In a response to this post, Rachel posed an interesting question: is Israel holier than other places?
This, I think, is the issue with which I struggled (in the guise of many others) before my trip. Israel is the site of ancient events central to three religions. Its land is hallowed, its remaining walls places of God. So of course it's holy, QED.
But is land sacred because memory declares it so? Or is holiness an active state, renewing and proving itself over time? This is the standard to which people are bound; prior acts of goodness will never justify unethical behavior later in life. But the same doesn't seem to hold true for places. One of our rabbis admitted that Tel Aviv seemed holier to him than Jerusalem, where you can cut the tension in the air with a knife. In Tel Aviv there's a sense of freedom--to think, worship, live however you want. Isn't that more sacred than hatred?
I don't know. I was awestruck in Jerusalem by the echoes in the stones, the sunlight reflecting on sand just as it did thousands of years ago. I knew I was in a place of origin, and being there made me feel whole. But whole is not the same as holy. Before my trip, as now, I was more deeply moved when reading about the Wall than at that moment when my fingers traced its crevices. I stood in its shadows and could not forget the anger and tears of others who worshipped yards away at the Dome of the Rock. This has nothing to do with politics; who's right or wrong doesn't matter. What does is that lives continue to be lost over the question. I have trouble understanding how a city defined by this struggle is holier than other places where people live in peace. I know that "Israel" means "God-wrestler," and that the Jewish people are defined by our ability to challenge and persevere--but the fight has to end eventually, or there will be no one left to wrestle.
Time is sacred in Jewish life, much more so than place. I believe that the moments when we prayed, during the trip, for peace in Israel were indeed holy and perhaps, in some small way, brought healing to the city in which we stood.
Thank you for this answer -- I really appreciate you engaging with my question. :-)
I have trouble understanding how a city defined by this struggle is holier than other places where people live in peace.
Word. Yes. That's a central issue for me.
I think one of Judaism's real points of genius is in the way we sanctify time and privilege it over space. So sometimes I take issue with the way we privilege Jerusalem over other places -- I think there's a risk of idolatry there (putting the place ahead of the connection with G-d that it's meant to facilitate for us) and I don't like the implication that Diaspora Judaism is somehow lesser or that we can't connect with G-d where we are. Then again, I believe we can invest places with holiness through our actions and our kavvanah, and clearly that means the Kotel (or J'lem, or Israel writ large) can have a kind of holiness. But is it a different kind of holiness than other places? I'm not sure I'm comfortable with that.
I still wrangle with this question, obviously. But the answers you offer here resonate for me, and are very similar to my own. :-)
Rachel, so well said--thank you, and also for helping me think about this and put it into words. Idoltary--I agree--and we've run this risk for a few thousand years, I think.
I'm encouraged to know there are others out there (in the blog world, and beyond) with doubts and confusion similar to my own...
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