A Compelling Contrast // A thought to think on Tishah B’Av

Among the many shoes in which none of us would ever wish to stand are those of the unnamed Saudi driver who was arrested and is being held by Saudi police for the terrible crime of having helped an Israeli journalist make it to Mecca.

The reason why the presence of television reporter Gil Tamary in the Saudi city was criminal is because he is a Jew. Only Muslims are permitted by Islamic law to enter Mecca, the site of the kaaba, the cubic building to which Muslim pilgrims flock, and which they circumnavigate, during the annual hajj pilgrimage.

Mr. Tamari, a veteran journalist, filmed himself in the vicinity for a ten-minute-long segment, which included video footage of him and his driver passing a sign saying that non-Muslims cannot pass further. Smiling and speaking in hushed Hebrew, and then in English, he announces that “The dream came true.” (The fellow really needs to adjust his aspiration settings.)

Mr. Tamari (appreciators of aptronyms might want to consider the word “temerity” here) didn’t realize the degree of the offense he had committed. He just saw himself as an intrepid journalist going where no Israeli reporter had gone before; causing an international incident wasn’t likely on his agenda.

But an uproar in fact ensued. It started, as has become commonplace these digital days, on social media, with Muslims expressing their outrage over the reporter’s deception—he ignored the “Muslims Only” requirement—and what they considered his apparent disregard for what they consider the holiness of the site, by contaminating it with his presence.

And the anger, of course, extended to the driver who allegedly helped Mr. Tamari sneak into the site. Hence, the arrest of the unnamed motorist, though it is not entirely clear that he understood what Mr. Tamari had done. (Mr. Tamari left the country before he could be apprehended and charged.)

The timing of the subterfuge and report wasn’t stellar either. Saudi-Israeli ties, based on a common enemy called Iran, have been quietly growing. And President Biden was on his Middle East tour when the supposed sacrilege was committed—in fact, at the time, he was in the nearby Saudi city of Jeddah.

After the uproar, the reporter and his station, Channel 13, each quickly apologized, explaining that Mr. Tamari had only been motivated by “journalistic curiosity,” and that no offense had been intended.
The tempest in a teapot (clamor in a kaaba?) has subsided by now, and Saudi-US relations seem, for better or for worse, to not have been affected.

But something about the unfortunate incident and its aftermath remains with me. Especially considering the time of year.

Pan upward, if you will, 921 miles from Mecca to the north/northwest. That will land you in Yerushalayim. The height of the kedushah of the Ir Hakodesh, of course, is on the Har Habayis, where the Batei Mikdash stood and from which, the Midrash and Zohar tell us, the Shechinah has never departed.

It is the site that, despite Israel’s reservation of the right to enter the premises for security purposes and to protect Jews at the Kosel, is both officially and effectively under the control of the Wakf, the Jordanian Islamic trust.

So stop a moment to think. The place Islam considers the holiest on earth is off-limits to Jews. And the place Jews know is the holiest on earth teems daily with Muslim worshippers.

No offense is intended to those worshippers—at least not to those who don’t rain rocks down on Jewish worshippers in the Kosel plaza below. But still, if any of us, secure and comfortable as we may feel these days, needs a spur to access the sorrow we are meant to feel on Tishah B’Av, we might confront and deeply consider the previous paragraph, and realize that we remain, however happy our lots may seem, firmly in galus.

May we merit the end of that status very soon.

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