My 100th trip to the Har HaBayit on Tish A’bov 2020 and why the Temple Mount is Controversial.
Here is my trip of my own pictures that I have put on YouTube. After a little explanation, I will share my own history.
Many people make the common mistake, of calling the Western Wall “the holiest site in Judaism,” when, in fact, it is the Temple Mount.
The landmark is of deep religious significance to both Judaism and Islam, which is why it has been the focal point of conflict for decades (and centuries before modern Israel).
For Jews, it is the holiest site, the location of the two Holy Temples that were destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE and the Romans in 70 CE, and the anticipated site of the third Temple in the Messianic era.
For many Jews who don’t identify as religious, the Temple Mount remains symbolically significant nevertheless. As the secular Moshe Dayan announced to Israeli newspapers on July 8, 1967, “We have returned to our holiest site never to part with it again.”
When Moshe Dayan decided to relinquish Israeli control of the Temple Mount, and permit Jewish visitation but restrict Jewish prayer there, he set in place a policy that has been maintained ever since. He compromised for what he thought was the sake of peace, stating: “We did not come to conquer the sacred sites of others or to restrict their religious rights, but rather to ensure the integrity of the city and to live in it with others in fraternity.
Moshe Dayan’s spontaneous concession was without any government approval, yet he saw this decision as one that would prevent the Arab-Israeli conflict from turning into a Holy War. Interestingly, his decision at the time met with the approval of most Israeli religious leaders, who wanted to prevent Jews from unwittingly trespassing on the Holy of Holies.
In September 2000, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon paid a visit to the Temple Mount. Many Palestinians were furious and rioting ensued. Some have credited this act with sparking the Second Intifada, in which over 1,000 Israelis were killed and 7,000 injured. Others, however, disagree.
Jewish tradition holds that the very world originated here, with a Foundation Rock located beneath the Temple (hence the Arab title to the current building, Dome of the Rock). The Western Wall is often mistaken as the holiest site in Judaism, but the wall is merely a remnant of the outer foundation walls of the Second Temple (not of the second temple itself), a reminder of the great edifice that once stood, and the closest Jews were able to come to the Temple Mount for centuries. For Muslims, this is the third-holiest site after Mecca and Medina. It is where they believe Muhammed was miraculously transported from Mecca on his “Night Journey,” and from where he ascended to heaven. Both the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque were built in the 7th century. According to both Judaism and Islam, the Temple Mount is where Abraham performed the binding of his son: Isaac, according to the Torah, and Ishmael, according to Islam.
Interestingly, most religious Jews are comfortable with maintaining the status quo; they do not even wish to enter or pray at the Temple Mount. Why? Because according to traditional Jewish law, the site of the Holy of Holies, the holiest point within the Temple, is forbidden to the average person (and reserved for the High Priest on Yom Kippur). The exact location of this point is unknown, and therefore one may not walk around in the vicinity for fear of accidental trespass. This is the position of the Chief Rabbinate, most Haredi rabbis, and many religious Zionist rabbis. Last year on Tisha B’Av, Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef stated, “it is imperative to recall that the pilgrimage to the Temple Mount is forbidden by Jewish law.”
There is, however, a strong contingent within the religious Zionist camp that does allow people to visit the Temple Mount (after immersing in a mikvah, ritual bath, and walking along a precise route). This group pushes for increased Jewish access to the Temple Mount, arguing that Jews should certainly be allowed to pray at their holiest site. Former Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren permitted ascension to the Temple Mount according to Jewish Law; he himself was present and blew the shofar when Israel captured the Old City in 1967, and he wrote a book called Har Habayit explaining the matter in depth. The most well-known proponent today of Ascension is former MK Yehuda Glick, who survived an assassination attempt in 2014 after speaking on this topic. He has stated, “I will do all that is in my power to end the injustice that takes place every day at the holiest place in the world, where police officers are under orders to check whether a 90-year-old Jew is, G-d forbid, moving his lips or not.”
In service of engendering empathy, ask to imagine the feeling of being a Jew at Judaism’s holiest site, and to be watched over while Muslim officials ensure you do not move your lips in a way that might indicate prayer.
My own history of trips to the temple mount start in 1990 when I came to Israel for the first time. I didn’t know the religious restrictions at the time and even went into the dome of the rock, since at that time it was permitted for tourists (no longer today).
Since then I have gone many times with groups and on my own. When I would go on my American passport and not specifically as a Jew, I could stay as long as I wanted to and pray privately and no one said a word to me. When I go as a Jew the police walk us around on a short escorted tour. Over the years, the Arabs would pay zealots to throw stuff at us yelling Ala Akbar and threatening us. On my last trip on Tish A’bov, the authorities didn’t even ask for my passport. I live across the street from the old city and can see the Har Habit from the Dan Hotel behind my house. All I can say, is that your life in Israel is not complete until you have been on the holiest site in Judaism, The Temple Mount (Har HaBayit).
Sari Spiro runs a play group at the local JCC and she is working with the kids on animal sounds. They are sitting in a circle and Ms. Spiro is letting them take turns.
“Moishie, what noise does a cow make?”
“It goes ‘moo.'”
“Sarah, what noise does a cat make?”
“It goes ‘meow.'”
“Shmueli, what sound does a lamb make?”
“It goes ‘baaa.'”
“Rachel, what sound does a mouse make?”
“It goes… ‘click!'”