggling to keep abreast of every possible provocation by such groups, in a region where a single spark can set off a sweeping conflagration.


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Milton Frihetsson, 1:37 AM