“From my perspective I had achieved my goal. The Temple Mount was in our hands. The Temple Mount is also the Western Wall. And when I am standing in the palace I am not drawn to its outer walls. Here I feel at home. The place of our dreams. The Temple Mount. Mount Moriah. Abraham and Isaac. The Temple. The Maccabees. Bar Kokhba. Romans and Greeks. It all comes together in my thoughts. However the most towering and deep feeling of them all: We are on the Temple Mount! The Temple Mount is ours!” (Motta Gur, commander of the liberation of Jerusalem, in his book The Temple Mount is in Our Hands: The Battles of the Paratroopers in Jerusalem during the Six Day War)
There is something so unique about hearing stories where they actually occurred. And the Temple Mount is a powerful hub of storytelling. On many a Yom Yerushalayim before Corona I have absorbed inspirational testimony of the Temple Mount and its liberation from those soldiers present at that fateful moment. And in that simple moment on the holiest site in Judaism something special happens. Their words mesh from testimony into prophecy and back all at once. Feelings of connection flood me and tears of ecstasy fill my heart. I could stand, walk or sit with them for however long just immersed in the history and the holiness. One can experience exactly how the Temple Mount is a harmonizer of those frequencies of historical forces and prophetic echo into one. What a day to remember! How much gratitude I have! Yom Yerushalayim is certainly a day full of national and religious depth.
And then I exit the mount and come down to that plaza where many more Israelis celebrate the holiday than on the mountain where the greatest historical miracle of the day occurred. When I look at those celebrating at the Western Wall plaza I am simply perplexed. A fairly large question mark forms in my expression. Rather than continue up, they have opted to stop at a small section of an outer containment wall built for the Temple Mount in the late Second Temple period. Why? As an open-minded individual I like to believe I have a certain level of empathy and understanding. And so I begin delineating. There are certainly halachic reasons not to visit the Temple Mount, let alone personal reasons, that I respect completely; I do not think anyone should be forced to visit the Temple Mount. But through my years on the Temple Mount and the various groups I’ve guided, I know that most Jews and Israelis are simply unaware of the fact that the site is open. Were they to be made aware they would become instantly interested and their fascination cracked open – a regular occurrence I see. Immediately they ask with an eye of sincerity how it is they should prepare for the visit – the pilgrimage – they feel they must do. A visit to the Temple Mount is no regular visit.
The Western Wall for around 300 years has been a symbol of Jewish hope. As of 300 years ago, visiting the Temple Mount was made difficult by Ottoman decree and Jerusalemite Jews were forced into picking new symbols like the Mount of Olives, with its full view of the Temple Mount, or the Western Wall, which was as close as the Jews were allowed to venture to the mount. As such, the symbol of an outer wall has become enshrined in the Jewish conscience. But truthfully, the Temple Mount is far from forgotten.
An important testament to the emotional and physical connection to the Temple Mount can be found in an autobiography. In 1932, Rabbi Shmuel Horvitz, a big leader of Breslever Hasidism at the time, published an autobiography still found in the homes of many of these Hasidim. In it, he describes a number of visits he took to the Temple Mount:
“…And afterwards we went to ascend the Temple Mount in pilgrimage up until the location of the Temple, to the point where those [impure of] Tmei Meit can halachically go. And we prayed… but by heart, because to look into a siddur was not allowed for us by the Gentiles [i.e. Ottoman guards]… But even so, we did a few times during our pilgrimage there a great circle of dancing with singing, and the Muslim guard saw and was infuriated but was not able to do anything to us.”
This testimony is fascinating for a multitude of reasons. What I wanted to demonstrate specifically is the deep will to connect to this holy site even in the few years prior to the founding of the State of Israel. Up until Jordanian annexation of the site, Jews would visit it. There was no way they could have known that under just 4 decades later Israeli soldiers would be singing Hatikvah in the center of the mount surrounding the Golden Dome, signaling a new era of Jewish history.
Because of this latent connection it was no surprise to see the emotional emphasis Motta Gur, commander of the Israeli Paratroopers, put on the Temple Mount when he gave the orders to liberate it. Gur dreamt of liberating the old city of Jerusalem and 6 years prior to the Six Day War he told the founder and chief rabbi of the IDF Rabbinate, Shlomo Goren, that if Goren wanted to be one of the first to enter the Old City he should become better friends with Gur. “Why is that?” Goren asked Gur. “Because it is I who will conquer the Old City” Gur answered. In later meetings the two determined the army protocol for fighting in holy sites and they both prepared their victory speeches for that fateful day we call Yom Yerushalayim.
“The Temple Mount is in our hands!” is an extremely powerful symbol in the Israeli mythos and broadcasts from Gur’s radio throughout time. But his entire speech is well worth the listen. And the fact that it was delivered to the hundreds of Israeli soldiers congregating on the Temple Mount under the Israeli flag in official army formation is nothing less than epic. Gur evoked the historic likes of David, the kings of Judea, the Maccabees and Bar Kokhba – those Jewish heroes who fought for this exact location just as the IDF thousands of years later. Those guiding forces of history ring within his speech. And the dam containing 2000 years of longing and tears releases and pours down from the heavens.
Readers will likely recognize the picture of Rabbi Goren at the Kotel holding a Torah Scroll and blowing the Shofar. But there is another picture. This obscure photo has been seemingly covered up or perhaps even censored from public awareness. This photo is of Rabbi Goren standing in none other than the Dome of the Rock and again holding that same Torah Scroll and that same Shofar. It was first revealed to the public in 2006 after it was discovered hidden in a military archive (a Google Image search should suffice). According to Goren’s own autobiography when he entered the Temple Mount he immediately gave a halachic ruling permitting the soldiers to enter every part of the Temple Mount complex despite the holiness of the Jewish nation’s holiest site. He did this as a shaat hadchak, a kind of halachic temporary measure under extreme circumstances, to allow for a full combing and purification of the site from Jordanian soldiers. As part of this psak he allowed himself to enter the Dome of the Rock into the Holy of Holies, to pray there, blow the Shofar and prostrate himself as has not been performed on the Temple Mount by a Jew for perhaps two millennia.
But have we abandoned it?
Fast forward 33 years and the Temple Mount had become a simple bartering chip. According to the Institute for National Security Studies, Camp David was where the Israeli government was close to giving the Temple Mount in its entirety for peace with Yasser Arafat. What I found so fascinatingly horrifying is a major argument of Arafat himself. He claimed that the Israeli Rabbinate has forbidden Jews from ascending the mount and that Moshe Dayan, Defense Minister in the Six Day War and “considered a war hero by Israelis,” has himself prohibited Jews from praying there. Arafat therefore reasoned that the Temple Mount is simply irrelevant to Israelis and should be relinquished in return for his peace otherwise Israel should prepare for Intifada.
Although it is true that the Israeli Rabbinate has forbidden Jews, as a general rule, from visiting the Temple Mount this does not retract the basic right of Israelis from visiting the site like they visit any other place in sovereign Israel. This prohibition carries no legal weight to it. Furthermore, the major backbone of their prohibition has been the Rabbinate’s distrusting of the Israeli population. They simply do not trust the Israeli public to uphold a strict enough standard when it comes to the laws of purity applicable to the Temple Mount. Of course, secular Israelis do not care for the non-binding prohibitions of the Rabbinate and visit the site at their own behest. Thus the actual effect of this prohibition has simply been to deflect the religious communities, who would have been careful of the laws of purity anyways, from the site. In essence, the Rabbinate has removed Judaism from the most holy site in Judaism. And this vacuum has invited other nations to claim the site while Judaism has suffered.
Less than a decade before those eye-opening debates in Camp David, Rabbi Shlomo Goren published his halachic treatise Har HaBayit. In it he details his personal stance on Jews visiting the Temple Mount, a phenomenon he not only permitted but encouraged. By the time his book was released, Goren had served as the Chief Rabbi of the very Rabbinate that prohibited Jewish presence on the Temple Mount. However it would appear that political forces within the Rabbinate did not allow Goren to change its official stance. And like other rabbinic figures with similar views on the Temple Mount in the Rabbinate today, his views were silenced. But Goren in his book foresaw the vacuum that the Rabbinate had created. He knew the danger of the Temple Mount being on the bartering table. He wrote, “Presently, when the Jewish sovereignty on the Temple Mount is at risk, Mount Moriah is liable to become the topic of negotiation between us and the Arab countries. And regretfully there are those politicians among us who are prepared to negotiate our sovereignty on the Temple Mount and they rely on the prohibition, so to speak, of the Rabbinate concerning ascending the Temple Mount. This prohibition is liable to become a pretext to extradite the very Holy of Holies of the Israeli nation.” It is a deeply troubling thought for me to know that he was right.
The Temple Mount vacuum has ipso facto Islamicized the holiest site in Judaism in complete disregard for the ‘status quo’ of the site. Just over the past year there were major instances of a new mosque built and archaeological artifacts purposely destroyed by the Jordanian Waqf ‘custodians’. However, I wanted to mention a specific example of this from 2001. Few Jews know this, but there is a cemetery on the Temple Mount itself. A little further north along the western wall, close to the small stretch of wall called the Kotel HaKatan, are buried a number of Muslim leaders – all buried within the past hundred years or so. The latest of them was buried in the western wall in 2001 in the heat of the Intifada and with complete permission of the State of Israel. His name was Faisal Husseini, a major member of Fatah who was born in Baghdad and was a family member of the infamous Al-Husseini family; a family that produced the likes of Haj Amin, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, whose close ties to Hitler and the Final Solution are recorded in great detail. The body was flown into Israel from Kuwait through Jordan and buried in the Husseini burial plot in the western wall. The Committee to Prevent the Destruction of Temple Mount Antiquities, an apolitical group of archaeologists and intellectuals, has warned of the continuous burying of people since then along the walls of the Temple Mount and of the deliberate blind eye of Israeli authorities to this. These burials, they point out, prevent archaeologists from accessing key sites of research and even destroy artifacts where they take place. This embarrassment is further bolstered by the blatant disregard of the Law of Holy Places which was enacted by Israel to protect holy sites from desecration and destruction.
But where were the outcries of the Jewish community to burying bodies in the Western Wall? Was the public even aware? Do they care? I think there is an answer that more and more people are willing to admit. There is an old wall blocking the holiest site in Judaism. And we are blinded both historically and morally. And the worst part is that we have put on our own blindfold. We all share in this blame. The government follows our lead. Since we have essentially abandoned the mount for 53 years so has our government.
‘Hope for your future, your children will return’
Over the past few years we have seen drastic change. The numbers of Jews ascending the mount has been almost doubling each year. A quick look at the statistics kept by the police shows that in 2009 there were about 5,700 Jews that visited the site. In 2015 there was about twice as much and in 2017 there were about 25,000! The numbers keep growing every year. There is a very real phenomenon occurring with the resurgence of Jewish presence on their holiest site. It has broken a taboo in Jewish and Israeli society and its effects manifest real social, religious, spiritual and even political development. I do not know if the description ‘abandoned’ will be applicable to Jewish presence on the Temple Mount for much longer.
And this profound rediscovered interest in the Temple Mount has even wrought a new attitude from the Israeli police on site as well as ministers in the government who see the situation on the Temple Mount as undemocratic and largely antisemitic. One such key figure has been the outgoing Minister of Internal Security Gilad Erdan. Throughout his term in office he has personally taken responsibility to improve the situation on the Temple Mount. As minister he passed a law defining the activities of the Morabitat as illegal. The Morabitat was a group of Muslim women hired by the Jordanian Waqf to scream curses and insults at the peaceful Jewish visitors to the Temple Mount, often inciting physical violence against the groups. These groups are no more. Furthermore, as the minister directly responsible for the police he has made certain that the Jordanian Waqf keep to their role as ‘custodians’ of the site instead of their curious role as xenophobic draconian religious police. There is certainly much work left to be done but there is no doubt that Erdan improved the quality of the experience of Jews and tourists alike who peacefully visit the site and that he made it safer and more inviting. Erdan took pride in his contributions and even gave them mention in his official exit speech this week after being promoted to the position of Israeli Ambassador to the UN.
Much of the Temple Mount community was elated with the swearing in of Amir Ohana as Erdan’s replacement. The general consensus among these groups has been that what Erdan has started Ohana will continue. Ohana has been spotted multiple times on the Temple Mount. Each of these times he has come out with very positive statements regarding the importance of the Temple Mount in Israeli society and the need for positive change. In a video of one such visit from 2018 Ohana stated the following, “There is an awesome energy, a mythological energy to symbols. The Land of Israel is a symbol. It was able to bring my grandmother from Morocco, Jews from Yemen to here and not to any place else… We cannot permit ourselves to relinquish our symbols, and of course not the Temple Mount which is the crown.”
To me that is exactly right. The Temple Mount is the crown. It has all the beauty and majesty of a crown and I am caught wondrously off guard by that experience every time I go up. And if the heart of Jerusalem is a crown that would make Yom Yerushalayim the Day of the Crown. Although I ask myself during this Day of the Crown what is the place of the Temple Mount in Jewish and Israeli society, I know that the future looks bright. I see the shift in destiny’s tide. And I feel how those historical forces and prophetic echoes harmonize. And I am grateful.