New York Times’ Correction on Judaism’s Holiest Site Misleading

A December 2, 2003 sidebar in the New York Times about Israeli and Palestinian concession under the unofficial Geneva Accords referred incorrectly to the Western Wall as Judaism’s holiest site. According to the Times:

Israel would cede sovereignty over a flash point shrine in Jerusalem’s walled old city known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary. The site would get international monitors. Israel would retain control of the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest site.

(For more on the Geneva Accords and each side’s concessions, see CAMERA backgrounder.)

On December 31, 2003, the Times printed a correction. Despite its commendable intent, the correction regrettably served to create more confusion by mischaracterizing the wall and incorrectly suggesting that there is some debate within Israel as to where Judaism’s holiest site lies. The correction stated:

A thumbnail summary of highlights on Dec.2 with an article about the unofficial Middle East peace plan known as the Geneva accord referred incompletely to the Western Wall, which the provisions call for Israel to retain. It is the only surviving remnant of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 70. While the wall is regarded by many Jews as the holiest site in Judaism, others say that distinction belongs to the entire Temple Mount. Since the seventh century, that area has also been the site of two Muslim holy structures – the Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa Mosque; it is one of the world’s most contested religious sites.

In fact, there is no debate over where Judaism’s holiest site lies. It is on the Temple Mount. Jewish reverence for the site not only predates Muslim building of the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa mosque but even the First Jewish (Solomonic) Temple, which was built, according to Jewish tradition, on the “Even Hashtiya,” the foundation stone upon which the world was created. According to Jewish belief, this is the epicenter of Judaism, where the Biblical Isaac was brought for sacrifice, where the Holy of Holies and Ark of the Covenant housing the Ten Commandments once stood, and where the Temple was rebuilt before being destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE.

The Western Wall is not an actual part of the temple. It is the remnant of the outer retaining wall built by Herod to level the ground and expand the area of the compound housing the Second Jewish Temple. Its holiness derives from its proximity to the Temple site. For the last several hundred years, Jews have prayed at the Western Wall because it was the closest accessible place to the holiest site.

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