There’s been more than a little noise lately about the idea that Jews have a right to pray at the Temple Mount. I’m not quite sure what that means. It’s pretty fashionable in the twenty first century to be talking about rights with regards to everything. I have the right to wear these clothes, I have the right to free speech, I have the right to go wherever I like.

In religion you have instructions, you have responsibilities, you have restrictions, you have rules on how to live your life. Of course in our free country you have the right to choose whether to obey them or not.

Rights and religion strike me as particularly bizarre bedfellows. If you don’t believe what the rabbis most immersed in the religion tell you to do, or what not to do, then the most rational course of action strikes me as being to leave the religion behind. But don’t pretend that you simply view religion in a different way, or that you know better simply because one particular issue has tugged on your heartstrings. For over a generation the most accomplished rabbis have forbidden Jews from praying on the Temple Mount. Why now are people talking about their rights to pray there?

The rabbis ruled you can’t. You have the right to disagree, you can argue you have the right to commit murder. So what?

Of course you could always argue that the reason you’re ignoring the rulings of so many rabbis is because you want to go up to the Temple Mount not for Jewish reasons but because you know it will anger many Muslims, or specifically because you know you’re not allowed to and wish to protest. At least you’d be honest about your intent. It’s not a particularly holy motivation though and it’s certainly not the religious motivation that is being thrown around here there and everywhere. If your motivation to go there is to pray then you needn’t waste the energy, you’re Jewish and it’s forbidden, your prayers are no good there.

When it comes to Kashrut…I’m not a big fan. I eat the pork, I eat milk and meat together, that’s my choice, it’s my right. But I certainly don’t pretend that doing these things is Jewish, that I have a halachic right to eat non kosher food as a Jew. 

So if you want to pray on the Temple Mount at least admit to yourself the truth. You’re not doing something Jewish. You’re not doing something that the rabbis command you to do. In fact you’re doing something the rabbis command you not to do.

Here’s a declaration and a list I took from an article in Arutz Sheva of rabbis who ban Jews from ascending to the Temple Mount;

Chief Sephardic Rabbi; Rav Amar’s declaration [not to go to the Temple Mount] was co-signed by former Chief Sephardic Rabbi Rav Eliyahu Bakshi Doron; Rav Shalom Cohen, Head of Porat Yosef Yeshiva in the Old City of Jerusalem, Old City Rabbi Rav Avigdor Neventzal, and Kotel Rabbi, Rav Shmuel Rabinovich. Rav Tzvi Yehudah Kook and Rav Avraham Elkana Shapira, both Chief Rabbis and heads of the Zionist flagship yeshiva, Merkaz HaRav in Jerusalem, who expressly forbade ascending the Mount. Rav Zalman Melamed, Dean of Beit El Yeshiva, is also against it. All hareidi rabbis forbid it.

“It is a holy obligation to make you aware that it is completely forbidden by halakhah to ascend to the Temple Mount, and this prohibition has always been a simple and clear one, and this thing has been forbidden by all of the Great Ones of Israel.

“Since, in the recent period, all kinds of organizations are calling on the public to ascend to the Temple Mount, we hereby proclaim the Torah opinion, that the prohibition still stands, and it is completely forbidden to ascend to the Temple Mount at this time.”

The Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi, Rav Yonah Metzger, has also issued an opinion in the matter. Rav Metzger also states that the prohibition on entering the Mount is a well known one. “Yet I could not remain silent,” he wrote, “for I heard a faint voice from those who claim that there is supposedly a heter [permission] in the matter [of entering the Mount], and who mislead the believers of Israel into ascending the Mount of G-d…”

“I therefore saw myself obliged to call upon the holy assembly to refrain from ascending, G-d forbid, to [anywhere in] the entire Temple Mount,” Rav Metzger added. “In addition, let me say that anyone who knows about a person who wishes to ascend to the Temple Mount – he has a sacred obligation to protest to him and to explain to him kindly the seriousness of the prohibition…”

Those are some pretty big names in the Jewish world saying some pretty strict things. Now I often ignore these rabbis. I ignore them when they tell me to eat certain foods or not to eat others, I ignore them when they tell me how and when to pray, I ignore them all the time. And you can ignore them when you ascend to the Temple Mount, but don’t pretend you’re doing something that in Judaism you have a right to do. The men above simply haven’t granted you that right.

So by all means go up to the Temple Mount, pray even but know that you have as much right to pray at the temple mount as you do to go into shul eating a bacon sandwich. Which is to say you can do it, it’s just not very Jewish.