John Lichtenberg formerly of Australia, Joe Kuhn formerly of South Carolina and Jerry Johnson (not his real name) formerly of Iowa have, in all likelihood, never met. All three, however, share at least two things on common. All three have visited Jerusalem. As a result of that visit, all three suffer from an intense religious psychosis known as Jerusalem Syndrome. To the average person they are meshugoyim (totally unrelated to the word Goyim, Yiddish/Hebrew for non-Jews) or screw loose. To the trained professional, all three, along with dozens of others, became so moved by a visit to Jerusalem that they lost touch with reality and became delusional, believing that
G-d spoke to them or that they are the reincarnation of a biblical figure such as King David or Jesus.
I am neither a trained person nor (please forgive my pompousness) an average person. I am a rabbi. As such, I could not help but notice that the vast majority of those who suffer from the Jerusalem Syndrome are of the Protestant faith. One has to wonder why.
Jews, all Jews, do not take the Torah literally. The “accidental Jew” who seldom sees the inside of the synagogue, dismisses the Torah altogether. The “bible” for the accidental Jew, at least those in the northeast of this country, is The New York Times. For those Jews, The New York Times, not the Torah, is the gospel. At the other end of the spectrum, the Black Hats also don’t take the Torah literally. The Black Hats approach the Torah, searching for its allegorical meaning, its hidden meaning, as well as its mystical meaning. And that’s just for starters. And then there are those Jews who are neither accidental nor Black Hat, and approach the Torah in a myriad of other ways. For many a Protestant however, the bible is literal. Hence, Moses literally split the sea and don’t bother analyzing the miracle; Jesus walked on water and don’t bother analyzing that miracle either. Many Protestants do not go beyond the printed word. Therefore, when they visit Israel, it’s not that Jerusalem validates the Good Book, but rather the Good Book validates Jerusalem, thereby rendering the city with powers and properties that transcend everyday existence.
Devout Jews speak to G-d on a daily basis, either through prayer, or otherwise. Devout Protestants go through life feeling that G-d speaks to them, directly. If G-d has anything to say to the devout Jew, it is either through Talmud study or carrying out the halacha (practice) set forth in the Shulchan Aruch or Code of Jewish Law. The Devout Jew is concerned with whether or not he can eat a pareve food prepared in a meat utensil at a dairy meal. The Devout Protestant is concerned with living life according to the (moral and ethical) teachings of Jesus.
Devout Jews expend their energies on questioning and understanding; Devout Protestants expend their energies on accepting and believing. The ultimate religious experience for a devout Jew is gaining a new or better yet a revolutionary understanding of a religious text. The ultimate religious experience for a Devout Protestant is being overcome with feeling and experiencing.
Take a devout Protestant, who visits Israel and sees that Jerusalem (as well as other holy sites) has in fact been validated by the Good Book, take a devout Protestant who goes through life believing that G-d speaks to him directly, take a devout Protestant whose idea and ideal of religion is feeling and experiencing and one would do well to ask why the Jerusalem Syndrome isn’t far more pervasive.
Earlier this week, the Jewish world celebrated Jerusalem Day, in commemoration of the reunification of the holy city forty-nine years ago (first week of June, 1967). Perhaps the Jerusalem Daze experienced by some devout Protestants is no psychosis after all.