This morning’s HaZofe reported that the so-called ‘Lesser Kotel” (HaKotel ha-Qatan) has been the victim of consistent desecration by Arabs. Over the past few weeks, this extension of the Kotel that stands close to the site of the Holy of Holies (Qodesh ha-Qodoshim) has had excrement and sewage dumped in front of it (to prevent Jews from praying there) and been defaced by graffiti (in red), the tamest form of which was Allahu Akbar.
In one sense, this is traditional behavior by Muslims who, prior to 1967, used to have their donkeys leave their droppings in the narrow path beside the Kotel and built the Mughrabi quarter where the Kotel Plaza now stands in order to make it ever more difficult for Jews to pray there. On the other hand, it is striking behavior since the official Muslim line is that there was never any Temple on the Temple Mount (Haram a-Sharif) and that the Kotel is a Muslim holy place, since Muhammad tethered his horse, Al-Buraq, there before he departed on his heavenly ride. So, in effect, these Muslims are desecrating their own holy place.
Or are they?
The whole thing reminds me of the contradictory approach adopted by the Catholic Church when it started waging war against the Talmud (and the rest of rabbinic literature) in the thirteenth century. On the one hand, they sought to destroy the Talmud as a heretical, blasphemous work that preaches the murder of non-Jews. On the other hand, they claimed the Talmud proved the truth of Christianity. The former tactic lay behind the famous Disputation of Paris (1240) and the latter was the point of departure for the Barcelona Disputation (1263), which starred Nahmanides and which is portrayed in the film, The Disputation.
So, one might ask, which is it?
There are two answers. Prof. Isadore Twersky z’l used to invoke the idea of the Jew as Devil. In other words, as Joshua Trachtenberg pointed out, since the Jew is the Devil incarnate (or, at least, his ally), he can be both a mortal enemy and a source of validation.
Prof. Jeremy Cohen, however, argues that the Church (or, more precisely, the Dominican and Franciscan orders) really couldn’t have cared less about the Talmud. It was interested in undermining the Jewish capacity to survive. It really mattered little if the Talmud was physically destroyed or co-opted as a Christian work. The result would be the same. Judaism would collapse and the Jews would convert.
The Muslims have, apparently, picked up this trick from the Christians (as Bernard Lewis pointed out in Semites and Anti-semites). I don’t think they really care about the Kotel (or the Temple Mount). Generations of neglect of Jerusalem prove that. However, they are interested in getting the Jews out of Jerusalem and out of the land. What approach is adopted is of little matter. The bottom line is what’s important.