Responding to questions of how Israel will handle recent violence by Palestinians on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said Israel “will not change” the status quo on the Temple Mount. “Muslims pray on the Temple Mount, non-Muslims can only visit. There is no change, and there will be no change.” The hallowed status quo must remain at all costs.
The argument for keeping the status quo on the Temple Mount was outlined in an op-ed in Haaretz, “Israel Must Stop Breaching the Status Quo on the Temple Mount.” The editorial argued, “The attempt to impose equality of all places on the only place where Muslims have some autonomy, a place that is both a religious and a national symbol for the Palestinians, constitutes needless provocation.” The op-ed goes on to argue that it is cynical and manipulative to demand that values, like freedom of worship, be upheld for Israelis by those who themselves do not uphold them for Palestinians.
Between the festivals of Passover and Shavuot Jews count the Omer for 49 nights. After reciting the blessing and counting, many Jews have the custom of reciting a short prayer, “May it be Your will that the Temple be rebuilt speedily in our days,” or “May the Merciful One restore the service of the Temple to its place, speedily in our days.” Our ancestors stood in the dark study halls of Poland and the cavernous synagogues of Iraq and recited this prayer in exile, dreaming of a return to Jerusalem and a rebuilt Third Temple. They would be perplexed by a third commonwealth of the Jewish people in control of Jerusalem but who refuse, on their own accord, to rebuild the Temple.
I imagine my ancestors chiding me, “Look at Exodus 25:8 where G-d wrote, ‘Build Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.’ They’d pull a volume of Maimonides’s Book of Mitzvot off my library shelf and point to his 20th mitzvah: ‘The 20th mitzvah is that we are commanded to build a Sanctuary to serve G-d. In it we offer sacrifices, burn the eternal flame, offer our prayers, and congregate for the festivals each year.’”
It is time to begin taking steps to rebuild the Temple on the Temple Mount. I am aware that taking such a position will lead many to call me extremist, irrational, a religious fanatic and playing with fire. I used to think the same way about people who advocated for building the Third Temple. In a recent Jerusalem Post op-ed, “When blood spills on Passover and Easter, it’s time to build the Temple,” Rabbi Tuly Weisz wrote that the biggest fear of Hamas and other Palestinian terror groups is that Jews will build the Temple. An appropriate response to the current wave of terror is to build the Temple. “On a national level, the rebuilding of the Temple would be a great humiliation to Palestinian terror groups,” Rabbi Weisz wrote. “For thousands of years, Jews have been praying for a return to the Land of Israel. Over the last century, we have miraculously been restored to our homeland from the four corners of the earth but are still awaiting the proper time to build the Temple. Judaism is incomplete without the Temple.”
In an essay titled, “Dayan’s Key Error,” Rabbi Chaim Ozer Chait wrote, “It is most shocking and appalling that after two thousand years of yearning and praying for the Beit HaMikdash, and only by the grace of G-d it was returned to the Jewish people, we, a Jewish nation, give it back! This is an outright rejection of G-d’s gift to the Jewish people.”
People will argue that rebuilding the Temple will bring war with the Muslim world and instigate Palestinian terror attacks. I don’t doubt the Muslim world will be angered by plans to build the Temple, but let’s be honest, Arab nations don’t have the power to hurt us – look around our neighborhood, no one has the power to attack Israel. Palestinians attempt three to six attacks a day, every day, already. Israel has gotten better at preventing attacks, and there’s no reason to fear a reality we’re already living in. Just as Israel can take steps to mitigate the damage of terrorism, it can also take steps to mitigate the diplomatic fallout of rebuilding the Temple.
Secular Jews who don’t regularly attend synagogue services don’t see the need to build a Temple at the risk of an international outcry and possible up-tick of violent terrorism. If not for the religious benefits, Israel should rebuild the Temple because if Israel doesn’t stand up for its rights on our own land, how can we face ourselves and our children? Where is our national pride? In addition, as the Haaretz editorial noted, “Jews who want to pray on the Temple Mount have one main argument, which liberal secular people are compelled to support: Freedom of worship is a basic principle of democracy.”
That same Haaretz editorial made an important point, “The right of Jews to also pray on the Temple Mount must come as part of a comprehensive agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. Prayers held on the sly, by means of creeping annexation, endanger the fragile quiet not only in Jerusalem but in the entire region.” I agree and extend the argument to building the Temple. The next steps towards building the Temple shouldn’t be unilateral, it should be done in conjunction with the Arab world.
In the midst of the latest violence on the Temple Mount, Jordanian Prime Minister Bisher al-Khasawneh addressed a session of the Jordanian parliament and hailed Palestinian rioters: “I salute every Palestinian, and all the employees of the Jordanian Islamic Waqf, who proudly stand like minarets, hurling their stones in a volley of clay at the Zionist sympathizers defiling the Al-Aqsa Mosque under the protection of the Israeli occupation government.”
In response to Jordanian praise of violence, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid held a meeting in his office, stating that “severe measures” should be taken. In my opinion, the first step should be to take custodial control of the Temple Mount away from Jordan and hand it to the UAE or Saudi Arabia in exchange for diplomatic ties. In instigating violence, Jordan has forfeited its privilege to manage the Temple Mount peacefully. Part of the transition of custodial power must include the understanding that Israel will begin rebuilding the Temple.
At the next United Nations General Assembly, Prime Minister Bennett should announce that Israel plans on moving the Golden Dome shrine but keeping the Al-Aqsa Mosque in its current location. Israel will begin construction on the Third Temple but keep its commitment to freedom of worship to Muslims and Christians on the Temple Mount. Just as Jews, Muslims and Christians share the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, so too will they share the Temple Mount. Prime Minister Bennett should stress the point that no democracy can justify prohibiting its own people from praying at its most sacred sight and there is no legitimate argument that can be made to justify such a position.
While the notion of rebuilding the Temple might seem fantastic to a generation that has been raised to think it impossible or a step that should be reserved for a Messianic era, it serves to remember the same was said about the Zionist dream of returning the Jewish people to Eretz Yisrael to create a Jewish state. Yet Zionists persisted and the “impossible State” was born. The time has come to do the same for the dream of the Third Temple.