Thursday, 14 February 2013

Jerusalem: Religious Toleration and the Inequality of Women

Jerusalem. What a history! What a city!

When it comes to the world’s three monotheistic religions - Judaism, Christianity, and Islam - Jerusalem is the center of the religious universe.

On the rock on the Temple Mount, Abraham was going to sacrifice Issac.
On the Temple Mount, Jesus was sentenced to crucifixion. 
The Temple Mount was, before the move to Mecca, Islam’s center for prayer and pilgrimage.

The Hebrew’s have lived in and controlled Jerusalem.
The Christian’s have lived in and controlled Jerusalem.
The Muslim’s have lived in and controlled Jerusalem. 

As a pilgrim or visitor make their way in and around the Temple Mount and the Old City, the presence and identity of all three religions are clearly visible.  

Jerusalem Christian Churches
Yesterday I was in the Jerusalem Churches of: Bethpage, Dominus Flevit, Gethsemene, and St.Peter in Gallicantu. And we celebrated the Ash Wednesday Liturgy in the Anglican Cathedral of St.George last night. Tomorrow I will be in the Churches of: The Resurrection and St.Alexander.

Islamic Temple Mount
Today we were on the Islamic Temple Mount. The Israeli’s control access and security on the temple mount. But the Muslim’s alone have the use of the Temple Mount for prayers and community life. There are strict Islamic rules when in their holy place: no bibles, prayer beads or images are allowed on the Mount (and you are scanned at a security check point). Women and men are not allowed to touch each other when on the Mount; and if you do, you are quickly identified and instructed not to. And, when it is time for the Muslims to pray, all non-Muslims are escorted off of the Temple Mount. 

It was a strange feeling being in that holy place. There is definitely something special and holy about it. But with the presence of soldiers, Islamic watch dogs, and the sense of being forced in and forced out, I felt tolerated, but far from welcome. 

Coincidently, as we were leaving today, the city was going through an air raid siren drill! What a place.

Jewish Wailing Wall
After a strong Arab coffee, we made our way to the Jewish Wailing Wall. That was another very interesting experience. 

At the Wailing Wall

Notice the women separated from the men by a fence

First of all, the Wailing Wall is right below the Temple Mount. So when the Muslim’s were entering the Mosque above for their prayers, the Jews were directly below on the outside of the Temple Mount, offering their prayers at the Wailing Wall. 

There was a lot of energy today in that particular Holy Place because of Bar Mitzvah. The place was filled with music and song and celebration as young adolescent boys made their right of passage into manhood. It was wonderful to observe this beautiful Jewish custom. But it was also sad to observe the separation of men and women in the celebration. Women are not allowed in the section of the Wailing Wall where the men gather. So the mothers and grandmothers and sisters of the boys going through Bar Mitzvah had to stand outside their own wall and look on at the men in their celebration. 

On top of the Temple Mount, women and men worship in separate places, and non Muslims are not welcome during the prayer time. Below the temple mount, the separation of Jews and Muslims is made clear: the Muslims on top, the Jews below. And yet another separation of men and women at the Wailing Wall in Jewish custom. 

The Christian principles of freedom and equality for all people - which Jesus’ death and resurrection at Jerusalem inaugurated for all people of every nation and language - has taken christian societies hundred’s of years to work through in our collective consciousness, and is still working itself through when it comes to issues like the equality of women and men. 

Being at the Temple Mount today was a real challenge for me as I experienced two different cultures, and how women are excluded and unequal. Just earlier this week, 10 Jewish women were arrested at the Wailing Wall for wearing a prayer shawl that only a man is allowed to wear. 

But on a more positive note, I did experience religious toleration in one of the most religiously diverse and charged places on the face of the planet. 

Religion of all stripes is certainly here to stay. We need leaders in all of the world’s religions who are moderate, loving, compassionate, reasonable, and not threatened by those who share different views. What is also required of all religions is the deeply spiritual and mystical dimension that allows us to see that we all share the same Divine Life - we are equal, free, and united in the One Life that is God.

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