13 July 2016

Eretz Yisrael – The Foundation Stone of the World – Part II

“from it the world was created.”


Despite all the construction and digging that have taken place on the Temple Mount over the millennia, it is still a mountain with a summit.

That summit is a rocky projection that Jews call the Foundation Stone (Even ha-Shetiya); Muslims simply call it the Rock (As-sakhrah). In the late sixth or early seventh century a special structure was built over the Rock. It is called the Dome of the Rock and is considered a masterpiece of early medieval Muslim architecture.

The Foundation Stone is not just the highest point of the Mount; it is its spiritual pinnacle. This is why Jewish law strictly forbids any person, Jewish or not, to approach the Stone. We hope that out of respect the reader will be willing to accept our description (which is based on literary sources, not on firsthand experience) and refrain from entering[d1] the Dome of the Rock.

The Talmud tells about the Most Holy Place of the Temple and the Foundation Stone, and explains that “from it the world was created.”[1] The idea of “emanation” from this rock is meant in the spiritual sense, to be sure, and the Kabbalah (Jewish mystical teachings) discusses this matter in detail. In the First Temple the Most Holy Place housed the Ark of the Covenant, which contained the tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments and a Torah scroll written by Moses. In the Second Temple there was nothing in the Most Holy Place except the Foundation Stone itself. Holiness of place, holiness of time, and holiness of person met here on the holiest day of the year: Yom Kippur. On that day the High Priest, by himself, performed the most exalted Temple service: an incense offering.

A centuries-old tradition common to Jews, Muslims, and Christians living in the land of Israel links the Foundation Stone with the Rock located under the golden dome. However, they are not identical. The Rock is actually much larger, both in width and height, than the Stone described in the Talmud. The reason might be that the Temple floor partially covered the Rock so that only its uppermost part projected above the surface in the Most Holy Place. In that case, after the destruction of the Temple a larger section of the Rock would have been visible.

According to the Muslim chronicles,[2] a Jew who had converted to Islam and who held a high position in Omar’s court showed the Arabs where the Rock was located. The name of this Jew was Ka’ab Abu Ishak ibn Mati. The story has it that the caliph himself went to Jerusalem accompanied by Ka’ab.
“Said Omar to Ka’ab: ‘O, Abu Ishak, knowest thou the position of the Rock?’ and Ka’ab answered: ‘Measure from the wall which is on the Wadi Jahannum so-and-so many ells; there dig, and ye shall discover it’, adding: ‘At this present day it is a dung-heap.’ So they dug there, and the Rock was laid bare. Then said Omar to Ka’ab: ‘Where sayest thou we should place the Mosque, or, rather, the Kiblah?’ Ka’ab replied: ‘Lay out a place for it behind the Rock, whereby you will make one the two Kiblahs, that, namely, of Moses and that of Muhammad.’ But Omar answered him: ‘Thou hast leanings still towards the Jews, O Abu Ishak. The Mosque shall be in front of the Rock [not behind it].” [3]

The passage in the chronicle is certainly not about choosing a place for the Dome of the Rock. It is about building the Al-Aqsa Mosque. The caliph decided to build the sanctuary in front of the Rock, that is, south of it, where the Al-Aqsa Mosque actually stands today. In contrast, Ka’ab (an early interfaith activist, one might say) wished to have it north of the Rock so that Jews and Muslims could pray facing the same direction. A similar story is found in a number of early medieval Jewish sources. For example, here is a passage from a manuscript found in the Cairo Geniza (quoted in Rabbi Zalman Koren’s book[d3] , Courtyards of the House of the Lord): “All Muslims who lived in the city and in the neighboring villages came, and several Jews came along with them. [Caliph] Omar ordered them to sweep up the place where the Temple stood, and every other minute he asked the Jews about the Rock, that is, about the Foundation Stone.”

The most authoritative opinion evidencing the identity between the Rock and the Stone was expressed by Rabbi David ibn Zimra (Ridbaz[d4] ). He lived in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries and was the spiritual leader of the Jews of Egypt for forty years. At a very old age he moved to the land of Israel. He wrote: “It is widely known and beyond any doubt that the Foundation Stone is there, under the Dome, and they call it As-Sakhrah.” The Ridbaz’s[d5] authority was such that his statement was never challenged.

There are some traces of the past on the Stone. For instance, on its western side there is a relatively smooth step, upon which the western wall of the Most Holy Place could have rested. The chisel marks on it are the result of the Crusaders’ practice of chipping pieces off the holy stone and selling them to pilgrims.[4] There is also a much more intriguing rectangular depression in the Stone. According to archeologist Leen Ritmeyer, this could be the very spot where the Ark of the Covenant stood in the First Temple. Beneath the Rock there is a cave used by Muslims as a prayer room.

[1] Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 54b and various other midrashim.

[2] Muthîr al Ghirâm, by Arab chronicler Jamal ad-Din Ahmad, 1351.

[3] Palestine under the Moslems. A description of Syria and the Holy Land from A.D. 650 to 1500. Translated from the works of the mediaeval Arab geographers by Guy le Strange. P.E.F., London, 1890.

[4] Francesco Gabrieli, Arab Historians of the Crusades. Routledge, 1969.

Source: Temple Mount Heritage

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Everything is from Shamayim. This meshumod written about above in your post was probably put in that position so that a mosque would be built on it so that no other structure of other religions would ever be built upon the holy of holies. This H' would never allow, therefore, the mosque which has no graven images of any kind ever. Until Moshiach and we have our Beit HaMikdash, so will it be.