Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner shared her Thought for the Day on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme on 08 August 2017.
I’ve just returned from Jerusalem, which has recently emerged from another cycle of violence. This time the focus was the tinderbox site that Jews and Christians call the Temple Mount, and Muslims refer to as Haram Al Sharif, (the Noble Sanctuary). You’d recognise it by the golden Dome of The Rock on top and the large white-stoned Western Wall below. For Jews and Christians, it’s holy as the location of the Second Temple and for Muslims it’s the site of Muhammad’s ascent to heaven.
The recent violence left both Israelis and Palestinians dead. But, this violence eclipsed an astounding moment in Palestinian-Israeli history – mass prayer as impactful non-violent protest. After the shootings, new security measures, including metal detectors, were installed on the Temple Mount, Haram Al Sharif. Many Palestinians objected to these changes in the status quo. They boycotted their own holy site and instead prayed en masse in the streets. In a week, the metal detectors were removed.
This time last week, I was praying at the Western Wall surrounded by the competing cacophony of Jewish prayers, the call of the Muezzin and Church bells chiming from the Old City. As the Jerusalem poet Yehudah Amichai wrote, “The air over Jerusalem is saturated with prayers and dreams like the air over industrial cities. It’s hard to breathe”.
Sadly, Jerusalem is a place where prayers and holiness can stifle, can morphing into territorial hostility. Holiness across all religions can bring awareness into the mundane, imbuing the bog standard with possibilities of ultimate meaning, transcendence and divinity. As Jews, we bring holiness into ordinariness by for instance, saying a blessing before drinking water or washing hands.
I believe that holiness is a deliberate act that stops you in your tracks. It’s a conscious, intention filled discipline, it requires self-control – it refines and redirects our instincts, our strongest feelings and raw urges. It stops us taking people, places, or time for granted. Holiness trains us to bring consciousness to both the cruelty and the beauty that is our mundane messiness. For me, healthy holiness prevents us from clinging to just one version of reality, one version of truth. Like love, it replenishes itself and doesn’t deplete with use. Holiness, especially in the country so often called the Holy Land, should challenge narrowness and the all too familiar narrative of competitive piety.