Friday, April 15, 2011

The Settler Movement, the Temple Mount and Leon Festinger

Yesterday Dr. Mordechai Inbari of the University of North Carolina at Pembroke at Ohio State about the attitude of religious Zionists to the Temple Mount. This lecture caught my attention for two reasons. First it was about religious apocalyptism and politics, my dissertation topic even if Dr. Inbari deals with modern movements while I focus on medieval and early modern ones. Second he discussed Leon Festinger and his model of religious cognitive dissonance. (See "Leon Festinger's UFO Group and the Spreading of Whedon's Gospel.") Here are my notes for the lecture. As always all mistakes are mine.



Temple Mount is the holiest site to Judaism and the third holiest site for Islam. For Judaism the Temple Mount is the house of God. One can think of it as a heart with many layers. The deeper you go the holier it gets. Muslims also see this site as holy based on a story in the hadith where Mohammad journeys at night to a place called Al-Aqsa.Thus the Temple Mount became a major center of conflict in the Israeli-Arab war.

As a scholar Dr. Inbari is interested in the notion of “when prophecy fails.” For this you have to start with Leon Festinger’s book. This book was based on the study of a group of people who believed that aliens would come and take them away. As these expectations failed a certain dynamic developed within the group. Festinger called this process “cognitive dissonance. Rather than abandon their beliefs as its claims failed, members of the group became more convinced as to the truth of the claims and made a greater effort to proselytise outsiders. From studying the religious Zionists and the settler movement one can make a case for modifying Festinger's claims. Instead of trying to bring in more believers in response to to failed messianic expectations, we see an intensifying of messianic zeal in order to prevent a complete collapse.

From the beginning of Zionism as a major political power within Judaism, Orthodoxy had a mixed relationship with it. Traditional Jews see themselves in exile both physically and spiritually ever since the destruction of the Second Temple. Since God destroyed his house only God can restore it. Therefore Zionism was looked at with suspicion. An example of this was the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe who argued that Zionism was forcing the end and therefore must stop short of perfection.

Other voices were Rav Abraham Kook, a traditional European rabbi who joined the Zionist movement. According to Rav Kook, one should not judge Zionists based on their actions but on their intentions and even their hidden intentions. God started a human process with Zionism even if the Zionists seem to have rejected rabbinic authority. Once secular Zionists return to their faith the movement will move to a second phase with the restoration of the monarchy and the Temple. Rav Kook even started a yeshiva in 1921 to prepare students for Temple service. This did not mean that Rav Kook and his students were going on the Temple Mount. That would still require a red heifer. Also it is not clear where the Temple was located.

Rav Kook was preparing for the Messiah, but he was not trying to force issues. The Six Day War changed the status quo in that for the first time in two thousand years Jews controlled the Temple Mount. Gen. Moshe Dayan decided to maintain Muslim authority. Non Muslims can go as tourists, but only Muslims can pray, thus making the Temple Mount possibly the only place in the world in which Jews are not allowed to pray.

1973 saw the formation of Gush Emunim under the leadership of the son of Rav Kook, Rabbi Zvi Yehudah Kook (1891-1982). He believed that living in post 1967 meant that this were no longer preparing for redemption but now in the actual beginning of the redemption. That being said, the Chief rabbinate declared that one could not go on the Temple Mount until the Temple was built. Obviously if Jews cannot go onto the Temple Mount until there is a Temple they cannot build one to allow them to go on in the first place. Rabbi Goren, the chief army chaplain, dissented; he went on the Temple Mount and ordered the engineering corps to map the Temple Mount.

The Oslo Accords brought a major crisis to religious Zionism. How do you explain Israeli withdrawal? If Jews controlling more land in Israel brings us closer to redemption does the fact that they now control less mean that we are further away from redemption? This is where cognitive dissonance comes in. Immediately after the signing of Oslo there was a major shift among the settlers. You have Rabbi Dov Lior saying that the peace process was a punishment from God from delaying the building of the Temple. The conclusion therefore was that Jews should go on the Temple. The Council of Yesha rabbis began to encourage Jews to go on the Temple Mount in 1996. The logic being that since Jews do not go on the site the Israeli government became convinced that it could be given away. Thus going on the Temple Mount, even if it violates Jewish law, is permitted due to the emergency nature of the situation.

From November 2003 – October 2004 70,000 Jews visited the mount. The site had been closed with the starting of the Second Intifada. Thus we see a major shift within religious Zionists with them doing something that had before been seen as a major prohibition. This is not religion influencing politics but politics influencing religion. This also serves as a case study of how flexible religion can be.

Muslim doctrine has also been evolving with an acceptance of a Hamas doctrine. Since Mohammad left Mecca on his journey to Jerusalem these two cities are two sides of the same coin; Jerusalem and Mecca are thus the same place and non Muslims should be forbidden to enter at all.

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