Tishrei 20, 5766, 23 October 05 10:06
by Ellen W. Horowitz

"An official Vatican newspaper has reported that during his upcoming visit to the Vatican, President Moshe Katsav will sign an agreement giving parts of David's Tomb over to papal control." (Israel National

"The Times reported that Israel will hand over control of the reputed room of Jesus' last supper, in a building on Mount Zion in Jerusalem. In return, a historic synagogue in Toledo, Spain, which became a church after the Inquisition...." (The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles)

"Throw in a Mary Magdelen rookie card, and you've got a deal!" (Reaction on blogsite

I had a privileged upbringing, and with it came the opportunity to travel, see and study my share of art, history and culture. I've beheld man-made structures that are both magnificent and imposing. I've viewed the ceiling of the Sistine chapel and have been inside of the Dome of the Rock (just don't tell the Waqf). And this Jew can say with full confidence that I find nothing intrinsically holy in grand architecture or in the finest wood, stone, mosaic or iron work - no matter how glorious. In fact - in all of their grandeur - domed ceilings, marble flooring and decorative pillars leave me a bit cold.

For a Jew, a simple canvas structure standing in Eretz Yisrael, and filled with the joy of those observing the mitzvot of Succot, should win the holiness contest hands-down when juxtaposed against the most magnificent of historical synagogues in Toledo, Spain. And yet, it appears that years of immersion in the material, and exile from the spiritual, has sapped the ability of the Jewish people to perceive and value that which is sacred.

Our friends the Evangelicals seem to have a good grasp of the importance of the Holy Land, and the Catholics are willing to exchange prime church real estate and an architectural masterpiece for the upper room of a rather relatively non-descript building. But some Israelis will sell their very souls in order to secure dubious diplomatic alliances, fill the nation's coffers with tourist dollars, and to curry a bit of favor with the Pope.

I find it upsetting that upon reporting the swap, the Catholic News, at, failed to make mention of the fact that the building on Mt. Zion involved in the purported deal not only currently houses a vibrant yeshiva, but is also the traditional location of the Tomb of King David.

I find it disturbing that, according to Vatican Radio,
a Catholic Mass celebrating the Last Supper will be heard in the upper room of a place that, at present, echoes with the sounds of Torah learning and Jewish prayer.

And I find it nauseating that a number of Diaspora Jews who will spend their last suppers in exile, in some treif uptown restaurant, are intent on deciding my future here in Eretz Yisrael.

According to an article, "The Vatican and Its Friends", which appeared back in February on Arutz Sheva, it seems some well-heeled, well-respected Jews (some Torah observant among them) have been pushing for this "historic" deal with the Vatican. If this is the case, then you should surely pay a visit to in order to see to see who's who behind this latest sacrilege (I think you'll be surprised).

But it appears that the unholy roots of this scandal are home-grown and began back in 1998, when the negotiations over the room first commenced. By September 2004, then-Interior Minister, Avraham Poraz, met with the Pope and endorsed the Vatican 's request to assume control of the area of the Old City where David's Tomb is located (I believe that's the same Avraham Poraz who worked so hard to legalize the sale of pork here in Israel).

Now you can be sure that there are plenty of academic and archeological experts who will try to assuage any anxiety over this, G-d forbid, upcoming swap by insisting that the actual Tomb of King David is elsewhere in Jerusalem.

Rather than forcefully address the actual matters at hand, there are some rabbinic leaders who will choose to skirt the issue by engaging in hair-splitting debates over the location of the tomb. Gentlemen, please! I stopped worrying about split-ends when I turned 18, and moved on to far more pressing concerns - like the territorial integrity of the Land of Israel.

With all of the rantings over our recent failures at securing Gush Katif and certain communities in Samaria, there are some activist leaders who will, once again, miss the boat by failing to take note of this issue and vigorously protest. They may not comprehend that Jerusalem is on the line, nor realize how important it is to unite, raise a public outcry, and apply immense pressure on President Katsav before his November 17th trip to Rome. They may choose not to, because some of our top activists and organizations are themselves currying favor and funds from various Christian groups and are afraid to make waves or poison the relationship. This issue should be at the top of our agenda and is cause for all Torah-observant Jews to unite together, as well as with those of our people with any sense of self-respect and Jewish history. I wonder how Katsav's speechwriter, the religiously observant Yaakov Ma'or, will handle his duties without compromising his principles?

For the record, please know that I have contacted Rabbi Goldstein of the Diaspora Yeshiva (which is housed in the building on Mt. Zion involved in the purported swap), and he has fully sanctioned our protesting at this time.

While many of us have been fully engaged in the battle against the physical threat to our nation, we must remember that there is an equally critical battle taking place over our very souls. Missionary activity abounds in Israel and there is something of a land grab taking place by various Christian interest groups. But make no mistake, as it's we Israelis who have encouraged, strengthened and established relationships at any cost. By making generous offers to the few "friends" we have, or would like to have, we've invited and created another very real threat to our existence.

Religious Christian influence in the Jewish state is growing by leaps and bounds. According to an October 20th article in the Guardian, the Jerusalem Post will soon be introducing a monthly Christian edition. And Haaretz recently reported that plans are in the works to develop an evangelical Christian center on 125 acres (500 dunams) of prime Lake Kinneret real estate. It's described as a mini-Israel of sorts, which may include a Biblical theme park and will provide Christians with a sense that "Jesus lived here". But anyone who has toured the Galilee region will tell you that the point has already been made.

If spiritual concerns aren't your thing, then at least consider the following: relinquishing control of buildings to the Church has, in the past, placed our soldiers in precarious situations and our government in a diplomatic mine field. Recall that for almost six weeks in 2002 Palestinian terrorists were holed up in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. There was an impossible and ridiculous standoff, which ended with the terrorists being sent to hotels in Europe. And need I remind anyone of the dangers and logistical nightmare we face with the Muslim Waqf in control of the Temple Mount?

Am I being overly sensitive? Before I wrote this piece, I asked myself that question and called my rabbi for a reality check. After hearing the details, he laughed the kind of laugh which I'm sure Rabbi Akiva laughed upon seeing the foxes on Har HaBayit (the Temple Mount). He suggested that I write the strongest piece possible, but advised that I remain dignified. He said "dignified", but he didn't say "diplomatic" (that gives me a bit of leeway, doesn't it?).

So, friends, Romans (I'll get to countrymen soon), lend me your ear - and please understand that when you're in Israel, we welcome you as our guests. We have excellent tourist facilities, archeological and religious sites, museums, stunning vistas, restaurants and places of entertainment. We will protect your body with the best security forces and apparatus in the world. And we will provide for your soul by ensuring open access to sufficient sites that are sacred to all religions. We ask in return that you accept and respect the Jewish nature of our state and our need to keep it that way.

President Katsav, members of our diplomatic corps, members of Knesset and Diaspora do-gooders: when in Rome, remember who you are and the obligations you have to your people. Ensure the integrity of our land, Torah and heritage. You are public servants representing the Jewish nation, not slaves beholden to any foreign power. A little self-respect is called for. We don't have to pay any tribute to Rome, but they may owe us something (like some of the items hidden away in those underground vaults of theirs).

And please keep in mind that building fences to protect our spiritual self-preservation is as important and as legitimate as constructing fences to protect our physical well-being.

That means that no matter how overwhelmingly impressive you find the pomp, ceremony and architectural achievements of an oval office, Vatican complex, or synagogue-turned-church in Toledo, there is nothing more valuable or precious than the Land of Israel. It is simply not to be swapped, sold or surrendered.

"For Your servants have cherished her stones and favor her dust." (From the words of King David, Psalms 102:15)

[Thank you to Yisrael Medad for bringing this issue to my attention and for his research assistance.]

The writer is the author of The Oslo Years: A Mother's Journal. The book is available through retailers listed at

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