The Greatest Heritage Site of All: A Proposal for an International Architectural Competition to Provide Solutions to the Issue of the Temple Mount

The Huffington Post, August 2, 2010.

The awarding of the Wolf Prize for Architecture to my brother Peter Eisenman for his splendid Holocaust Memorial in Berlin is a well-deserved and noble gesture for extraordinary and brilliant efforts in memorialization. Having said this, let me observe that, while we Jews – ‘we’ in Israel and ‘we’ abroad – are expert at giving awards or commemorating our tragically obliterated and long-departed dead, now most notably on the very boulevards in Berlin where these monstrous exterminations were planned and executed; we totally lack or are deficient in creating memorials – to say nothing of holding competitions or giving awards for them – for the living in the “Altneuland” of Jerusalem.

This process hasn’t even begun yet nor, seemingly, for the most part have they felt the need for it. I speak now of the Temple and Temple Mount (note my previous two articles on this subject last year and two years before that in The Jerusalem Post: “Remember the Temple was Built by Herod” – 10/27/09 and “Digging on the Temple Mount” – 9/16/07). In his Auto-Emancipation, a half-century before the Holocaust, Leo Pinsker, a physician by training and having witnessed the pogroms in 1870’s Odessa, identified the lack of need or the desire for Emancipation or Nationhood as something akin to a disease. At least this was how he claimed it was perceived by people around, i. e., a phobia on their part, he designated in medical terms as “Judeophobia.” He even spoke of how Jews appeared to those surrounding them as an apparition – in modern terms, perhaps, “the walking dead” (Toynbee might have put it, as “fossils”) and therefore, for him, Antisemitism, based on this “Judeophobia,” was merely a species of “fear of ghosts”- people being afraid of ghosts.

Whether he was wrong or right in this analysis (which now might seem a little quaint, the Jewish People having been overtaken by a tsunami of hatred, the likes of which even Pinsker could never have imagined) is impossible to say. But, unfortunately, it is possible to observe the same lack of feeling or need now infecting the Jewish People where the Temple or Temple Mount is concerned, whether in Israel or abroad (the one he characterized, by implication, as a species of “dead men walking”). They cannot put a finger on what the yearning is. They go in all sincerity and kiss stones, representing in the end brutality and national humiliation, set down by the arch-enemy of the Jewish People, Herod.

One cannot blame them for this. They are trying to express something, however bizarre it might appear to the observer standing without the “Cave” of History. I speak here, again, about the lack of feeling for or need of a Temple. Of course, this is what this yearning at the Western or so- called “Wailing Wall” really represents – everyone knows it, but no one is really prepared to speak of it in polite society. Of course, any “normal People” that had been through the horrors, the Jewish People have been through, to say nothing of the redemption of returning thereafter, would have been at work to ameliorate this situation years ago, but we or, shall we say, the Jews are not “a normal People.”

So here we/they are worshiping at – again in all inner rectitude – stones set down by one of their cruelest arch-nemeses for his own self-glorification and vanity and also as a sop (which many since have swallowed) to keep the people otherwise occupied, rather than in revolt. In the aftermath and in wake of its destruction, this was then allowed them by their conquerors for the next some two thousand years to make manifest their humiliation in no less a way than the images on the Arch of Titus in Rome or the Judea Capta coins, issued by the same predators to commemorate these same events (nor is this to say anything of the Roman Colosseum itself – in which so many died so horribly – built with the moneys taken as booty from the Temple Treasury, just as depicted on the Arch of Titus).

And yet they have returned. They have – to put it honestly – been triumphant in the face of such odds, in the face of the sacrifice of some six million; yet one would hardly know it. There is so little awe or joy. The return and its aftermath have not been commemorated. Oh yes, the country itself may be commemoration enough, but as “the Wall” so unfortunately and graphically illustrates, people need something more – something they can feel and touch and see.

The six million dead have now, thankfully, been commemorated and this in the heart of those who brought about their brutal and heartless annihilation. Whether for political reasons – to celebrate the new United Germany and move its capital to Berlin – or otherwise; this commemoration is now done but, except for the name of the architect, by the hands of others. Still the Jews – perhaps because they have been so preoccupied by political matters – have not commemorated their return. They have not given it a living a symbol and, as the Wolf Prize so graphically recognizes, this is what architecture – especially when combined with sculpture – does so consummately both then and now.

This is what a Temple, even if only a monumental one (because we as Jews would never be able agree on anything – in particular, what such a building or monument could or would be or do), would mean. Oh yes, one knows the arguments for and against, the “dos” and “don’ts”, the difficulties, talking points, religious injunctions, commandments, absurdities – the whole subject being fraught with nuance pro and con. These I would not even attempt to sort out as they are far beyond my abilities – probably, in fact, all of our abilities (though I am sure similar issues were explained to Alexander at Gordion on his way to conquer the whole of the Middle East, including Jerusalem. I doubt also if Herod would have taken much notice of them).

But twenty-five years ago, when a colleague was Minister of Science, I was invited to participate in assistantship capacity. As a Professor at a California University, the logistics prevented me from doing so in any formal way; but I gave an answer, when asked for new ideas which could be promoted by such a Ministry, with a proposal for an International Architectural Competition (much like the one ultimately held in Berlin and later in New York to commemorate and replace the destroyed World Trade Center) fifteen years before the Millennium. This would be called: “Temple Mount Two Thousand: Holy to Three Faiths,” announcing a utopian architectural competition and outlining a call to all the great architects of the world to participate (which would, of course, have included my brother, the present Wolf Prize recipient – a little nepotism here for which I am not either embarrassed or apologetic. But he had no hand in the suggestion, which was purely my own, or even any knowledge that I was making it, either then or now).

This is the way these things are traditionally worked out. This was the way it was done in Berlin (in fact, it was done twice before final designs were decided upon); this is the way it still should be done today. The best minds of architects, city planners, sculptors, memorialists, artists – even archaeologists – should be invited to participate and contribute models, suggestions, and designs for how to deal with the situation on the Temple Mount in its totality (which has not changed very much since then, except for the emotions and political agitation surrounding it) from any perspective they wished – what to construct anew, what to add, what to bridge, what to reconstruct – building, monument, or sculpture. Again, I emphasize the word “utopian” or even “academic.”

This would not be beyond them to envision in one way or another and, from my perspective, this was the way to move forward. The proposals, of course, would be completely theoretical or utopian and no promise of any actual building, engineering activity, or sculpture was or would be attached – just innovative ideas for arranging the enormous space involved. Still I knew people would participate both then and now. People would not be able to resist the call to help solve the burning issues inherent in a reconstruction of or on the Temple Mount incorporating in its locale a monument, Temple, or field of sculpture that would express the ideas a new Judaism or Post- Holocaust 1948 Jewish People would need for commemoration, not of the dead but to inspire the living.

Nothing would be deemed out of bounds, not even contemporary solutions using modern sculptural or engineering techniques such as those of a Frank Gehry in Los Angeles or Bilbao or I. M. Pei in Paris. It was my feeling then that these persons of soaring imaginative design would come up with something that could help solve many of these much-vexed and pressing inherent problems, not only physical (its kind, design, placement, the place of other monuments and shrines on the same location) but spiritual, far superior than any nationalist, anti-nationalist, classicist, traditionalist, or even post-modernist or pilpulist could do. I still think this. They could suggest means of how to commemorate the return of the Jewish People to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount and this did not necessarily mean a rebuilding of either the Herodian or Solomonic Temples (even the Talmud makes it clear that Herod totally deconstructed the Ezra/Nehemiah/Maccabean Temple previously down to its foundations – whatever it had been. Nor were its remains necessarily still extant, so there could be no reasonable hope of reconstructing that), though it could include something like the Prophet Ezekiel’s vision of the Temple of the Last Days (Chapters 40-48), should anyone be moved to do so.

What I was proposing was a competition of the greatest minds and artists of our time to present their ideas on how all these matters should be arranged – even including, since the competition was only to be “utopian,” sacrifice cult or commemorative architectural structure. Nor for such a Memorial or Center of the People’s need for homage, religious urges, and commemoration did it have to be built exactly on the site of previous endeavors, nor the previous “Rock” as it were, if anyone could really claim to identify it without the aid of meticulous archaeological investigation which in the present circumstances was impossible. While nothing needed to be rearranged or moved, unfortunately it had to be on the Temple Mount. Just as for the Muslims and as they see it now and saw it then, nothing less would do. As I said in one of my articles previously, “there is plenty of room there for everyone.”

What was needed was a memorial for the future much as in Berlin. It is a shame that Berlin’s Monument for the dead had to show the Jewish People the way forward for a monument for the living, to celebrate the in gathering of the People and the fulfillment of the Centuries-old dream so old that it is repeated almost every day in prayer and certainly during Festivals like Passover. But the first step should have been and could still be something like this competition proposal I suggested to those at the Ministry of Science in Israel some twenty-five years ago. No one could really condemn a call for new, innovative, theoretical, and artistic engineering designs worthy of the 21 st Century. Then, of course, nothing was done. Now perhaps something could be.

Whether they are aware of it or not, the People’s sensibilities and emotions require it – and they are not the only ones. Other people’s religious sensibilities also call for it – some Christians for instance. There has been enough crying over Roman reverses or stones set down by Herod. For those who wish to continue this tradition and expressing themselves in this manner, let them do so. For the rest, let them now move forward in a sensitive, intelligent, historical, and spiritually- insightful manner to create a Monument or Memorial such as this.

For a start, let this utopian architectural competition be called for and held and let the most thoughtful, serious, innovative and elegant, insightful, and advanced ideas of how to move forward be entertained. Then let Israel proceed to do and perhaps even build something on the Temple Mount where it should be (without affecting anyone else’s rights there) – who knows yet what? In the words of Conservative or Traditional Judaism’s “Historical School” of Leopold Zunz and Nahman Krochmal, “the Zeit-Geist” or “Spirit of the Age” could and would determine this. Bilu – “Bo’ Israel, lech u-va’ “/”Come Israel, it is time to proceed.”