Mount Zion for Sale?

May 9, 2009

5 min read


Don't sell out a Jewish holy site.

The Internet is a great place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there. Along with tons of useful information, the Internet can be an open sewage line into our homes, spewing forth all kinds of pornography, hate and misinformation. Much of that misinformation takes the form of urban legends – the latest of which include: "Alligator eats head of Bungee jumper in Australia," and "Man in India electrocuted while talking on cell phone in rainstorm."

Then there are the conspiracy theories which are spawned and spread on the Web: "Terrorist mad scientist invents hurricane-making machine; sends Rita and Katrina to destroy America," or, closer to home, "Yigal Amir secret agent of the Mossad."

Next thing you know we'll be reading, "Shimon Peres hired by Likud to lose every election and make Labor look bad!" (hmmm.....)

So it is understandable that I had my doubts when I began to get numerous e-mails about a nefarious deal in the works involving the Vatican, the Israeli Foreign Ministry and Israel's President.

As the story goes, the Vatican is intent on gaining control over the Room of the Last Supper (also known as the Coenaculum) on Mount Zion. The holy site was built in 1135 by the Franciscans, appropriated in 1523 by the Ottomans – who turned it into a mosque – and eventually captured by Jewish forces.

In exchange for the site, we are told, Israel is to gain control of the Santa Maria la Blanca Church, a 12th-century synagogue in Toledo, Spain, which was converted into a church 500 years ago, after the Jews were massacred or expelled in the era of the Spanish Inquisition. Katsav and Pope Benedict XVI, say the reports – denied strenuously by Beit Hanassi as recently as Thursday – are to announce the historic real estate deal during an upcoming meeting in Rome.

Weighing in on the fray are the Greek Orthodox Church – which claims ownership of Mount Zion – and the Diaspora Yeshiva, which uses several buildings on Mount Zion for their classes. The head of the yeshiva has vehemently protested the supposed deal, in order to prevent the Tomb of David – which is housed in the same complex – from "falling into Christian hands," as well as avoiding the site from being overwhelmed by hordes of Christian pilgrims, who would "distract the yeshiva boys" from their studies.

The Foreign Ministry has labeled the story as "nonsense," and Rabbi David Rosen, head of interfaith relations for the American Jewish Committee and arguably the best-informed Jew in the world on Christian-Jewish matters, tells me the story is "fabricated, a tempest in a teapot."

And I have no doubt that if the story is true, the Jewish world would shift into fourth gear (we only go into overdrive when Madonna visits the Western Wall or Shimon Peres wins an election) and create such a balagan that even the Vatican would back off.

But what I find so bizarre about the whole episode is the notion that we would trade a sought-after chunk of Jerusalem for a shul-turned-church in Toledo. As bad a bargainer as the Israeli government can be – after all, Ehud Barak was willing to give away the Temple Mount and east Jerusalem for an autographed picture of Yasser Arafat and a suite in the future Gaza Hilton – this would set a new low. It would rank right up there with the Indians selling Manhattan for $24 and some trinkets, or the Chicago Cubs trading future Hall of Famer Lou Brock to St. Louis for the unknown and soon-forgotten Ernie Broglio.

On the whole, I'd rather get a new kosher deli in Toledo, Ohio, than an old church in Toledo, Spain.

But – if we were serious about doing a deal with the Church, then I do have some suggestions for a fairer exchange. How about if we swap the scene of the Last Supper for some of the Temple artifacts and original Jewish manuscripts kept in the Vatican's subterranean storerooms? How about if we get back the communities along the Rhine, ransacked and pillaged by Christian Crusaders on their way to the Holy Land? How about if we trade the bricks and stones of this thousand-year-old building for the tens of thousands of Jewish children forcibly stripped from their families over the centuries by "well-meaning" Christians, who baptized them and forcibly converted them to Christianity, so they could "save their souls."

The State of Israel is admirably committed to protecting the holy places of all religions, and guaranteeing the right of worship for all faiths here. And we've done a heck of a lot better job at it than our religious counterparts around the world did for us throughout the centuries.

So guys, go ahead and keep all the old shuls and all the old Jewish schools in all the decimated Jewish communities of Europe, North Africa and Asia. But keep your hands off Jerusalem – it's not for sale.

Courtesy of Jerusalem Post

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