Last week, in wake of the peace agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Israel’s Tourist Ministry released a half-minute video clip in Arabic to encourage tourism to Israel. Among the highlighted images on the clip was the Temple Mount.
Both Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and United States President Donald Trump have praised the agreement for affording residents of the United Arab Emirates the opportunity to visit holy Islamic sites in Israel, including the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount. This week, National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien said “Muslims who wish to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque will [now] be able to fly from Abu Dhabi to Tel Aviv where they will be welcomed.”
While the business and tourist industries in Israel have enthusiastically applauded the surprise agreement, Temple Mount activists have expressed concern, warning that the move could weaken Israel’s control over Judaism’s holiest site.
To learn more about this topic, The Jewish Press recently spoke with Rabbi Chaim Richman, director of the Temple Institute in Jerusalem for over 30 years and now director of Jerusalem Lights.
The Jewish Press: Is an expected flood of visitors from United Arab Emirates to the Temple Mount a manifestation of Isaiah’s famous prophesy that the nations of the world will one day flock to the Temple Mount to learn about the ways of Hashem?
While we certainly believe that the Temple Mount is already exerting great gravitational pull on all of mankind, the prophecy is not speaking about coming to Jerusalem to visit the Shrine of the Dome or the Al-Aqsa Mosque, but rather the Beit HaMikdash.
How would you describe the situation on Har HaBayit today?
Certainly, you can point to many outrages regarding the third-class status of Jews on the Temple Mount, but, by and large, we have come a long way from just a decade ago. Basically, we are able to pray – not in an ostentatious or demonstrative manner, but in an unobtrusive way. That is a very big change.
Through years of dedicated effort, Temple activists have put Har HaBayit on the map of public discourse. I also think the outgoing Minister of Internal Security, Gilad Erdan, deserves a lot of credit. Obviously, we have a good distance to go before we reach full redemption, but, for example, last week I davened Mincha on Har HaBayit with a minyan. Once upon a time, that was an impossible dream.
It wasn’t an outwardly fervent prayer, but we recited Shemoneh Esrei along with a muffled Kedushah while the police looked on without interfering.
Will this quiet progress be able to continue with busloads of UAE Arabs touring the Mount?
That’s the $100 billion question. I have definite reservations. Personally, I’m not looking forward to seeing UAE sheiks in flowing white gowns cruising around Jerusalem and Tel Aviv in big Rolls Royce cars and limousines.
Obviously the agreement has a very large [beneficial] economic component. But in terms of Israel’s real mission of bringing humanity closer to Hashem, I am not sure how this agreement will help us.
Is there any special connection between Rosh Hashanah and Har HaBayit?
The founder of the Temple Institute, Rav Yisrael Ariel, shlita, put out a wonderful Machzor HaMikdash for Rosh Hashanah. In the introductory commentary, he points out that shofar blowing in the Beit HaMikash was unique, with the shofar sounded between two trumpets whose blasts concluded first, as described in the Mishnah.
Rosh Hashanah marks the birth date of the world, which, according to our Sages, was formed from the foundation stone on Har HaBayit on the site of the Holy of Holies. Thus, one of the things we are called upon to remember on the Day of Remembrance is the place where our world began, and the place that life and history will one day reach its zenith with the rebuilding of the Beit HaMikdash.
We should also remember that all of mankind, which stands in judgment on Rosh Hashanah, had its beginning here on the Temple Mount with the creation of Adam HaRishon on Rosh Hashanah from the ground at the place of the altar. Just as he was judged on this day, so are we.
Interestingly, our Sages teach us that prayers from all over the world first congregate at the Temple Mount before ascending to the Heavenly Throne. The ladder to Hashem is situated right here, and this is why all eyes are turned to Har HaBayit. It’s the divine channel connecting our world with the world above.
In effect, if the channel becomes clogged during the year because of our sins, it is the blasts of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah in the Beit HaMikdash that clean the channel so that our prayers can ascend and activate Hashem’s mercy. He hears the calls of the ram’s horn and remembers the exalted miserut nefesh of Avraham and Yitzhak at the Akeidah on Har HaBayit, which took place on Rosh Hashanah.
The shofar recalls the ram that was ultimately offered as a sacrifice. Rav Ariel cites several midrashim that relate that the wailing sounds of the shofar remind us of Sarah’s sobbing when she learned what had transpired on Har HaBayit.
Do you see your new organization, Jerusalem Lights, as a continuation of your work at the Temple Institute?
Absolutely. The goal of Jerusalem Lights is to bring the light of Torah to the nations as expressed by the prophecy of Isaiah mentioned earlier. Today, there is a great thirst for the word of Hashem amongst the gentiles. I am not referring to Christian or evangelical communities.
Rather, there is a quickly expanding community of Bnei Noach who sincerely want to learn the pathways of Torah, often at considerable personal sacrifice. In addition, there are many other communities around the world – in Africa, India, Indonesia, Asia, and the Americas – who have a keen yearning to learn about the ways of Jacob. This is definitely a part of the vision of world redemption as pictured by the prophets of Israel….
At Jerusalem Lights, we try to provide clear answers to the hundreds of questions we receive every month, literally from the most faraway places on the globe. As the Rambam states (Laws of Kings, 8:10), the people of Israel are obligated to teach the entire world to accept Hashem’s sovereignty and to serve Him through the universal commandments – a reference to the ways of the Torah that are applicable to all non-Jews.