May 20: Dome of the Rock & Jewish Quarter of Old City
Today marked the beginning of our last week in Jerusalem. In the morning, we visited the Temple Mount. It was a much larger area than we had anticipated. Besides the famous mosques, there were many arches and seemingly endless pavement. The Dome of the Rock, which we had frequently seen at various angles from the Mount of Olives and from Hebrew University at Mount Scopus, up-close was impressive but not as spectacular if we had never had a glimpse of it from afar. We knew that we, as non-Muslims, were not allowed to go into the Dome of the Rock. As we neared the open-door entrance, we met someone who was figuring some religious beads. He reminded us that there was a reason why non-Muslims can’t enter the sanctuary, and of course we were aware of the reason for the prohibition: before we could respond, he said: “Christians and Jews are unclean.” The man could himself have been Christian, lamenting the fact that he accordingly was banned from the mosque. Or he could have been Muslim, asserting Islam’s superiority to other degenerate faiths. In either case, we lost our desire to continue touring the Temple Mount. I wasn’t too disappointed with our hasty exit. He was brooding over the fact that the Muslims for decades have allegedly bulldozed—in the environs of the Dome of the Rock—archaeological remains of the Second Temple, trying to eradicate any evidence that there even was such a structure. That way, the Muslims can claim sole jurisdiction over the Temple Mount. In fact, Middle-Eastern Muslim clerics and politicians have invariably denied that there ever was a Second Temple, never mind a First Temple. Their claims (especially about the Second Temple) are bogus according to dozens of excavations over the years that have found internationally authenticated remains of the Second Temple.
After leaving the Temple Mount, we wandered into the Jewish Quarter where we saw young people celebrating Jerusalem Day, the time when during the 1967 Six Day’s War, Israel gained control of Jerusalem. There was a lot of chanting, dancing, and waving of flags. One teenager was even wearing a flag.
After eating at our favorite restaurant in the Jewish Quarter, Keresh Kotel, we visited the Four Sephardic Synagogues, all of which the Jordanians had virtually destroyed during the 1948 War of Independence, all of which the Israelis have restored—with the help of splendid Jewish synagogue furnishings from Italy and Spain. I noted that during all of the Arab-Israeli wars, Israel has never bombed any Muslim religious site--in fact, a mosque is still standing next to the once-decimated Hurva Synagogue, the main reconstructed sanctuary in the Jewish Quarter.
Our last roundup in the Jewish Quarter consisted of visiting the unadorned Ramban and Chabad synagogues, marveling at the ornately carved doors of a closed kabalistic synagogue, and touring the Court Museum primarily devoted to Jewish domestic life in the Ottoman and British Mandate eras; many intricately crafted Torah scrolls were also on display.