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December 12, 2000

Unorthodox Reading of Isaiah Spurs Orthodox Reaction

NEW YORK -- A statement about Jerusalem's Temple Mount by a group of non-Orthodox rabbis has been condemned by a national Orthodox organization as "seriously misrepresenting" a verse in Isaiah.

The statement, signed last week by an ad-hoc group of 101 Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist clergy, declared that there is no religious reason to require exclusive Jewish sovereignty over the Mount, the site of the first Holy Jewish Temple of the post-biblical era and the second Holy Temple, which was destroyed nearly 2000 years ago.

To bolster their position, the non-Orthodox rabbis cited a scriptural passage in Isaiah 55 that refers to the Temple as "a house of prayer for all nations." In light of the verse, one signatory, Rabbi Arthur Green, asserted, "the Jewish people should welcome the Muslim presence" on the Mount.

The Orthodox response was voiced by Agudath Israel of America, whose spokesman, Rabbi Avi Shafran, decried what he called the "radical revisionist" use of the biblical verse.

"The phrase immediately preceding "a house of prayer," he noted, is "'for My house is' - a clear reference to the Jewish Temple.

"Thus, the intent of the verse is that, with the arrival of the Messiah, the Jewish Holy Temple will, as its previous incarnations did, serve as a place for all of humankind to worship the one and only Creator."

In a letter published in The New York Times Monday, the Agudath Israel representative sought to disabuse readers of the paper, which had reported on the non-Orthodox statement, of the notion that Isaiah's prophecy envisions some sort of "spiritual strip mall on the Temple Mount."

Turning to the political stance of the 101 rabbis' statement, the contention that Israel should share sovereignty over the Temple Mount with Islamic Arabs, Shafran noted that "de facto, Islam is given fairly free reign over the Mount, on which there are only two edifices, both mosques."

That being the case, he continued, "this statement does a disservice to the cause of Middle East peace by giving credence to the patently false propaganda that those Islamic shrines are not at present adequately protected by Israel." "They most certainly are," he asserted, "unlike some holy Jewish shrines that have fallen into Moslem hands."


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