The holiest day of the Jewish year is Yom Kippur, which begins on Wednesday at sunset. The holiest place in the Jewish world is the Temple Mount, located in Jerusalem.
The restriction of everything except Islamic prayer on the Temple Mount arose out of overriding practical concerns.
In ancient times, the Holy Temple on top of the mount featured prominently in the celebration of the holiday, as it did in other Jewish holidays. According to rabbinic tradition, this holy place of holy places was located where Abraham bound his son Isaac to offer him to God before God ordered him to sacrifice a ram, specifying that Judaism forbids human sacrifices.
Even after the temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE, the place remained the holiest in Judaism. Over the millennia, when the site was occupied by pagans, Christians and Muslims, Jews around the world continued to face it during prayer (as do Muslims towards Mecca).
And yet, now that Israel controls this most sacred property, Jews are prohibited from praying there, just as Muslims can. The closest place where Jews are allowed to gather for prayer is along the Western Wall, the Herodian-era retaining wall surrounding the Temple Mount. Every year, thousands of Jews pray there instead on Yom Kippur.
From a purely reasonable standpoint, unfortunately a rarity in the Middle East, a ban on praying at a religious site – let alone Jews praying at the holiest place of their faith – is nonsense. And yet, it is the one that aides to Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, the first Orthodox Jew to hold the post, had to reiterate this summer after comments he made suggesting that “freedom of worship” was allowed to people. Jews on the Temple Mount. The audience clarified that Jews are only allowed to visit the Temple Mount, not to pray.
Yet the restriction of everything except Islamic prayer on the Temple Mount arose out of overriding practical concerns. Muslims had exclusively controlled the site after wresting it from the Crusaders hundreds of years ago, and it is now home to two monumental Islamic buildings, the Dome of the Rock Shrine and the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Muslims believe Muhammed ascended to heaven from there.
When the Temple Mount was captured along with the rest of Jerusalem by Israel in 1967 during the Six Day War, the Israeli government handed administrative control of the site to the Jordan-based Islamic trust known as the Waqf. Israel said that according to the long-standing status quo that had prevailed until then, only Muslim worship would be allowed on the Temple Mount. Changing the religious character of the place, according to Israel in 1967, would be a blatant affront. to the Muslim world. Thus, for more than half a century, only Islamic worship has been allowed in order to maintain peace.
For Jews, pushing the envelope of prayer on the Temple Mount in front of Muslims who are regularly present on the site is a provocation without justification. And it is a gift for Muslim extremists around the world who hate Israel and seek out every event, no matter how small, that they can present as insulting or abusive.
Yet some Jews insist on claiming the right to pray over this powder keg. During a recent visit to the Temple Mount, a supporter of Jewish prayer had to be guarded by six armed Israeli policemen. Mosque officials and passers-by filmed him and posted the videos on social media, resulting, as expected, in a medley of vitriol and threats on social media.
Personally, as a Haredi Jew (often described as “ultra-Orthodox,” a creaky description), I believe that Jews today are prohibited by religious law from ascending the Temple Mount, as it has been. was the consensus of the great rabbis of Israel. It is forbidden to stand on this sacred ground until the Holy Temple is rebuilt, which can only happen with the arrival of the Messiah.
To overcome this religious ban, Jewish visitors to the Temple Mount today often claim to follow minority views on Jewish law. Some may in fact be motivated entirely by religious feelings, by their souls languishing from saying Hebrew prayers where they were offered daily thousands of years ago. But many seem motivated more by nationalistic sentiments than religious ones, by a desire to demonstrate Israel’s ultimate jurisdiction over the Temple Mount. To them, it does not seem dissuasive that they must be accompanied by a large number of Israeli police officers to find solace in the cult.
Yet it is only God who can herald a new era in history when, in the words of Isaiah, “a wolf and a lamb shall graze together,” when world peace reigns. In the meantime, we are enjoined not to goad or incite other peoples or religions.
Israel’s loyalty to its decision in 1967 not to change the character of the Temple Mount shows sensitivity and wisdom. Attempts by the nationalists to assert themselves on the Temple Mount show neither. Instead, they should join the Jews at the Western Wall, as well as Jews around the world, who will offer heartfelt prayers on Yom Kippur for the arrival of ultimate and permanent peace.