Celebratory images from Israel flooded my Facebook feed on Jerusalem Day. Which would have warmed my heart if other images didn’t come across my feed too. The irony of seeing Jews harassed while on the Temple Mount and hundreds of Jews being denied access to the Temple Mount, on Jerusalem Day no less, tends to put a damper on any excitement I would normally feel about the unification of Jerusalem and the so-called liberation of the Temple Mount.
In 1967, after almost 2000 years, the Temple Mount went back into Jewish hands. Well, at least for a few hours anyway. Talk about the ultimate game of “hot potato.” Once the Temple Mount was in Jewish hands, most of the Jewish leadership, including the Rabbinate, could not wait to throw it back to the Arabs.
As Professor Yoel Cohen points out, “The outcome of the 1967 war and the reunification of Jerusalem caught Israel’s chief rabbis by pleasant surprise, as it did the country’s Jewish population and Jews worldwide. The Chief Rabbinate had to deal with a potentially new reality: for the first time since the destruction of the Second Jewish Temple the area of the Temple Mount was under Jewish sovereignty. The capture of the Temple Mount presented two possible scenarios: the reintroduction of Temple worship – bringing the biggest revolution in Jewish religious life for 1900 years – or to seek to ‘incorporate’ the capture of the Temple Mount by the Israel Army within existing patterns of Jewish religious behavior.” In other words, the religious establishment and the galut mentality were in danger of being disrupted.
The other “hot potato” issue accompanying the religious question was the Arab/Jewish conflict. Arab leadership didn’t want Jews on the Temple Mount. (Let’s not kid ourselves, though. It wasn’t just the Temple Mount. Arab leadership didn’t want the Jews to have a state. Heck, some didn’t even want any Jews on the planet.) An unhealthy pattern began forming in the decision making process of Jewish leadership. They based their decisions on whether or not Arab leaders would be “inflamed.” Dr. Zerah Warhaftig, the Religious Affairs Minister in 1967, who favored preserving the Temple Mount status quo, feared that Jewish prayer on the Mount would inflame the Arab world, therefore, he projected his fears to the rabbis about the political dangers of Jews praying on the Temple Mount. You know, those big, bad political dangers that Isaiah envisioned. The dangerous scenario of swords being beaten into plowshares and ALL nations praying together on the Temple Mount. Basically world peace. But, Isaiah’s vision was literally thrown away to appease the Arab leaders.
Rather than seizing the G-d given gift of the Temple Mount, the Jewish leadership turned the gift down. The keys to the Temple Mount, i.e. the keys to the Gateway to Heaven, that were handed over to the Jews were not kept. They were given back to Jordan. And the Jewish populace was forbidden from ascending the Mount. A few of the Rabbinate went so far as to declare that “we have no interest in the Temple Mount.”
Meeting on the last day of the war, the Rabbinate agreed on a statement to issue to the public, declaring that “in view of the fact that the holiness of the area never ceases, it is forbidden to ascend the Temple Mount until the Temple is built.” (Yes, a bit of a mixed message. On the one hand some of the rabbis declared that the holiness never ceases, yet on the other hand some declared that they had no interest in such a holy place.)
Rabbi Arielli was a voice of logic in 1967 who favored the preparation of a map delineating the “permitted areas” on the Temple Mount. But the rabbis somehow never got around to making such a map. So the public continued to be instructed that the entire Mount was off-limits despite the fact that the actual forbidden areas took up a very small percentage of the entire Temple Mount.
By the way, IDF Chief Rabbi General Goren took a view diametrically opposed to the Chief Rabbinate and sought to enable Jews to pray in the permitted areas of the Temple Mount. But sadly by the time Goren became Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi in 1972, the good ol’ status quo had already been firmly implemented into the Temple Mount being a place of prayer for the Muslims and the Kotel being a place of prayer for the Jews. Talk about the short end of the stick.
Rabbi Goren’s Sephardi colleague, Chief Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, took an opposite view to Goren and stated that access to the entire Mount was forbidden until the precise location of the Temple building could be verified.
Well, guess what kids? The precise location of the Temple building has been verified. Esteemed scholars who have devoted their entire studies to the Temple know exactly where the Temple stood. It is not a mystery. It is not in question. Hence, access to the Temple Mount, as long as it is done halachically, is not forbidden. But there I go again, using logic. And there I go again, more importantly, challenging the status quo, which Netanyahu and other Jewish leadership hang on to tooth and nail.
Why does Netanyahu and other Jewish leaders hang on to the status quo so firmly? Because the revered status quo of no Jewish prayer and very little Jewish presence on the Temple Mount, supposedly, results in peace. (Yes, I’ll pause and give you time to catch your breath after laughing so hard.) Israel has been very unpeaceful since 1967. But many political and spiritual leaders maintain the charade that the status quo is what is preventing an all-out war in the Middle East. Eight Jews were arrested for praying on the Temple Mount. In 1972. Yep. That status quo has been working it’s peaceful magic for decades, huh? Every time a Jew is kept from praying on the Temple Mount the world is a better more peaceful place. Right? (Yes, another pause to let you laugh or to give you a minute to bang your head against a wall.)
Speaking of a wall, let me leave you with an image I see every time a well-intended Jew posts a picture on Facebook of Jews praying at the Kotel. I don’t see a beautiful moment taking place. I see Jews relegated to standing in a corner; sent there by the rabbinate and political leaders. The Kotel continues to be a symbol of the galut – of Jews being told where they can stand, of being put in their place. How tragic and sad that instead of ascending to pray at the Gateway of Heaven, where the Jewish patriarchs prayed, Jews have their faces to a wall. As long as the status quo of the Temple Mount remains, the status quo of the world will remain.
Isn’t it interesting that Hamas does not pay Arabs to harass Jews praying at the Kotel? They pay them to harass Jews on the Temple Mount. Why? Because deep down they know. We all know. He who controls the Mount controls the Land. The Temple Mount is literally and figuratively the key to everything. Everything. Even the most perfunctory read of the Bible makes this clear. Isaiah was not just waxing poetic when he described the relation between the Temple Mount and world peace. He meant exactly what he said.