Within the last few days, the Executive Board of UNESCO (The United Nations Educational, Social and Cultural Organization) drafted a resolution ignoring or denying any Jewish association with the site of the Temple in Jerusalem.

Before going further, it should be mentioned that the Director of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, does not herself support the resolution:

“UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova on Friday came out against the agency’s executive board for adopting a resolution that disregards the connection between Judaism and [the] Temple Mount and casts doubt over the link between the religion and the Western Wall.
‘The Al Aqsa Mosque [or] Al-Haram al-Sharif, the sacred shrine of Muslims, is also the Har HaBayit – or Temple Mount – whose Western Wall is the holiest place in Judaism,’ Bokova said in a statement.” [1]

For Jews, of course, the main importance of Jerusalem is in its being the site of the First Temple 2Xand Second Temples.

Jews pray facing Jerusalem in order to symbolically attend the Temple.

It begins with the prophet Daniel (although even Daniel was echoing earlier records — e.g. in Psalms — about “bowing down toward’s God’s House:”)

“…now [Daniel’s] windows were open in his upper chamber towards Jerusalem. He kneeled upon his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done before.” [2]

The Talmud incorporates this as an essential of Jewish prayer:

The rabbis taught:
“… One who stands outside the land [of Israel] should direct his heart to Israel…
One who stands in Israel should direct his heart to Jerusalem…
One who stands in Jerusalem should direct his heart to the Temple…
One who stands in the Temple should direct his heart to the Holy of Holies…” [3]

Christianity early on made explicit that it spiritually replaced the Temple (see “Hebrews”). Yet, at the very beginning of the church, the earliest Christian members (who still considered themselves members of the Jewish community) were gathered to observe the pilgrimage festival of Sh’vuot (Pentecost) — on which adult Jewish males were required to appear at the Temple in Jerusalem:

 “‘Pentecost’ is simply the Greek way to say ‘Shavuot.’ ‘Pente’ means 50 and the holiday of Shavuot occurs seven weeks and a day (50 days) after Passover. In the Torah, God had commanded a pilgrimage for Shavuot – so if you were an adult Jewish male, it was your duty to go up to Jerusalem [i.e. to the Temple; not merely the city] on this holiday.” [4]

One might reasonably surmise that while in the Cenacle (Upper Room) in Jerusalem, the Christians (still a community within Judaism) followed the Jewish practice recorded in the Mishnah and actually faced the Temple while praying!

This pilgrimage to the Temple, is equally true of Jesus’ entrance to Jerusalem [5] a week before the Last Supper:

“…Jesus and his disciples travel to Jerusalem for Passover…Jesus is stated to have visited the Temple in Jerusalem, where the courtyard is described as being filled with livestock, merchants, and the tables of the money changers, who changed the standard Greek and Roman money for Jewish and Tyrian money…Jerusalem was packed with Jews who had come for Passover…” [6]

It’s less known that in the earliest years of Islam, Muslims prayed facing Jerusalem, too — hundreds of years before a mosque had been built on the site that had formerly been the Temple. More than emulation of Jewish practice, it was actual identification with it:

“In the early days [of Islam] before they were organized as a people [an Ummat; similar to the phrase “Am Yisrael” — “the people of Israel”], they followed as a symbol for their Qibla [direction of prayer] the sacred city of Jerusalem, sacred both to the Jews and the Christians, the people of the Book. This symbolized their [Islam’s] allegiance to the continuity of God’s revelation. When…they were turned out of Mecca, and arrived in Medina, [Muhammad] under divine direction began to organize his people as an Ummat...At that stage the Ka’ba was established as a Qibla…The change took place about 16½ months after Hijrat [the Muslim departure from Mecca].” [7]

Of this change, the Qur’an itself says:

“The fools among the people will ask:
‘What has turned them from the Qibla to which they were used [i.e. accustomed; familiar]?’
‘To God belong both East [i.e. Mecca] and West [i.e. Jerusalem]’.” [8]

Thus, the association of Jews and Judaism with the Temple-site is well established by written records, some of which existed before either Christianity or Islam had commenced.

This association is confirmed in Christian sources. 

It’s further attested to in the primary Muslim source — the Qur’an — itself and in its associated commentaries.

To deny the historical presence of Jews at the Temple, or its importance to Jews, is at the same time an affront to the validity of those sources and their traditions.

The UNESCO decision is based entirely on politics. [9]

When political concerns outweigh simple historical facts, we are walking in a time of dark ignorance.


[1] http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/1.747466

[2] Daniel 6:11

[3] Berachot 30a

[4] http://chosenpeople.commain/holidays-and-festivals/525-peter-and-pentecost

[5] In Matthew 21:1-11, Mark 11:1-11, Luke 19:28-44, and John 12:12-19

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cleansing_of_the_Temple
The “pilgrimage” context adds emphasis to the “money-changers” narrative. Jesus was particularly incensed at what he perceived as “business” being conducted in the Temple because it was on a Festival (or just prior to it).
On the “money lenders” or “money changers” from the Jewish point of view, see:

[7] Abdullah Yusuf Ali; The Holy Qur’an; p. 57 (commentary to verse 2:141); Tahrike Tarsile Qur’an, Inc; NY; 2nd ed., © 1988 (first edition 1934)

Note that this Muslim commentary was written in the early 20th century, while a Jewish community was growing in “mandatory” Palestine, yet well before hostilities commenced regarding Medinat Yisrael itself (in 1948). In this commentary, there is still recognition that Jerusalem had, even at the time of Islam’s beginning (almost 500 years after the destruction of the 2nd Temple) deep meaning for Jews, as well as Christians, and that the initial Muslim preference for Jerusalem as a focus of prayer was in dedication to the revelation of God which had begun with the Jews and continued in Islam.

[8] Qur’an 2:142 (Surah 2: Bakara/The Heifer)

[9] For an extended discussion of this, see: