No, the Temple Mount is not just a hill

Lynette Nusbacher`s misguided article claims that the Temple Mount is just a hill. It isn`t.

The Temple Mount is the only geographical location that has any holiness in Judaism. The Torah was given at Mount Sinai, the Mishna composed in Northern Israel, the Talmud composed in Babylonia – Judaism bestows no holiness to any of these places. The Temple Mount was and is considered to be of utmost holiness. In the times of the Temple, many parts were forbidden to those who were not priests. Entrance to the Holy of Holies was permitted for the High Priest only, once a year. To this day, entry to the Temple Mount is only permitted by Halacha under conditions of ritual purity.

Even after the destruction of the Temple, many Jews would still enter those parts of the Temple Mount that were permitted to them – Maimonides prayed on the Temple Mount, and some of the 13th century Tosafists even attempted to bring sacrifices at the site.

The fact that many Jews do not go up to the Temple Mount has nothing to do with a theological move from a Temple Based to a portable religion in the first century AD. Since the discontinuation of the Red Heifer ceremony, all Jews have been considered ritually defiled, and therefore entry to holiest parts of the Temple Mount is forbidden. The Chief Rabbinate forbade entry to all parts of the Temple Mount after 1967 due to a classic “Gezeira” – It was worried that by allowing entry to the limited parts where Jews can enter in a status of impurity, Jews would unwittingly enter those parts that are forbidden. To claim that Jews do not go to the Temple Mount due to it`s insignificance is disingenuous. The reason Jews did not go onto the Temple Mount is not due to it`s irrelevance, but it`s supreme holiness. Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, one of the leaders of Modern Orthodoxy in Israel today said, “I believe there are parts of the Temple Mount that Jews are permitted to access today. I do not go up there – I do not feel I am ready.”

Even the claim that Judaism became a portable religion, and the Temple Mount and Jerusalem became a footnote in Jewish history, is a gross simplification of the Jewish experience. For every Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai who asked Vespasian for Yavneh, rather than Jerusalem, there was a Rabbi Akiva, who challenged Rabbi Yochanan, “How could you not ask for Jerusalem?!” (Gittin 56b). As Judaism moved into exile, it was perennially caught between the facts of it`s exilic existence, and it`s knowledge that these lands were not it`s natural home. Judaism was de facto a portable religion – but that was understood to be a punishment from God. Exile was a religious fact, but not a religious ideal.

The Temple Mount is the epicentre of Judaism. It is the place where God`s Shechina (presence) was, and to a great extent, where it still it – wherever in the world Jews are, they turn towards the Temple Mount when they pray. The Temple Mount is to Jews what the Lincoln Memorial is to Americans, what Buckingham Palace is to the English, what the Champs Elysees is to the French. Only much more.

About the Author
Aron White, 22, is currently studying and teaching in Yeshivat HaKotel, whilst studying for a degree in Politics and International Relations through LSE.
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