By Israel Rubin
Mosaica Press (2011)
Reviewed by Alan Jay Gerber
With Jerusalem at the center of events affecting the safety of our people in the Holy Land, with the centrality of the sacredness of the city itself being the focus of questionable attention, it is fortuitous that a book was recently released that addresses the holiness of the Temple Mount in the simple voice of a stone from the Western Wall. The use of a stone as the voice of our faith is noteworthy in that Chanukah’s theme song, Maoz Tzur, gives rise to a stone metaphor.
“A Stone Speaks: The Voice of the Kotel,” by Cooper Union graduate Israel Rubin (Mosaica Press, 2014), presents in a chronological sequence the voice of a Kotel stone’s impressions of the site’s history, from the construction of the Kotel to this very day.
According to the author, in the voice of the stone, “This book is an outpouring of the flood of images that have filled my mind over the past twenty centuries. No camera has ever been invented that can capture all that i have seen and experienced. I have encountered the full spectrum of happenings — from the sad, heartbreaking, and distressing to the happy, joyful, and lively — that have marked the years. I have chronicled every episode and can verify its authenticity. … I have been blessed with an extraordinary memory, as you shall soon see.
“The divine presence has never left us stones of the Western Wall.” Through this unique narrative the reader can follow history in an attention grabbing medium that will surely enhance one’s appreciation of the devotion that the Kotel has enjoyed for all these 2033 years.
Given the time of year, this essay will focus upon the era of the Chanukah story as well as a segment of the modern day Chanukah experience at the Kotel, all as ‘’witnessed’’ by the stone. This pre-Chanukah narrative focuses on 169 to 164 BCE. It goes as follows, according to the stone’s eyewitness account. “Forced Hellenization emerged when Antiochus Epiphanus assumed office. Prior to that time, Jews in Judea enjoyed relative freedom and, as a result, many Jews chose to assimilate.
“Aniochus returned from a failed attempt to attack Egypt and encountered a popular Jewish rebellion in Jerusalem against his appointees Jason and Menelaus. The decisive moment came when … Menelaus, permitted Antiochus to plunder the Temple. The rebellion enraged Antiochus, who ordered his troops to attack and seize the city. …“Determined to teach the Jews a lesson, Antiochus issued one edict after another as he sought to abolish the Jewish religion throughout Judea. The Temple rituals in Jerusalem were purged and the Temple was turned into a pagan temple for Zeus. The worship of pagan gods became obligatory and enforced. Possession of a Torah scroll was illegal. Sacrificial offerings to Hashem were forbidden, as was circumcision. Sabbath and festival observance was also forbidden. Anyone practicing Judaism or refusing to participate in pagan rituals was tortured. On December 25, 167 BCE, Antiochus defiled the Holy Temple by offering pigs as a sacrifice to Zeus.”
“The suppression of Jewish religious observance, the defilement of the Holy Temple, and the forced imposition of Hellenistic practices by Antiochus Epiphanes led to the Maccabean revolt, which began in the year 165 BCE and continued until 164 B.C.E, when Judah the Maccabee recaptured Jerusalem and restored the Temple. The independent Hasmonean Kingdom of Israel [Judea] survived until the year 63 BCE when Roman general Pompey captured Jerusalem.”
We all know how this ultimately ended, in the destruction of the Temple in the year 70 CE.The author presents a narrativetimelinee throughout the book, writing in the first person as witness to the events of the next 2,000 years. We now go fast forward to after the Six Day War in the spring of 1967. Chanukah will now once again be observed at the Kotel.
Below is the Kotel stone’s impression:
“The tradition of kindling Chanukah lights each night of the eight day long festival [at the Kotel] is exciting. The miracle of Chanukah happened at the Temple. It is most appropriate then, that the ceremonies recalling the miracles take place at the Kotel. … The oil lights are lit at three different locations at the Western Wall. The uplifting events start at the back of the plaza where the yeshiva boys light their candles, followed by singing and dancing. Then there is the official lighting of both the big flames on the balcony and on the huge Chanukiyah at the Kotel itself. Each day, three important people are honored with lighting the menorahs at the Kotel. These include the chief rabbis, government leaders, and prominent rabbis. The celebrations continue with dancing and music at the Kotel plaza.”
As many of us have experienced in our visits to Jerusalem, the pull of the Kotel has served as a spiritual magnet that reignites within all of us the emotional and spiritual pull of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount. And it is not only Jews who are so affected, many people of the Christian faiths are drawn to the spiritual pull as well.Let us pray that Israel Rubin’s heartfelt tribute to a simple stone’s impressions serve for us as the model to our everlasting devotion to the centrality of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount in our devotion and worship of G-d Almighty forever more.