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The WaPo wants to know — who built the Second Temple?: Get Religion, May 26, 2013 May 27, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism.
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Kudos to the Washington Post for moving quickly to correct an error in Wednesday’s article on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

In a story entitled “An audacious plan at the Western Wall”, theWaPo reports on plans under consideration by the Israeli government to double the space available for worshipers at the Western Wall to accommodate the fissiparous Jewish community.

The story is well written, well researched, and offers views and statements from all parties concerned. There were, however, two things that caught my eye when I first read the story. When the article moved from  current events to background it stated King Solomon built the Second Temple. A bell went off in my head when I read that.

According to 1 Kings chapters 6-7 in the Old Testament or Hebrew Scriptures, Solomon built the first temple on Mount Zion. The Bible goes on to record its destruction by Nebuchadnezzar in 2 Kings 25. Archaeological and rabbinic opinions differ as to the period of the temple’s construction and destruction offering dates of 10th century BC to 587 BC v. 832 to 422 BC. The Old Testament goes on to state in Ezra chapter 5 the Temple was rebuilt and completed during the six-year of the reign of King Darius the Great — approximately 517 BC.  Flavius Josephus records that Herod the Great completely rebuilt the Temple In the first century — and it became popular known as Herod’s Temple. In 70 AD the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and leveled the temple. The lower levels of the Western Wall are all that remain of Herod’s Temple.

I jotted down this error onto a notepad thinking I would return to it later in the day for a GetReligion piece. When I returned that afternoon to the web version of the article I found a correction had been posted at the top of the story. It read:

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said that King Solomon built the Second Temple. Solomon built the First Temple. The story has been updated.

The body had been corrected to say that Herod built the second temple. Not quite – – still a mistake but not as big a brick as the first printing. I put the story to one side to move to pressing business and when I returned to the article on Thursday I thought it’d been corrected once more. The new correction states (and is at the top of the article as the date of this post):

Correction: An earlier version of this article misidentified the Jewish temple built by King Solomon. Solomon built the First Temple, not the Second. The article also incorrectly referred to Herod as the builder of the Second Temple. Although the temple is sometimes called Herod’s Temple in honor of his expansion of it, the original construction occurred centuries earlier.

The body of the story was corrected a second time too. I give them credit for fixing this error so swiftly, but it did rob me of a GetReligion story.

Did I not mention that I saw the second problem? The Washington Post fixed theGetReligion issue but left a GetPolitics problem. Just after the Herod/Solomon confusion comes this paragraph.

Muslims call the same site the Noble Sanctuary, where they built the Dome of the Rock shrine and al-Aqsa mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam, after capturing Jerusalem in the 7th century. The mount is administered by the Islamic Waqf trust, headed by the grand mufti of Jerusalem, who is appointed by the Palestinian Authority. Armed Israeli security forces that often patrol the site are a source of constant friction.

Is it fair to say that the Israeli security forces are the source of friction? Does that not place the blame the tensions on Israel? One could just as easily say Palestinian political agitation and protests, mixed with the occasional stoning of Jews worshiping at the base of the Temple Mount by Palestinians on the top, is the cause of  the tension.

The Washington Post just can’t seem to get a great a break with this story. Muslim activists claim there is no historical link between the Jews and the Temple Mount — and dispute the history set forth above and is recorded in the current version of theWashington Post article. It is impossible to satisfy everyone when reporting on Israel. Apart from the two small items I mentioned, this article does a pretty good job.

First printed in GetReligion.

Jewish Identity and the Western Wall: Get Religion, April 14, 2013 April 14, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Civil Rights, Get Religion, Israel, Judaism, Press criticism.
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You couldn’t, he thought, find three Jews in the world who would agree on what it meant to be Jewish, yet there were apparently fifty million of these people who knew exactly what it meant to be German, though many of those on deck have never set foot in Germany.

Alan Furst, Dark Star, (1991), p. 380.

Who is a Jew? What is a Jew? Who decides who is a Jew? These questions lie beneath the surface of a Washington Post story that reports on the controversy of women worshiping at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. The article entitled “Women challenge Orthodox practice at Israel’s Western Wall” links the political dynamics of the pressure being brought by American Jews upon the Israeli government to accommodate non-Orthodox Jewish worship at what the Post calls “Judaism’s holiest shrine” with an Israeli local news item. Yet the story could have fleshed out the religion ghosts — telling a non-Jewish, non-Israeli audience why this is the something more than a turf battle over worship space.

Because this article is written from an American secular Jewish perspective  — the Post states its support of the protesters in its lede — only half the story is told. The presuppositions of the author — call them biases or perspectives or relative truths — prevents a reader from understanding the political and religious calculus here. It begins:

JERUSALEM — A long-running battle over worship at the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest shrine, was rejoined Thursday as Israeli police arrested five Jewish women who wore prayer shawls at a morning service, contrary to Orthodox practice enforced at the site. The arrests came two days after disclosure of a potentially groundbreaking plan that could allow for non-Orthodox services to be held in the area on an equal footing with those conducted according to Orthodox tradition.

Note the verb being used in second clause of the lede sentence: “enforced”. The Post is characterizing the dispute as one of power — he who has power can enforce his will. What trajectory would the story have taken it different verb were used stating that Orthodox practice is not merely enforced but required by law? The story then moves to quotes from the women activists and an “ultra-Orthodox heckler”, before moving to the political, summarizing the history of the dispute, taking it up to recent discussions in the cabinet:

[Prime Minister] Netanyahu asked Natan Sharansky, chairman of the quasi-governmental Jewish Agency, to come up with a plan for worship at the Western Wall that would accommodate the non-Orthodox branches of Judaism that are dominant overseas. The move signaled an increasing awareness in the Israeli government that the confrontations over ritual at the Western Wall are driving a wedge between Israel and Jewish communities abroad.<

Sharansky’s solution presented to American Jewish leaders was to build a platform “south of the main prayer plaza; men and women could pray together there, and women could lead services.”

The article closes with a quote from the Western Wall Orthodox rabbi who said he was in favor of the separate facilities and an Israeli reform rabbi who is given free reign to sound off on his views on the Orthodox hegemony of Judaism in Israel.

Rabbi Gilad Kariv, director of the Reform movement in Israel, said that Women of the Wall had succeeded in making religious pluralism at the shrine a major issue of Jewish concern. “The Wall has become an ultra-Orthodox synagogue,” Kariv said, adding that Thursday’s arrests sent a signal that undermined Sharansky’s proposal. “You can’t make a serious attempt to reach a compromise while maintaining a situation where the rights of one side are seriously breached,” he said.

Still, Kariv predicted that if the proposal is implemented, the area set aside for non-Orthodox prayer at the Western Wall “will become the main platform for the vast majority of Israelis and Jews.”

I am not a Jew and have no dog in the fight between the traditional and progressive strands of Judaism. I am concerned with good journalism, though, and find this story unbalanced and incomplete.

Unbalanced because there is no explanation as to why the Orthodox object to bare-headed women leading prayers (as the accompanying photo from the Post shows) next to a gathering of Haredi men praying. While supporters of change have their say in this story supporters of tradition do not. I should say that I know the Talmud rejects the practice — but I do not know if other non-Jews know this. Without an explanation of the religious issues a casual reader might well assume that this is an issue of power.

It was an issue of power in 1928. On the Day of Atonement that year, 28 September 1928, a riot erupted when British police torn down wooden barriers separating male and female worshipers at the Wall. Protests from Jewish communities around the world greeted this action which in turn were followed by protests from Arabs in Palestine against Jews worshiping at the Wall. The British ban on sex segregation barriers became a ban on Jews at the Wall from 1948 1967 when it was under the control of Jordan.

When Israel took control of the Temple Mount area the Wall came under the authority of the Ministry of Religious Affairs. In the 1980s American and English emigrants to Israel began the Women at the Wall movement which sparked a riot by Haredi men at the wall in 1989. In 2003 Israel’s Supreme Court disallowed women from reading publicly from the Torah or wearing traditional prayer shawls at the plaza built by the Ministry in front of the Wall. However, it held the government must build a second area for women and mixed sex groups — as well as non-Orthodox Jews — on the site of Robinson’s Arch.  Sharansky’s solution is to expand this site — which is not under the control of the Ministry.

Without explaining the religious elements — the objections of the Orthodox or the determination of Jewish women to worship at the wall rather than near — the story is incomplete. Without touching upon the history behind this section, it’s context, a casual reader might well suppose this is just about power.

What does the wall symbolize for the religious Jew or the secular Israeli? Is this a continuing chapter in the saga of who is a Jew, what does it mean to be a Jew, and who gets to say who is a Jew? Written for an American or Diaspora audience — the story is incomplete.

First published in Get Religion.