Jerusalem will have a new mayor next week and more than any other election this year will decide the religious nature of Israel’s capital. The nascent Sanhedrin has addressed a letter to the two candidates emphasizing the role of the Third Temple in municipal current policy.
The Jerusalem mayoral election held last week ran five candidates, but the results were so close that an additional runoff vote next week is needed to choose between the top two. Moshe Lion with 33 percent of the vote and Ofer Berkovitch with 29 percent will run off against each other – with neither achieving the 40 percent of the electorate required to win office.
Lion has previously been closely allied with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In 1996, Lion was appointed managing director of the Prime Minister’s Office, serving simultaneously as his economic adviser. He continued in both those roles until 1999. Netanyahu, however, has not officially endorsed either candidate.
Berkovich is the founder and chairman of Jerusalem’s “Hitorerut (awakening) in Jerusalem”, a non-aligned Zionist political movement. Appointed as one of the city’s eight deputy mayors in 2013, he has been instrumental in passing laws to increase affordable housing in the city, such as double-taxing owners of vacant properties and allowing local authorities to utilize public lands for the purpose of building apartments which would be rented out at low prices. He wants to make Jerusalem cleaner and even more high-tech friendly. He has sponsored joint Arab-Israeli cultural and sports projects.
“When Arabs see that Jews are fighting with them, shoulder to shoulder, for a clean city and that the eastern part of the city remain clean, it will change their thinking,” Berkovich told Times of Israel in an interview..
As for terrorism, he believes that if they are provided better municipal services, they will have less reason to turn to Hamas.
But the politics of the eternal Jewish capital are most fiercely fought on the battlefield of religion. In addition to his political connections, Lion, religiously observant, was endorsed by leading ultra-Orthodox rabbis, an important asset in a city in which the Haredi represent approximately 35% of the overall Jewish vote.
Berkovich, on the other hand, was the only one of the candidates that led a secular lifestyle. He has campaigned for businesses to open on the Sabbath. Not only is that policy distasteful to the city’s religious residents, but Berkovich perceives Haredi politicians as having a negative impact.
“The other candidates are liable to capitulate to the Haredi extortion, and may not understand the strategic steps the city needs to take in order to flourish and get on the right track,” Berkovich told Times of Israel. “They weren’t partners in the successes of recent years: the vibrant cultural [scene], economic development, the urban revolution… I don’t think they know what is needed, I don’t think they know the city well enough, I don’t think they understand what to do here.”
The religious Jewish aspect of being the mayor Jerusalem was amplified to an even greater degree in an open letter that the Sanhedrin sent to the two candidates.
“With God’s merciful approval, one of you will be chosen as head of the city, may it be built and made ready for its ultimate purpose,” the Sanhedrin wrote. “We call on the candidates as well as the voters to make choices based on truth and on the main aspect of Jerusalem, which is the building of the Temple.”
The Sanhedrin wrote a similar letter to U.S. President Donald Trump after he won the election, calling on him to take a role in building the Third Temple just as Persian King Cyrus helped the Jews build the Second Temple after the Babylonian exile in the sixth century BCE.
“Avoiding this essential issue endangers the existence of the city and its identity as the capital of Israel, thereby endangering Israel itself,” the Sanhedrin wrote to the mayoral candidates. “Every Jew and all of humanity are commanded to ascend to the Temple Mount.”
“We expect you, as candidates, to relate to this role the city has as home of the Temple. This subject is not simply a matter of religious belief but must also be expressed in political, fiscal, and educational terms.”
The Sanhedrin emphasized the importance of Jerusalem in the world. In the letter, they noted that the capital of Israel is frequently the focus of domestic politics and, in the case of Trump, has become an essential part of his platform. In the letter, the Sanhedrin praised Trump for moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem.
“Jerusalem in its entirety is sanctified as Holy and is the spiritual center of the world, the throne of God. We urge you to make public your plans relating to this aspect of the city. There are several ways this can be accomplished, such as festivals of holiness to replace those of impurity.”
The Sanhedrin has already begun working toward this end, holding full-dress reenactments of the Temple service before the Biblical feasts. Another glorious example of this was the World Creation Concert held the week before Rosh Hashana, which several representatives from South American countries attended.
The Sanhedrin emphasized that the city will change when the Temple is built, requiring massive improvements to its infrastructure.
“Jerusalem must prepared to host the millions of pilgrims who will attend the feasts when the Third Temple is built,” the letter said. “We also call on the government to prepare a center for an international body to replace the United Nations and the Hague, one that will be rooted in the Bible.”