“You don’t have to send delegations to Hungary to witness raw antisemitism.”
B’nai Brith Canada winded down its 10-day annual mission to Israel on Tuesday morning, May 28, with a visit to Har HaBayit – the Temple Mount, Judaism’s holiest site. Although the group had been made aware of the anti-Jewish intolerance at the Temple Mount – which remains under control of the Jordanian Waqf [Islamic trust] – they were shocked by the intensity of the antisemitism.
While waiting to be admitted, a Muslim guard began harassing the delegation, calling Frank Dimant, CEO of B’nai Brith Canada, chutzpan (insolent) and threatening to deny him entry. No one had provoked him. Several other visibly religious Jews were being treated harshly as well.
Upon entering, the Canadian women – all dressed modestly – were forced to buy unattractive shawls to cover up with. Then at least 50 Arab women, dressed in full hijab, began screaming “Allah Akhbar” repeatedly.
The Canadian tourists were warned not to move their lips in prayer, nor cry or show emotion as Jews. A Muslim Israeli policeman and an official of the Waqf followed the group closely throughout the visit, often forcing them to move quickly.
Rabbi Chaim Richman of the Temple Institute, who accompanied the Canadian group, often had to beg for just another moment to finish his sentence. Meanwhile, Muslim men, women and children were strolling freely; some of the youths were playing soccer on the holy site, which in some areas was strewn with garbage. While they could use any gate to enter and exit, the Jewish group could use one specific gate only.
Also evident were signs of desecration and destruction of Jewish artifacts.
“You don’t have to send delegations to Hungary to witness raw antisemitism,” said Dimant, “Jews are treated as second-class citizens in the Jewish state.”
Dimant, who led the mission together with Eric Bissell, president of B’nai Brith Canada, is also a delegate to the Global Forum on Antisemitism taking place this week in Jerusalem. “It’s ironic that the Forum is meeting in Jerusalem and will by design ignore this hatred in Jerusalem,” he said. “I doubt that any of the delegates will leave the conference hall to protest this antisemitic behavior in Israel’s capital, which is an ongoing problem.”
Visiting Har HaBayit is a “lesson in subjugation,” Rabbi Richman stated. “When they trash everything we have and we allow it, then we deserve what we get.”
Linda Olmert, executive director of Eretz Nehederet-Birthright for Israelis, joined the Canadian tour. She had made aliyah from Toronto decades ago.
“It is infuriating that Israel abdicated to the Muslim Waqf de facto dominion over our holiest site, the Temple Mount,” she declared. “It makes my blood boil that [Waqf officials] can and do make every effort to impose their misogynist, apartheid world view deliberately and particularly on Jewish groups. Did we really return to Israel to be told in our own land, on our holiest site, that we must not pray or cry? However the worst tragedy is that most of Israel is oblivious to this, and just does not care.”
Also, “can it really be that the Israeli media, which have made a major case of the Women of the Wall and their fight with the rabbinical institutions, keep silent about the fact that only a few meters away, on the far holier Temple Mount site, Jewish women are forced to pay for Palestinian plaid scarves to ensure covering from the tips of their toes to our heads?”
Nevertheless, “I see the cup as half full, as hundreds and hundreds of people, including yeshiva students, come once a month,” Rabbi Richman said. “There’s an awakening, although a bit too little and too late, because for generations Israelis were taught that we have no connection” to Temple Mount.
When the visit ended, a number of small boys – apparently on cue – pelted the Jews with stones.
B’nai Brith Canada will issue an official protest to Prime Minister Netanyahu and to the minister of Religious Affairs.
Each year, the mission visits cities in the disputed territories that are central to Jewish history, including Hebron, Beit-El, Ariel and Shilo. It’s an unusual itinerary for a mainstream North American Jewish organization. David Wilder, spokesperson for Hebron’s Jewish community, presented to Bissell a Certificate of Appreciation, and to Dimant a Certificate of Honorary Citizenship.
The Director of the international department of the Temple Institute, Rabbi Chaim Richman, joins Yishai. Together, they discuss the Iranian nuclear threat and how the Jewish People need to remain strong in the face of danger. Rabbi Richman speaks about the video that his organization recently produced and they end the segment by talking about reaching the tipping point within Israeli society and how it will shape the future.
Rabbi Chaim Richman, the director of the Temple Institute in Jerusalem, joins Yishai. Together, they discuss the creation of a video produced by the Temple Institute entitled “The Children Are Ready”. The video, which depicts the creation of a sandcastle model of the Third Temple by children, has become extremely popular on Youtube. They move on to talk about responses to the video from radical extremists and how there is no militant undertone given or intended in the video and end the segment by talking about how many Jews are scared of the Temple Mount and how the thought of a Third Temple is unsettling to many Jews.
As Tisha B’Av (the 9th of the Jewish month of Av) arrives, and with it, the mourning caused by the absence of the Holy Temple which would serve as the center of spiritual life for the Jewish people – and according to the tradition, all the nations of the world – a renewed outcry for “Temple consciousness” has arisen with a flurry of activity.
A swarm of petitions, plans for group ascensions to the Temple Mount, a new viral video, and a special conference on the issues surrounding Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount at the Knesset have heightened the intensity of the fight for Jewish rights at the holy site.
The Knesset on Thursday will host a conference entitled “Jewish Prayer on the Temple Mount: Jewish Law, Practice, and Vision”. Speakers will include Temple Institute founder Rabbi Yisrael Ariel, Rabbi Yehuda Glick, of The Movement for the Establishment of the Temple, Israeli Arab expert Dr. Mordechai Kedar, head of the Manhigut Yehudit faction of the Likud party Moshe Feiglin and Knesset MK Michael Ben-Ari.
Whether it is acceptable for a Jew to go up to the Temple Mount is a matter of hot religious debate. According to Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, one of the preeminent rabbis of the Religious Zionist movement and a popular and prolific author of books pertaining to Jewish life today, most of today’s Jewish law jurists have issued proclamations forbidding Jews from ascending to the site.
“For example, our Rabbi, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah, was not less idealistic, courageous and dedicated than those pushing to allow visits to the Temple Mount, and he spearheaded the entire settlement enterprise, and at the same time, he ruled that it was forbidden to touch the Temple Mount,” Rabbi Aviner said on his blog. He also noted that the Chief Rabbinate and the majority of Hareidi poskim (halachic authorities), reject Jewish entry to the Temple Mount. “One who says to stay away from the Temple Mount is not necessarily weak, and one who is passionate about going up is not necessarily strong,” Rabbi Aviner said.
Though private individuals and small groups of Jews do ascend to the Temple Mount in accordance with their beliefs about the place, the Chief Rabbinate has placed a sign at the entrance to the Mughrabi gate declaring the site off limits to Jews according to Jewish law.
The rabbis who say no to going up claim that the Torah scholars are not absolutely certain of where the permissible parts of the Temple Mount are, and therefore all Jews should not attempt to walk on any of the area. Failure to stick to the permitted parts of the Temple Mount by a Jew who is not sufficiently ritually pure would result in a serious breach of Jewish law and the defilement of the violated areas – effectively trampling on God’s honor.
Yet a steady stream of support for a renewed Jewish presence on the Temple Mount has grown since the liberation of the Old City of Jerusalem by Israeli paratroopers in the 1967 Six Day War. Advocates for Jewish rights on the site range from those in favor of allowing more Jewish inclusion at the site to those who want to begin work on a third Temple. They say that the site was always meant to serve as a place of Jewish communion with God, with or without a Temple, and that responsibility for rekindling Jewish prayer on that auspicious site – culminating with the erection of a third and final Temple – is the responsibility of the Jewish people today.
Advocates cite the works of the renowned Jewish commentator, the Rambam (Maimonides), who said that there are places Jews of lesser ritual purity can visit today. Additional and weighty support for Jewish religious activity on the Temple Mount comes from the halachic decree of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein – considered by many to be the greatest adjudicator of Jewish law in the last generation – who also said that it is acceptable for Jews to ascend to some areas of the Temple Mount.
His son-in-law and foremost pupil, Rabbi Moshe Dovid Tendler, has frequently and vocally advocated for Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount, and makes efforts to go up to the holy site every time he is in Israel.
“I think this is something that the [Chief Rabbinate] doesn’t seem to understand, that kedusha [holiness] is not emphasized by not going into a place of kedusha, but by going into a place of kedusha properly prepared,” Rabbi Tendler said in a video taken of a visit to the Temple Mount in 2009. “Kedusha is defined as how we behave toward kedusha. The idea of forbidding this area because it is an area of kedusha goes counter to what we know about man’s relationship to kedusha. Man’s relationship to kedusha is that because the place is [holy], we become more conscious of kedusha…” Rabbi Tendler defended the visitation of the site, when done so in a matter befitting the sanctity of the site.
“I started the petition as a way to help begin to break the silence over this ongoing modern tragedy,” said Yosef Rabin, who is a frequent Temple Mount visitor and former IDF soldier. “How can it be that in a Jewish State a Jewish government is banning Jewish worship in the holiest place on earth? We are ascending the Mount in accordance with the rulings of great sages of Israel including the Rambam, Radbaz, Rabbi Shlomo Goren, Rabbi Dov Lior, Rabbi Yisrael Ariel and many more! How can we allow a secular police force and government to persecute Torah observing Jews for following their Rabbinic leaders?”
“Secondly for those who are not religious, there is the issue of human rights,” Rabin said. “How can it be that a human being is arrested for the crime of prayer, in the very place that he feels is holy to him? Where is the international outrage or at least Jewish outrage?”
Though international outrage indeed does not seem to have surfaced, Jewish indignation abounds. The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) sent letters to the Prime Minister and other key government officials in February, decrying discriminatory treatment of Jews by Israeli police and Arab Waqf officials who were allowed to continue ruling the area in 1967, including special searches of Jews for ritual items, and the forbidding of Jews to sway, move lips, sing, or bow. ZOA Israel Office Director Jeff Daube decried the political reality in which human rights activists were unconcerned with Jewish rights in Jerusalem. “I wonder, where are all the progressive rights organizations when it comes to these abuses? You know, the same groups that cry ‘harassment!’ every time Palestinian Arabs wait in line at a checkpoint or undergo a security check by the IDF.”
“These are universal rights to freedom of assembly and freedom of religion that the UN Council on Human Rights should be advocating for.”
In a press release issued by the ZOA, a case of a Jew having his water confiscated so he could not make a blessing over it before drinking was reported, as well as cases of Jews being hit and arrested for suspected prayer. The press release argued that Jewish visitors should not be singled out for biased treatment, that Jews do not present a security threat on the Temple Mount, that suspending Jewish religious rights will not prevent Muslim violence from erupting from the Temple Mount, and that Israeli laws pertaining to freedom of religion are being broken by the current treatment.
“The current situation is outrageous. Israel must ensure freedom of prayer for Jewish people at our most holy place,” David Haivri, former head of the Temple Mount awareness organization Revava and current director of the Shomron Liason Office told the Jewish Press. “I personally have been arrested and banned from visiting the Temple Mount because I dared to bow down in prayer there. This is unacceptable in any country that considers itself a democracy and sure not fitting in the Jewish state which takes pride in protecting religious freedom for all religions but neglects the most basic needs of its Jewish majority.”
Laws pertaining to the treatment of antiquities have also presented a concern for those interested in Jewish sovereignty over the Temple Mount. A petition to Stop the Desecration of the Temple Mount has been issued by the British Israel Coalition calling to halt the illegal renovation work on the Dome of the Rock which houses the Foundation Stone, as well as Waqf’s (Muslim religious authority) digging underneath the Temple Mount.
Rabbi Richman, International Director of the Temple Institute, urged Jews to internalize the need for connecting to the Temple this Tisha B’Av.
“Jewish people are so conditioned to their pain, they have become attached to their pain. It’s much easier to mourn than to get off the floor and do something about it,” Rabbi Richman said. This is the lobotomization of the exile which has made us think differently about the essence of the Torah – God has already come and given us the state of Israel on a silver plate. How can we mourn on Tisha b’Av as if nothing has changed? We’re not in the Lodz ghetto anymore.”
“To say to Hashem, ‘Please, please come back to us’ – he did, hello! To ask Hashem to rebuild the Temple is not Jewish, it’s Christian. If you want to build the Temple, do it.” Under his direction, the Temple Institute recently released a video illustrating the readiness of the youngest Jewish generation for the Temple. At over 190,000 hits in 6 days, the message is attracting attention.
“If you want a Tisha b’Av experience, it’s about going to the place of the Mikdash [Temple] and showing with your feet and with your body that you’ve had enough,” said Rabbi Richman. “We’re supposed to say I’m sick of mourning, I don’t want to do this anymore – how could we be treating the area of the Temple like a dead body? It’s not a dead body, it’s up to us to bring it to life.”
Rabbi Richman also condemned law enforcement authorities for indefinitely banning Rabbi Ariel, who was one of the paratroopers who liberated the Temple Mount in 1967, for conducting himself in a manner “not in compliance with the law.” “He’s accused of committing the crime of thanking the Almighty for giving us the mount on that day – in the meantime, the Waqf destroys the remnants – and that isn’t a crime?”
Politics and media aside, supporters of “Temple consciousness” are also working to change previously held halachic beliefs about the Jewish relationship to the Temple Mount.
“I have come to the conclusion that no learned and objective examination of Torah sources could possibly lead to forbidding entry to the mount on halachic grounds,” said Yoel Keren, Director of the Biblical Research and Exploration Institute of Israel.
“Anyone who has spent any significant amount of time researching the subject of the Temple Mount knows that today we can be absolutely certain of the location of the Second Temple, the units of measure used in its construction and the boundaries of all forbidden areas. The evidence is so overwhelming and compelling that I would have to conclude that anyone who disputes it is doing so for political reasons or a lack of research.”
“Above sacrifices and libations, above incense and show-bread, above all else, the Almighty set aside that mountain as a place of prayer,” Keren said. “The house that stood there, that will soon stand there again, is above all else, a house of prayer for all peoples.”
This year, as Israel observes the traditional period of national mourning for the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash on Tisha B’Av, it has again been revealed that the Islamic Waqf is carrying out unsupervised work at the Temple Mount, potentially causing irrevocable damage to Judaism’s holiest site.
Of all the unsolved questions surrounding Jerusalem’s biblical past, this modern mystery seems to present the greatest riddle: How is it that in Israel, a country home to priceless archeological treasures that are safeguarded by a governmental Antiquities Authority known for its sweeping powers and far-reaching control, archeological crimes are regularly and systematically committed with impunity by serial offenders whose identity is known to the police?
The crimes, perpetrated in broad daylight in the national homeland of the Jewish people, inflict irreparable damage to the very core of the Jewish people’s identity. The Temple Mount, one of the most significant ancient sites in the world, has somehow acquired a sort of legal extraterrestrial status, with a sort of perverse diplomatic immunity wielded by the Islamic Waqf that controls it.
The Israeli attorney general again has reiterated that the Temple Mount is under Israeli sovereignty. But, he added, authorities must be “extra sensitive” in applying Israeli law to the site and any time authorities need to “test the application of law in the Temple Mount complex, they should be pragmatic and take the area’s unique status into consideration.”
No matter what boastful pronouncements are uttered and repeated about Israeli law and Israeli sovereignty, the Mount for all practice and purpose remains outside the range of both Israeli supervision – and Israeli responsibility. From whom do orders concerning the Temple Mount emanate? The blame for this outrageous state of affairs is shamelessly shifted and shunted from one bureaucrat to the other.
Infrastructure work is currently being carried out within the Dome of the Rock at the very heart of the Temple Mount – the Foundation Stone. The Torah teaches that this spot is the very center of creation, from which the universe was founded, hence its name.
It was upon this stone that the Ark of the Covenant rested within the Holy of Holies in Solomon’s Temple, into which chamber only the high priest ventured once a year, on the Day of Atonement. But today it is far from being inviolate. Several weeks ago, when revelations of the current work first came to light in the Hebrew press, the news was accompanied by photographs of scaffolding, tools and debris resting on the sacred Foundation Stone itself.
A group of concerned Israelis filed a complaint with the Israel Police commissioner. The police responded by admitting that they were aware the Waqf had begun work at the Dome of the Rock more than six years ago, adding that the actions “were being performed with the approval of the Israel Antiquities Authority and under its supervision.”
Unfortunately, this response merely demonstrates the nebulous, tempestuous relationship of the Israel Police to affairs on the Temple Mount – as well as their ambivalence. It has come to light that the IAA completely denies either approving or supervising these works on the Mount.
In the 1967 Six-Day War, Jerusalem again became a united city, and its sovereignty over the Old City returned to Israel. During the war – on June 7, 1967 to be precise – then-Prime Minister Levi Eshkol declared “no harm whatsoever shall come to the places sacred to all religions.” The Knesset passed the Preservation of the Holy Places Law, protecting the Holy Places against desecration and guaranteeing freedom of access to all.
In return for obeying the law, Israel agreed to leave the administration of the site in the hands of the Waqf. Since then, every Israeli president and prime minister in succession has pledged the government’s total commitment to Israel’s holiest site, the Temple Mount, site of the First and Second Temple – and the location of the future Temple, according to every prophet of Israel.
As mind boggling and ludicrous as it seems, in recent years the Waqf has denied any non-Muslim connection to the site. The Waqf’s agenda is the final status of Jerusalem; to advance this cause, all physical evidence of the historical Jewish connection to the Temple Mount is a liability.
The study of Jewish history teaches us that throughout the ages, numerous edicts and decrees have prevented the practice of Jewish traditions and religious observance.
The Romans curtailed Jewish worship in the Land of Israel and ultimately destroyed the Holy Temple; the Greeks sought to outlaw the learning of Torah, and throughout the Middle Ages, Jewish rights and freedoms were revoked at will by Europe’s Christian rulers.
Yet it has gone almost completely unnoticed that in recent weeks, Jewish rights and freedoms in the Land of Israel, of all places, have once again come under attack.
A statement issued by the religious authorities called for Jews to refrain from visiting their holiest site – the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Shockingly, these were not the orders of the Islamic imams, nor were they the politically driven legislation of some official at the United Nations.
These instructions emanated from the chief rabbis of Israel, and several other rabbinical figures.
It is a sad reality that the laws of the Holy Temple and their practical study remain greatly misunderstood, neglected, and practically taboo, even within the study halls of many religious Jewish communities.
Over a third of the Torah’s commandments, and one and a half of the Five Books of Moses, deal exclusively with the Holy Temple and its daily service, yet this crucial artery in the heart of Torah learning is sidelined by those who, for whatever reason, see these laws as irrelevant or not for our time.
Indeed, the impression created by the proclamation of this “prohibition” is that the Torah is against Jews ascending to the Temple Mount.
Nothing can be farther from the truth. No less a universally recognized Torah authority than Maimonides himself declared visiting the Temple Mount as an aspect of the positive commandment to show reverence for the Temple – a commandment he himself fulfilled, as he wrote:
I entered into the great and holy house and prayed there on the sixth of Cheshvan (in the year 1164)…and I vowed an oath, that I will always celebrate this day as a personal festival, to be marked by prayer and rejoicing in God, and by a festive meal.
This is just one of many sources that indicate a long tradition of Jewish visits to the mount, long after the destruction of the Holy Temple and long before Jews were ever seen praying at the Western Wall.
From Rabbi Akiva to Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, the Torah sources are accessible – if one cares to look for them. No proclamation can change this, and no rabbi or group of rabbis, regardless of station, have the authority to uproot such a principle.
It is true that ascending the Temple Mount in purity, in full accordance with halacha, requires understanding, forethought and preparation – but it is quite doable. With proper study and proper preparations one can visit this holy site in order to fulfill the commandment of morah mikdash without trespassing on the sacred areas.
Like other matters of complex Torah knowledge, the subject of the Temple Mount is an area in which one must have expertise before issuing a judgment.
To issue a blanket statement that a prohibition exists against Jews visiting the Temple Mount is misleading and inaccurate, and does a serious injustice to the many religious Jews – great rabbis and roshei yeshiva among them – who ascend the Mount today in strict accordance with all the requirements of Jewish law.
The Temple Institute, established over 25 years ago, has long stood at the forefront of Temple research and scholarship. The institute is dedicated to rekindling the flame of the knowledge and awareness of the centrality and importance of the both the Temple Mount and the Holy Temple, in the life of the Jewish people as well as for all humanity.
The institute has recreated more than sixty genuine sacred vessels, kosher according to Jewish law, for use in the Holy Temple. These include the half-ton gold menorah and the garments of the high priest according to precise halachic requirements. All of this has been undertaken because it is a religious requirement, just like eating matzah on Passover.
This Sunday, March 25, thousands of supporters worldwide will join with the Temple Institute to mark the third annual International Temple Mount Awareness Day with a six hour live-stream Internet video broadcast celebrating and exploring the centrality of the Temple in Jewish life.
After two thousand years of longing to return to the holy site, surely it is time to embrace it.
Rabbi Chaim Richman is director of the International Department of the Temple Institute.