Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Western Wall


Jewish date:  28 ’Elul 5770 (Parashath Ha’azinu).

Today’s holidays:  Laylat al-Qadr (Islam), Ramadan (Islam), Tuesday of the Twenty-Third Week of Ordinary Time (Roman Catholicism), Feast Day of St. Susan St. James (Church of the SubGenius).

NOTE:  In the spirit of the imminent Ten Days of Repentance, I hereby unconditionally forgive all those who have sinned against me in the past year and request the forgiveness of those I have sinned against.

Topic 1:  The Temple Mount (Har habBayith).  I did not visit the Temple Mount itself on my pilot trip.  Given my sheer disgust at Muslim efforts to over the past several hundred years to Islamize the site (including wholesale illegal excavation and denial of any relevance to Judaism despite all the evidence to the contrary), coupled with the Israeli government foolishly trying to appease Muslims by forbidding any Jewish worship up there, I chose to stay off the Temple Mount in an effort to avoid causing an international incident and ruining my chances at making ‘aliyyah.  I am saving getting kicked off the Temple Mount for praying up there until I have already made ‘aliyyah.

Nevertheless, I made it a priority to visit the Western Wall (hakKothel hamMa‘aravi), in fact doing so as soon as I realistically could after checking in at the hostel I was staying at.  (It was only about half an hour away on foot.)

I took this picture the last day I was in Israel from a special spot set up for nice photographs of the Western Wall.  The first thing one should notice is this place is huge.  (My photographic skills are limited, so do not be surprised if they fail to capture everything I mention.)  Herod the Great was a horrible person, but at least he knew something about architecture.  So when he set about reconstructing the Second Temple and the Temple Mount, he made everything as big as he could.  (And the Temple Mount, as far as what counts as the Temple Mount under Jewish law, was already 500 cubits × 500 cubits, something to the tune of 0.25 km × 0.25 km, no small potatoes.  And Herod added on to that.)  The scale is so large that my camera was not equal to capturing everything in one shot; one will notice the Dome of the Rock on top of the Temple Mount on the left, but the Dome of the Chain was too far off to the right to be photographed at the same time.  The Western Wall, which is the western retaining wall of the Temple Mount, shows two sections vertically:  an older, Herodian section below made of large, stylized blocks known as “ashlars”, and a younger, Islamic section above made of much smaller blocks.  (Despite Islamic pretenses of superiority, they failed to out-Herod Herod.  Herod’s blocks are around half the height of a human, while the Muslim blocks are wimpy twerps by comparison.)  Straight ahead are sections set aside for men (on the left) and women (on the right) to pray.  Not really visible but still there on the left are arches attached to the Western Wall; the undersides of them have been repurposed as prayer and Torah study areas.  Visible on the left are the Western Wall information center, a place where they hand out free food in the morning after shaḥarith (morning prayers), public restrooms, and a yeshivah.  On the right side is a ramp leading up to the Temple Mount.  In front is a large open area, and in front of that are archaeological digs.  The digs are well-hidden from anyone visiting the Western Wall.

Praying at the Western Wall is an interesting experience.  Inside synagogues, worshippers are confined to specific areas and frequently start on a set schedule.  But at the Western Wall, even under the arches, no one is confined to any specific area, and so many different groups are normally praying simultaneously, each starting whenever they get a critical mass of worshippers together.  Without any demarcation where groups begin and end, confusion is easy.  Synagogues also frequently cater to specific strains of Judaism, but at the Western Wall, which belongs to no one Jewish group, Jews with radically different conceptions of Judaism and different levels of observance frequently pray side-by-side.  This intrareligious inclusion is refreshing.

I have other things I need to do today, but I hope to talk more about the areas around the Temple Mount soon.  The Western Wall is not all that is left of the Temple Mount as it was in the Second Temple Period, and of what is left, I also visited the much less publicized area at the southwestern corner of the Temple Mount.

Topic 2:  Barry and I got into a discussion the other day about whether I should review a number of movies with more or less religious themes.  I have decided to post the list and open the matter for public discussion:
  • The Bells of St. Mary:  I thought this was a good idea.  I have seen this movie, and some of the characters have interesting religious attitudes.  Barry characterized it as “Christmas fluff, power of belief unrealistically overcoming all.  Best for the boxing nun and Bing Crosby as a surfer dude priest.”  I largely concur.
  • Dogma:  I had a copy.  I watched it once.  I was so disgusted I traded it in.  Barry notes “Had some interesting interpretations on sin, absolution, and the character of Jesus.”  Dogma indeed has some interesting religious ideas.  Unfortunately, those interesting religious ideas are mixed in with so much material in severely bad taste that watching it was painful.  (If you have not already seen this movie, you likely do not want to know.)  I do draw lines on content, and I believe reviewing Dogma is more pain than it is worth.
  • The Exorcist:  I have seen this movie once and found it dull.  Arguably it would be worthwhile to review as a popular depiction of exorcism.  Barry considers this movie “creepy”, though I am too jaded over horror movies to be creeped out by it.
  • Jesus Christ, Vampire Hunter:  (Yes, this is a real film.)  I had a copy.  I watched it once.  I thought it was stupid (as if the title alone was not a clue this was so).  I decided it was too minor and traded it in.  Barry notes this movie is “Stupid but amusing in parts”, but for me the stupidity outweighed the amusement.
  • The Omen:  I have not seen this movie.  Barry notes it has an evil child in it, and the Wikipedia description suggests it may be worthwhile examining as a popular depiction of the Antichrist.
  • Red Planet Mars:  I have probably seen this movie once.  Barry correctly notes on it “Apparently Jesus visited other planets.”  Reviewing this may be a good idea.
  • The Wicker Man:  I have not seen this movie, but its (bad) reputation precedes it.  I have rejected it a priori due to it being reportedly too far out of my comfort zone for me to watch.  Barry notes “The implications for neopaganism are serious.  There is also the question of the historical accuracy of the practice which is the title of the piece.  Seeing a little nudity will not kill you.”  However, I am very uncomfortable with watching depictions of full-frontal nudity, and if I watch something like this, I may need a bottle of Manischewitz to even make it possible.  That might result in an interesting review, but not a good one.
What are your thoughts on whether I should review these films?  And what other films should I review and why?

Topic 3:  For today’s religious humor, in the spirit of Ro’sh hashShanah (which starts Wednesday night), I present these toys I photographed on the last day I was in Israel:
These are meant to be “shofars for children”, shofars being animal horns blown on Ro’sh hashShanah.  The stickers on the horns themselves read “good year”.  Whoever created these was clearly not religious.  Not only are plastic horns invalid as shofars, but it is forbidden to blow them on Ro’sh hashShanah.  Not to mention these are probably a great way to annoy parents.  These things may work better for Purim.


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