May 12, 2008 — Scholars from around the world from institutions as varied as Yeshiva University, the University of Notre Dame, Bar-Ilan University, and Pennsylvania State University examined and debated the small hill in Jerusalem that stands, at once, as the epicenter of Jewish and Christian spirituality and of the contemporary Israel-Palestinian conflict during a two-day conference in May at Yeshiva University in New York.

“The Temple of Jerusalem: From Moses to the Messiah,” from Sunday, May 11 through Monday, May 12, launched YU’s Center for Israel Studies. The multidisciplinary center – a manifestation of the longstanding relationship between YU and Israel – supports research, conferences, publication, museum exhibitions, public programs, and educational opportunities to enhance awareness and study of Israel in all its complexities.

The center seeks to be a national and international forum for engagement of the political, economic, social, historical, religious, and cultural significance of Israel in the world community.

The conference – honoring longtime YU faculty member Dr. Louis Feldman, the Abraham Wouk Family Professor of Classics and Literature – was held at the Yeshiva University Museum at the Center for Jewish History, 15 W. 16th St., on Sunday, May 11, and at the Geraldine Schottenstein Cultural Center at Stern College for Women, 239 E. 34th St., on Monday, May 12.

Concurrently, the Yeshiva University Museum is holding an exhibition of models of the Temple, made by Leen Ritmeyer, a Scottish Protestant professor at Trinity Southwest University, who will be among the conference speakers.

“Israel studies at Yeshiva University represent the study of Israel in all its intricacies – without flinching even when we disagree,” said Dr. Steven Fine, professor of Jewish history and director of the center. “And no place in the world is more fraught with disagreement than the Temple Mount.”

For Jews, it is the place where Abraham nearly sacrificed Isaac, which was sanctified with the building of Solomon’s Temple, and which is symbolic of the human longing for ultimate redemption, when the Temple would be rebuilt by the Messiah. Even the name of the modern Jewish movement of return to Palestine – Zionism – draws its name from the place chosen by David for God’s Temple: Mt Zion, the Temple Mount.

The spot holds great significance to Christians as well. Jesus walked, studied, and prayed in the Temple.

For Muslims, it is the Harem el-Sharif, the “Noble Sanctuary,” where Abraham averted the sacrifice of Ishmael, and from which Mohammed ascended to heaven.

The Temple was also thought to be the center of the world by ancient and medieval Jews and Christians. Map makers drew the globe with three continents, Africa, Asia, and Europe, the three land masses meeting at Jerusalem.

Today, the Temple Mount is the epicenter of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, beginning with Arab riots against Jewish presence at the Western Wall in 1928. Since the Six Day War in 1967, Jews and Arabs have stood in uneasy tension over control of this site.

“Archeological excavation and expansion of Muslim prayer places are manifestations of attempts to control this place, even as many on each side are unwilling to accept the religious claims of the other on what is arguably the most holy, and most contested, site in the world,” Fine said.

“The fascinating story of human relationship with a mountain believed by Jews, Christians, and Muslims to have been chosen by God,” Fine said “is why the inaugural conference of the Yeshiva University Center for Israel Studies focused its scholarly gaze on the Temple of Jerusalem: From Moses to the Messiah.”

In addition to Profs. Fine, Feldman, and Ritmeyer, scholars participating in the conference included: Frank Peters, NYU; Ann Killebrew, Penn State; Robert Freedman, Johns Hopkins; Gary Anderson, Notre Dame; Matt Goldish, Ohio State; and Joshua Schwartz and Yehoshua Peleg, Bar-Ilan, as well as a number of distinguished Yeshiva University faculty.