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.