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Rabbi’s Visit Stirs Temple Mount Debate

JERUSALEM – The recent visit by a prominent U.S. rabbi to the Temple Mount – Judaism’s most revered site – stirring anew a quiet debate among some within the Jewish religious community about whether Jews should be permitted to enter the mount.

Some rabbis who forbid Jewish entry may indirectly contribute to the current Islamic consolidation of the site, argued Rabbi Moshe Dovid Tendler, a Jewish law and ethics professor and top rabbinic scholar.

“The reality is that slowly the area has become without Jews. The claim of the Arabs that it belongs to them is being affirmed by our absence,” Rabbi Tendler told The Jewish Press.

A video of Tendler visiting the Temple Mount in January was released last week on YouTube by the Temple Institute, a nonprofit organization promoting awareness of the mount.

The video sparked some controversy within the Orthodox Jewish community, where some rabbis forbid Jews to go up to the mount until the Third Temple is built.

Many contemporary rabbinic authorities permit entry to the outer areas of the mount, which can be measured by a change in the kind of foundation stone. According to Jewish law, the sanctity of the Temple Mount is structured in concentric circles. In the innermost circles, where the Holy of Holies was said to be located, the restrictions of access are the greatest.

Tendler, who is a professor and rabbi at Yeshiva University in New York, said the exact locations of the restricted areas are well-known. He asserted that establishing proper Orthodox Jewish tours of the Temple Mount would help those who currently ascend the mount from violating Jewish law.

“The rabbinic ban has not been working. We know how to visit the [mount] properly. As of now, secular tour guides take people where they should not to go; they have become a negative force. We need to correct this.”

Most rabbis who ban Jewish visits justify their decree by claiming Jewish ascent may violate the sanctity of the mount.

Tendler countered: “[Holiness] is not emphasized by not going into a place of [holiness], but by going into a place of [holiness] properly prepared.”

“The idea of forbidding this area because it’s an area of [holiness] is counter to what we know about man’s relationship with [holiness]. Holiness comes from man’s behavior. The holiness of [the Temple Mount] comes from all the [holiness] of the [Jewish nation]…. If we come and pray here, we make the place holy,” Tendler added.

In the 1970′s, Israel’s Chief Rabbinate ruled it was forbidden to enter any part of the mount. Followers of Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook, one of the founders of the religious Zionist movement, opposed the ban. In the past few years, more and more rabbis have ruled that visiting the mount is permissible.

Some have argued that the rabbis who forbid Jewish entry to the area may indirectly contribute to the current Islamic consolidation of the site.

Israel recaptured the Temple Mount during the 1967 Six Day War. Currently under Israeli control, Jews and Christians are barred from praying on the mount.

The Temple Mount was opened to the general public until September 2000 when the Palestinians started the second intifada by throwing stones at Jewish worshipers after then-prime minister candidate Ariel Sharon visited the area.

Following the onset of violence, the Sharon government closed the mount to non-Muslims, using checkpoints to control all pedestrian traffic, fearing further clashes with the Palestinians.

The Temple Mount was reopened to non-Muslims in August 2003. It still is open but only Sundays through Thursdays, 7:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. The mount is closed on Christian, Jewish and Muslim holidays and any other day considered “sensitive” by the Waqf.

During “open” days, Jews and Christian are allowed to ascend the mount, usually through organized tours and only if they conform first to a strict set of guidelines, which includes demands that they not pray or bring any “holy objects” to the site.

Visitors are banned from entering any of the mosques without direct Waqf permission. Rules are enforced by Waqf agents, who watch tours closely and alert nearby Israeli police violations of the guidelines.

King Solomon built the First Temple in the tenth century BCE. The Babylonians destroyed it in 586 BCE. The Jews built the Second Temple 70 years later after Jerusalem was freed from Babylonian captivity. The Romans destroyed the Second Temple in 70 CE.

The Temple Mount has remained a focal point for Jewish services for thousands of years. Prayers for returning to Jerusalem and rebuilding the Jewish Temple have been uttered three times daily by Jews since the destruction of the Second Temple.

Muslims constructed the al Aqsa Mosque around 709 CE to serve as a place of worship near a famous shrine, the gleaming Dome of the Rock, built by an Islamic caliph.

About one hundred years ago, Muslim scholars began to associate al Aqsa in Jerusalem with the place from which they believed Muhammad ascended to heaven.

About the Author: Aaron Klein is a New York Times bestselling author and senior reporter for WND.com. He is also host of an investigative radio program on New York's 970 AM Radio on Sundays from 7 to 9 p.m. Eastern. His website is KleinOnline.com.


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