Sharona Margolin Halickman

Two Jews, Three Opinions

In Parshat Chayei Sarah we read about Avraham buying Maarat HaMachpela (The Cave of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs) in Chevron.

DSCN2712Why did Avraham need to buy land to bury Sarah (and eventually the other patriarchs and matriarchs) when God promised Avraham that the entire land would be his?

Rabbi Yudan bar Simon in Breisheet Raba 79:7 comments: This is one of the three places about which the nations of the world cannot taunt Israel saying these are stolen lands: Maarat HaMachpela, Har HaBayit (Temple Mount) and Shechem (the burial place of Joseph). We see the purchase of Maarat HaMachpela in Breisheet 23:16 “And Avraham weighed to Ephron the silver”. The purchase of the Temple Mount is recounted in Divrei HaYamim I 21:25 “So David gave to Ornan for the place 600 shekels of gold by weight”. The purchase of Shechem is detailed in Breisheet 33:19 “And Jacob bought the parcel of ground, where he had spread his tent, at the hand of the children of Chamor, Shechem’s father for 100 keshita (pieces of money).”

Midrash HaGadol explains that we can learn about Avraham’s humility from the story of Avraham’s purchase of Maarat HaMachpela. Even though God promised him the entire land, the only suitable burial place that he found was expensive yet he paid for it and did not complain in order to make sure that the plot would remain his.

King David purchased the Temple Mount just as Avraham purchased Maarat HaMachpela. King David probably could have taken any piece of land that he wanted, yet he purchased the land which at the time was a threshing floor so that his son King Solomon would be able to build the Beit HaMikdash (Temple) there without any problems. We learn from here that the Temple Mount belongs to the Jewish people whether the Temple is standing there or not.

There are different opinions as to the state of holiness of the Temple Mount (Har HaBayit) in our times. Some Rabbis maintain that the Divine Presence rests there just as it did while the Temple stood there, others do not. Some have the opinion that nobody should ascend the Temple Mount while others feel that with the proper spiritual precautions (immersion in a mikva, not wearing leather shoes and only walking in certain areas) Jews may go up.

As the saying goes, two Jews three opinions.

That being said, I was very disappointed to find two signs outside of the Temple Mount signed by the Chief Rabbinate stating that it is against Torah law for people to ascend the Temple Mount. For anyone familiar with Jewish law this is an extremely complex topic and can’t just be dismissed in one sentence. How do they explain the fact that Rabbi Akiva went up to the Temple Mount after the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash? What about Rabbi Shlomo Goren (former Ashkenasic Chief Rabbi) who ascended the Temple Mount many times after the Six Day War?

If the signs say in Hebrew that it is forbidden for every person (lechol adam) to go up then why are those words omitted on the English signs? Why are the Arabs permitted to be there? Why are non-Jewish tour groups welcome?

This past week, while speaking at a funeral of a seventeen year old boy who was killed in a terror attack while riding his bicycle near the light rail, the Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef stated that all of the problems that Israel is facing right now can be blamed on the Jews who have been ascending the Temple Mount. I hate to break it to him but Jews have been ascending the Temple Mount throughout the ages and in the Modern State of Israel since 1967.

On the other hand, Rabbi David Chai Cohen, Rosh Yeshiva of Netivot Shalom in Bat Yam says: “Non Jews should not be allowed on the Temple Mount and Jews should ascend the Temple Mount. The reason that the Arabs don’t want us to ascend is because they know that by Jews going up and praying we are staking claim to the Temple Mount. The Arabs don’t have a problem with their kids desecrating the holy site by playing soccer there. They also don’t have a problem with non Jewish tourists who are often dressed immodestly. It is unfathomable that non-Jews are telling us who can and can’t pray on the Temple Mount and that the government is going along with it. First we need to establish the fact that the Temple Mount belongs to the Jews. At that point if some rabbis decide that Jews should not go up that is their prerogative. The non Jews should not have more rights than us to the Temple Mount. The reason that they built their mosque there was because they knew that it was our holy place. They knew that the Temple stood there. They shouldn’t be the ones to hold us back.”

Avraham bought Maarat HaMachpela for his family and for most of history people of all religions have been able to pray there. King David bought the Temple Mount, the future site of the Beit HaMikdash, Judaism’s holiest site. It must be the decision of the Jewish people to allow members of other religions to visit and pray there. It certainly should not be decided by the Arabs that the Jews are not welcome.

About the Author
Sharona holds a BA in Judaic Studies from Stern College and an MS in Jewish Education from Azrieli Graduate School, Yeshiva University. Sharona was the first Congregational Intern and Madricha Ruchanit at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, NY. After making aliya in 2004, Sharona founded Torat Reva Yerushalayim, a non profit organization based in Jerusalem which provides Torah study groups for students of all ages and backgrounds.
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