holy place

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The Jewish religion, like any other, has its holy places, locations possessing a special degree of sanctity, some to a greater extent than others. In polytheistic religions, where the earth is seen as inhabited by a multiplicity of gods, it seems natural to assume that each god has his own particular abode, the plot where he actually resides, zealously maintaining his right of possession. For Judaism and the other monotheistic religions, on the other hand, it is hard to understand how the God whose glory fills the whole earth can be said to reside in one place more than another. Why is the building in which He is worshipped more His ‘house’ than any other spot on earth? And what meaning can be given to the idea that there are degrees of sanctity in which one place is more holy than another? Does this mean that there is a greater degree of in-dwelling in the holier place, and if it does, how can it be said that God is located more definitely in one spot, less in another? Any attempt to deal with this kind of question from the Jewish sources is rendered difficult by the absence of anything like a systematic treatment of the topic. What exists are voluminous rules and regulations regarding the practical consequences which result from the sanctity of certain places; casual theological deliberations on the idea that God dwells in those places; observations on the psychological effects of man's confrontation with the numinous; and mystical speculations on the spiritual realm invading the secular.

There are basically two different ways within monotheism of understanding the concept of a holy place. The first is to see the divine as actually located in a quasi-physical manner in the sacred spot, or, better, as especially manifested there. The second way is to see the holy place as hallowed by experience and association. On the second view there is numinous power in the holy place, due not to any special indwelling of the divine but to the evocation of intense religious emotion resulting from the fact that the place has been the scene of divine revelation or of sustained and fervent worship. It is history that hallows the shrine.

Subjects: Judaism and Jewish Studies.

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