The False Claim of Har Habayit B’Yadenu: Even Rabbi Akiva Would Cry

Every Yom Yerushalayim, I play a clip of the famous Israeli Army Radio broadcast on day three of the Six Day War, “Har Habayit B’Yadenu, Har Habayit B’Yadenu” – “the Temple Mount is in our hands, the Temple Mount is in our hands.” That clip always gives me goosebumps no matter how many times I hear it. But now, during the Nine Days, and especially in the aftermath of the terror attack on the Temple Mount, I realize just how false that claim really is.  When we are attacked on Har Habayit and forced to install metal detectors to protect ourselves, is Har Habayit really B’Yadenu? When riots break out deriding our right to those metal detectors, can we honestly say that Har Habayit is in our hands?  When a “day of rage” is announced after we compromised and removed metal detectors in favor of high tech security cameras, can we honestly say that Har Habayit is in our hands?  And when Muslims can pray freely on Har Habayit but a Jew cannot because it’s an “affront” to the Muslims, can we honestly say Har Habayit B’Yadenu?

I am reminded of a comment by the Maharsha on the famous gemara at the end of Masechet Makkot.  The Gemara tells us a story of Rabbi Akiva, the eternal optimist, walking in Jerusalem with several other Rabbis. When they reached Har Habayit, they saw a fox emerge from the Kodesh Hakodoshim, the Holy of Holies.  All the other Rabbis cried at this sight, while Rabbi Akiva laughed.  Why did they cry?  The Maharsha explains that they all cried because the Har Habayit was so desolate that not even a person could live there – wild animals were prancing around this holy site!  On the contrary, Rabbi Akiva’s response was that, thank God, the land is so utterly desolate that foxes prance around. Rabbi Akiva reasoned that it was better to have no human beings on this site than have pagans engaged in foreign worship there. I wonder, what would Rabbi Akiva say if he was alive today, when, indeed, foreign worship persists at the Temple Mount and Jewish prayer cannot!  Wouldn’t he cry, as well?

Look at the outrage that takes place when a woman wants to wear tefillin or read from the Torah at the Kotel, and contrast that to the lack out of outrage when none of us can pray at the Har Habayit.  Indeed, there is a major religious debate about ascending the Har Habayit nowadays, and I personally struggle with this issue for a number of reasons. Nevertheless, it pains me that there is no freedom for Jews to pray on Har Habayit for those who believe that one may ascend the Temple Mount.  And what should pain us is not simply that we don’t have real control of Har Habayit, but that so many of us don’t really care.  It simply doesn’t bother us.  Instead, many of us proudly assert how wonderful Israel is that it allows free peaceful exercise of religion to all faiths in Jerusalem. While this is a noble value in theory, in reality it is a concession to the halachic reality in Israel, and specifically in Jerusalem and on the Temple Mount.  Even if one believes that it is a necessary concession given the political reality of the day, it is not something that we should mistake for the halachic ideal. During the Nine Days and during Tisha B’Av it should be our fervent hope that Har Habayit will truly be “b’yadneu” soon.  May it be our prayer today that our prayers tomorrow will be uttered on Har Habayit in peace and security.

About the Author
Jonathan Muskat is the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Oceanside.
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