Thoughts on Judaism + Islam

9 Apr
A view from the men's side of the Western Wall Plaza.

A view from the men’s side of the Western Wall Plaza.

The Western Wall as a location for worship

(continued from Good Friday in Jerusalem…)

Also, today, thanks to Phillip’s descriptions and a cool model on an underground tour that we took yesterday, I learned a great deal about the layout and historical sequence of the temple and the wall/mount that supported it.  The feat of getting those multi-ton slabs in position (over 30 rows high on the steepest hill slopes) is simply baffling.   I imagine it’s like looking at the pyramids; you stand there and ask out loud, “How did they DO that??”

The Western Wall.  The most holy place in Judaism.  Worshippers gather day and night to pray at the ancient stones -- this is the closest spot they can get to where the Holy of Holies once was on the platform above.

The Western Wall. The most holy place in Judaism. Worshippers gather day and night to pray at the ancient stones — this is the closest spot they can get to where the Holy of Holies once was on the platform above.

The Western Wall is the most holy place in Judaism.  As Phillip and I stood and watched the crowds pray at sunset on the eve of the Passover Sabbath (which just happened to coincide with Easter this year), I wondered what it must be like to worship in that way.  I have prayed at the wall myself, but that style does not constitute the bulk of my experience with prayer or worship.  No one is there to “lead a service.”  Men and women simply clasp their copy of the Torah or a prayer book – sometimes covering their faces with it, rock back and forth, and sway side to side as they recite the Hebrew that they have meditated on and memorized by heart.  They’re at the Western Wall because in 2013, it’s the closest spot they can get to where the Holy of Holies used to reside.

There is so much history here.  I’ve contemplated historic and contemporary relationships among Jews, Christians, and Muslims.  In one sense, Christians are to Jews as Muslims are to Christians.  I don’t mean just the order of “who came first,” but rather the claims of each.  Christians believe that the Messiah has come while Jews are still waiting for one.  And Muslims hold that Mohammed gave the final and most complete revelation from God because what Jesus taught had been distorted.  Within that A –> B –> C sequence of faiths, I wonder if Jews look at Islam and think, “Wow.  How new.”

Street Talk:  Interactions between Jews and Arabs

Stylin' the Orthodox way!

Stylin’ the Orthodox way!

First up, in my opinion, the Orthodox Jews make themselves an easy target simply by their beard style and clothing preferences – the men in particular.  The orthodox men also grow out the sides of their hair just above their ears.  Eventually, the hair starts to look like long, curly “hair noodles” jiggling to and fro as the grower walks.  In addition, during this (our third visit to Jerusalem together), the men have been wearing huge biscuit-shaped hats covered in dark brown fur – perhaps a Passover thing?  And the big punctuation mark after it all are the black, Chinese silk wrap-around robes with white stockings underneath.  They even dress their little boys in a similar way.  Hey, gotta start those hair noodles early!   I want to say to them, “Come on, guys.  You really are asking for any snickers that you come your way.  No one else on the planet dresses like that.”  I guess they don’t care.

Now, only a couple of times have Phillip and I observed non-friendly verbal interaction on the streets between the two groups (Jews & Muslims).  It’s interesting that within the 0.35 square miles of the Old City, the Arabs tend mostly to stick to their quarter and stay out of the Jewish quarter.  I’ve seen more Jews in the Muslim quarter by far, but they seem only to be swiftly passing through.  There’s no loitering with their Palestinian buds or hanging around just because they both happen to speak Semitic languages.

The Via Dolorosa in the Muslim quarter of the Old City.  The arch spanning the buildings on either side is where the Ecce Homo Arch Convent gets its name.

The Via Dolorosa in the Muslim quarter of the Old City. The arch spanning the buildings on either side is where the Ecce Homo Arch Convent gets its name.

Phillip and I have now lived 20 months in Jordan.  During that time, I have gone from being almost totally ignorant of the Israeli-Palestinian situation to hearing story after story (from my students in Amman to random taxi drivers) about the two groups’ mistreatment of each other and their interactions over the past half century.  Having dealt with and adapted to the lifestyle required by Jordan’s limited water resources on a daily basis since our arrival in August of 2011, and having been educated by historical facts as well as these personal accounts of intense bullying and violence from my English students, I have to say that my empathy lies almost completely with the Palestinians.Certainly, I respect the long-suffering of the Jews (at least from an outsider’s perspective); their saga through the ages seems to be “persecution.”  But, one would think that being on the receiving end of that stick for so long would make a victim more kind-hearted towards others with whom they share dealings.

Vendors line every nook and cranny of Jerusalem's Old City streets.  This shop is in the Armenian quarter.

Vendors line every nook and cranny of Jerusalem’s Old City streets. This shop is in the Armenian quarter.

Gaza.

The West Bank.

The bulldozing of acres and acres of private Palestinian homes to build Israeli housing settlements.

The Berlin-like wall that we can see from the convent roof top just south of the Mt. of Olives.

The border crossings that make you feel like you’re trapped in a human rat cage.

The strict control over who passes and who spends their life inside the run-down ghettos like the outskirts of Bethlehem.

“Even a bursting appendix won’t be your ticket out,” said the shopkeeper in Bethlehem from whom we bought our olive wood nativities.

Come on, people.  Do we learn NOTHING from history?

A night market on a street stemming from the Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary Platform.  You can find just about anything in these markets -- and you're especially in luck if you like gummy candy!

A night market on a street stemming from the Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary Platform. You can find just about anything in these markets — and you’re especially in luck if you like gummy candy!

Passover week coincided with Easter Holy week this year, so our favorite Jewish bakery was closed for most of our time in Jerusalem.  No leaven during Passover = no pastries or cinnamon rolls.  :(

Passover week coincided with Easter Holy week this year, so our favorite Jewish bakery was closed for most of our time in Jerusalem. No leaven during Passover = no pastries or cinnamon rolls. :(

Our last day in Jerusalem, Passover was over, so the bread came to life again!

Our last day in Jerusalem, Passover was over, so the bread came to life again!

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