Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Issue of the Temple Mount

The Issue of the Temple Mount
by Rabbi Levi Zipperstein


The common knowledge of our time is that the vast majority of Rabbis of this generation have prohibited the Jewish people from entering the Temple Mount (Har HaBayit), the holiest site in Judaism. The Temple Mount is the site of where the Beit HaMikdash (the Jewish Temple) once stood and the place where the Moslems have erected one mosque, the al-Aqsa and a site of pilgrimage, the Dome of the Rock. The supposed restriction of Jewish entrance imposed by the rabbis has been proclaimed because under usual circumstances, when the Temple is standing, a level of holiness must be attained before permission is granted to a Jew to enter the area. There are greater and lesser restrictions according to the place one seeks to go on the Temple Mount. The Rabbis state that since the actual location of the Temple structure is not known for certain, it is unclear where a Jew may go without first attaining the most extreme level of purification (mandated by Jewish Law when entering the confines of certain areas of the Mount and when the areas are either under the sovereignty of the Jewish people or the Temple is standing). Therefore, Rabbis have pronounced the prohibition that a Jew must not walk on the entire area of the Temple Mount. The assumed conclusion regarding the Temple Mount is that no Jew should shoulder the risk of incurring the punishment of Kareit. Kareit is the divine punishment of cutting off of one's soul from the World to come and is imposed upon a Jew entering the confines of certain areas of the Temple Mount in an impure state. These laws apply during normal circumstances. Let it be clear that normal circumstances in Jewish law assumes the existence of the Temple and the practices that accompany it.

It is the purpose of this article to analyze the issues and sources concerning entering the Temple Mount. Upon reading the following pages the reader will, with God's help, understand the position of the Rabbis of our generation and compare them to the positions of the Rabbis of previous generations. The issues are not complicated for the halakha (Jewish law) is clear regarding the entrance of a Jew on the Temple Mount. The intellectually honest reader will discover that the issue of the Temple Mount plays a central role in the modern Jewish problem in relation to traditional Jewish thought. Additionally, it is hoped that the conclusions reached in this most important analysis will foster the needed courage required to make that which is wrong, right and that which is a desecration, a sanctification.

The Rabbis of Silence

The impression that world Jewry now maintains concerning the issue of entering and maintaining control over the Temple Mount is a false one. It is additionally false to assume that there is but a single voice on this matter. In contradiction to the prevailing idea that all contemporary Rabbis have forbidden entrance to the Temple Mount, we find the following modern Rabbinical opinions:

Mordechai Eliyahu, former Chief Rabbi of Israel, after reading about Jews going up to the Temple Mount wrote, "I am happy to hear about your yearning for Zion, however we must protect that the Children of Israel will enter the permitted places in purity and holiness. Hashem should strengthen you and He should be with you. Amen, it should be His will."

Shlomo Goren, z"l, former Chief Rabbi of Israel, wrote: "I hereby, notify that because of the danger of a takeover of the Temple Mount by the Moslems and despite the halakhic rules that would apply for the purpose of protecting the Jewish sovereignty it is not only permitted, but it is a holy commandment (mitzvah) to go up to the Temple Mount. We learn that to protect the Temple it is permitted to enter even the Holy of Holies. So much more so to enter the Temple Mount in order to stop an Arab takeover and protect our sovereignty, it is permitted and a commandment. Concerning us, when the purpose is to free the Temple Mount from a takeover by the goyim, the more Knesset members and other Jews that go up will bring a greater result. The suggestion is not to enter with leather shoes and to go to the Mikvah the same day."

Menachem Mendel Schneerson, z"l, the Lubavitch Rebbe, during Sukkot speech of 5751 (1990), told the Jewish people to go to the "Place of the Temple," in the permitted areas, and celebrate the Simchat Beit Hashoeva (celebration of the water drawing) in the greatest and highest level of happiness. The Rebbe continued, insisting that by doing so, the rebuilding of the Temple and coming of the Mashiach will be hastened.

Chaim David Halevi, Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv & Jaffa, wrote: "The law pertaining to entering the Temple Mount is one of the simplest and clearest. It is known that we aren't allowed to make a decree by ourselves, to forbid the permitted. It is incumbent upon the people in charge to devote their time and energies and make every effort possible to allow and encourage B'nai Yisrael to enter the permitted areas."

David Chaim Shlush, the Chief Rabbi of Netanya, wrote: "It is good to be accustomed to going up to the Temple Mount in our times to the permitted places."

Avraham Shalom David, the Rabbi of Kiryat Moshe, Jerusalem, wrote: "I read the material on the Temple Mount and I, hereby, join the recommendation of the Chief Rabbi to go up to the Temple Mount to the permitted places and Hashem will be with you. Amen, it should be his will."

Yichya Alsheich, the Kabbalist, wrote: "The Rabbis permitted the sacrificing of the Passover offering and the daily Tamid offering on the spot of the altar. We are allowed to go up to the Temple Mount to search for the spot of the altar and to make the preparations that are required for such. Hashem should give you favor, kindness, and grant success so we should merit through the rebuilding of the Temple, speedily in our times, Amen."

Levi Nachmani, Rosh Yeshiva of Pnaecha Ya'acov, wrote: "Since the conquest of Jerusalem, the requirement to build the Temple and to bring sacrifices has been renewed. There is a special requirement of the Bet-din (Rabbinate) of the generation and the Kohanim. Negligence in building the Temple will bring punishment. The commandment of conquering the Land of Israel cancels Shabbat and therefore cancels the prohibition of impurity. It is therefore worthy of every man and woman to go up to the Mount and show a constant Jewish presence and thus to prove the ownership of Am Yisrael over the Temple Mount can be even without going to the Mikvah. The one who goes up to the Temple Mount after going to the Mikvah is even better. Hashem should allow us to witness speedily the full sovereignty of the People of Israel over the Temple Mount, the Temple built in its place and the sacrifices renewed speedily in our times, Amen."

Eliyahu Shlomo Ra'anan, grandson of Rav Kook, z"l, wrote: "I, hereby, join the call from the Rabbis recommending to go up to the Temple Mount, into permitted areas, because it is clear without any shadow of a doubt. My grandfather, Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook, z"l, and his son, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook, z"l, never said that the Aliyah to the permitted spots if forbidden. It is surely a great mitzvah to free the holiest site from the goyim, but done in the proper way..."


How can one explain the inaction of those rabbis who agree that we can enter the Temple Mount? How can one explain those who distort the truth and prohibit the entrance of Jews to the Temple Mount? After 2,000 years of prayers asking that God return us to Zion and speedily rebuild the Temple, what excuse could there be for preferring the Wall of Tears over the House of God?

The best answer can be found in the book, Ame Banim Smecha, written by Rabbi Yisachar Teichtel. Rabbi Teichtel was a Chasid who lived in Hungary and perished in the holocaust. While on the run from the Nazis, he wrote a powerful book quoting his sources from memory. He confronts the question that haunts many Jews: "why were so many religious Jews and Torah scholars killed during the holocaust?" His answer is unequivocal, the religious Jews and the Torah scholars watched the secular Zionists return to Zion; and they did not learn from their actions. Jews who prayed thrice daily for the return to Zion should have immediately realized that if secular Jews are leaving the exile, how much more so should they. By turning their backs on the Land of Israel, Rabbi Teichtel writes, their fate was sealed. God hates hypocrisy and punishes those who invoke his name in vain. And so they stayed in exile to be consumed by the fires of the Holocaust.

Many religious Jews yet maintain the false interpretation of Jewish texts that the Temple will fall from heaven when God deems it proper. This belief is akin to those who maintained that while sitting in exile there would appear the wings of an eagle, which would scoop them up and whirl them off to the Land of Israel. Obviously, the latter never happened and the former is even less likely to occur. The literal interpretation of parabolic literature is forbidden by Jewish thought. However, it is not the purpose of this work to delve into the intricacies and the failings of contemporary religious and Torah thought. It is enough that we realize that this thought has caused the Torah world to miss the opportunity to define the meaning of the return to the Land as it ought to be defined, in Torah terms. They turned their back on the building of a nation while leaving it in the hands of those whose socialist visions clouded their thoughts and blurred their vision. Added to this disgrace, the Torah world has now left the Temple Mount in the hands of those that would not recognize a Jewish concept even if it were placed in red dressing gowns. It is those self-hating Jews who have now turned over the holiest place in Judaism to the enemies of the Jewish people. The Temple remains in ruins while alien buildings of other nations sit in its place.


There is but one way to redeem the Temple Mount and but one way to renew the sacrifices and build the Temple. We must act in an authentically Jewish manner. Remaining in a state of atrophy will not only allow the status quo to continue, it will cause needless and unimaginable suffering to the Jewish people. Just as we witnessed the destruction of six million Jews because of inaction concerning the return to Zion, so will we endure terrible tragedy should we opt for the same inaction concerning the Temple Mount.

This is not an argument between Jew and Arab, nor between Judaism and Islam, but rather it is a question of religious fulfillment. If the Mount is redeemed and the Temple replaces the desecrations that now stand in its place, then the Jewish obligation to the God of Israel is attained, but should we leave the mosques in place and the Mount in the hand of the stranger, then we will be desecrating God's name by declaring that the Jewish people are unable and unwilling to do that which God has commanded. The fate and destiny of the Jewish people are in the hands of each and every Jew. All that is required is will and faith of Jews to enter the Temple Mount in large numbers until the day, with God's help, that we are able to demand its return to its rightful owners. If every one would make the commitment needed to redeem the Mount it will surely and speedily be in our hands.


David Ben-Ariel: This article appeared in the Winter 1996, edition of B'tzedek, The Journal of Responsible Jewish Commentary, which I picked up in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem and widely distributed before my unjust deportation for highlighting the plight of the Temple Mount under Muslim occupation and warning about German-Vatican designs on Jerusalem.

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