Heard the one about the Holy of Holies? At The Washington Post, when it comes to Christianity, yes; Judaism, no.
On June 16, CAMERA requested a clarification from The Washington Post to an article headlined “Israelis parade through Jerusalem’s Muslim Quarter,” which ran in the Post’s June 6 print edition (as “Israeli revelers give Palestinians the finger in march through Jerusalem’s Muslim Quarter,” online June 5).
The article, by Post Jerusalem Bureau Chief William Booth with Jerusalem correspondent Ruth Eglash contributing, said, among other things:
“Earlier in the day, Israel’s High Court of Justice turned down a last-minute appeal and ruled that the annual parade could take place on its schedule route through the Muslim Quarter to the Western Wall, a site of Jewish prayer and devotion.
“But hundreds of marchers could be seen wearing T-shirts that showed the destruction of the al-Aqsa Mosque and the imagined rebuilding of the Third Jewish Temple on the raised esplanade in the Old City that is holy to both religions [emphasis added].”
The wording emphasized was not only vague where specificity was called for, but implicitly diminished the Jewish nature of and connection to the locations noted.
Headlining Christian sanctities, downplaying Jewish ones
The Western Wall is not merely “a site of Jewish prayer and devotion,” it is the holiest site at which Jews, by rabbinic tradition, are permitted to pray. Such tradition urges Jews not to walk or pray on Temple Mount, as they might transgress the site of the First and Second Temples’ innermost sanctum, the Holy of Holies, accessible only to the High Priest and then only on Yom Kippur.
As The Post’s description stood—the online version has not been updated—this was a little like describing the Church of the Holy Sepulcher only as “a site of Christian prayer and devotion,” omitting mention of Christian belief in the site as location of the crucifixion and resurrection. More on Post portrayal of the church below.
Post wording regarding Temple Mount, Judaism’s most sacred site, as “the raised esplanade … holy to both religions [Judaism and Islam]” erased the location’s best-known English designation. It substituted a false equation, implying “the raised esplanade” holds a similar status for Jews and Muslims. But Islam’s equivalent to Judaism’s Temple Mount is the Kaaba in Mecca’s Grand Mosque. Temple Mount, when referred to by its Arabic designation as Haram esh-Sharif, is said to be the third holiest spot in Islam.
So CAMERA requested publication of a clarification, similar to The Post’s Jan. 27, 2013 correction that made clear the Temple Mount, not the Western Wall, is Judaism’s holiest site and that the Wall is the most sacred place at which Jews are permitted to pray.
The committee also requested The Post clarify for readers that the Temple Mount is Judaism’s holiest site and that the Western Wall, the holiest place at which rabbis permit Jews to pray, is part of the Mount’s retaining wall and derives its sanctity from proximity to the Mount. The requested clarification also should have pointed out that neither Temple Mount nor the Western Wall possessed a similar status in Islam.
Post editors replied that the newspaper’s published wording was correct and suggested CAMERA save correction and clarification requests for more urgent matters.
From sublime to whatever
On The Washington Post’s front page five days later, a top-center headline declared: “Into the holiest of holy places in Christendom”. It ran under a large color photograph captioned “Conservationists have begun a project to repair the tomb of Jesus—with titanium bolts”.
This major feature by Booth, The Post’s Jerusalem bureau chief (June 21 print edition, online June 20 as “Work begins to try to save Christianity’s holiest shrine: Jesus’ tomb”), led with a reference to “the holiest shrine in Christendom.” It also referred to what Christians believe to be the burial cave of Jesus in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem’s Old City as “the most sublime in Christendom, a place of pilgrimage, faith, passion and mystery.”
The newspaper noted that “the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem is one of the most popular religious sites in the world.” It quoted one clergyman as saying Christ’s presumed burial cave was “where heaven and earth meet.” It cited a second as calling it “not a holy place. It is the holy place.”
Religious Jews believe Temple Mount, specifically the rock outcropping now covered by the Muslim Dome of the Rock, at which God told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac but then stayed his hand, is the place heaven touches earth. Jerusalem and Mt. Zion in general, Temple Mount in particular, where the Temples with their Holy of Holies stood, is Judaism’s holiest place.
But for The Washington Post, when it comes to Jews, evidently the Western Wall is merely “a site of prayer and devotion.” Temple Mount is just a “raised esplanade holy” to both Judaism and Islam. Ah, but reporting on reconstruction at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, The Post has eyes wide open to see “the holiest shrine in Christendom.”
Ignorance? No, The Post’s 2013 correction got it right. Subsequent indifference? Perhaps. Biased by imprecise, muddled wording—inadvertent or otherwise but in any case defended by the paper? Obviously.