Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court Judge Bilha Yahalom on Wednesday revoked a restraining order that was handed to a Jew who prayed on the Temple Mount, and confirmed that it is permissible for Jews to pray quietly in the holiest Jewish site, Israel Hayom reported (תקדים: ביהמ”ש אישר קיום תפילה יהודית בהר הבית). This constitutes the first explicit legal decision allowing Jews to pray quietly inside the Temple Mount compound.
According to the group Yera’eh that promotes Jewish ascent to the Temple Mount, a record number of Jewish worshipers prayed on the Temple Mount in the summer: 4,239 Jews conducted prayer there during the month of Av, 5780. This is a jump of 76% compared to the same month in 5779 during which 2,759 Jews prayed on the Temple Mount.
Last Yom Kippur, a policeman approached Rabbi Aryeh Lipo, a frequent and well-known visitor to the Temple Mount, who was quietly praying and ordered him to leave the place because he was praying. Rabbi Lipo was promptly yanked from the site for allegedly violating the rules there. Rabbi Lipo petitioned the court, claiming that he had not done anything wrong and that Jewish prayers had been conducted on the Temple Mount regularly.
The Magistrate’s Court accepted Rabbi Lipo’s appeal and ruled that Jews were indeed allowed to pray quietly on the Temple Mount.
“The appellant is on the Temple Mount on a daily basis and is familiar with the accepted procedures at the place, and indeed admits that he prayed there,” Judge Yahalom wrote in her ruling. “In this sense, it is clear why the respondent (Israel Police – DI) is apprehensive and why it ordered the removal. On the other hand, it is precisely his daily arrival at the Temple Mount that indicates that this is a matter of principle and substance for him.”
“The video I reviewed shows that the appellant was standing in a corner with a friend or two next to him, there’s no crowd around him, his prayer was silent, a whisper,” the Judge continued. “On the face of it, I did not find that external and visible signs of religious activity were carried out by the appellant,” she clarified.
“The respondent does not dispute that the appellant, like many others, prays on a daily basis on the Temple Mount, and this activity in itself does not violate police instructions,” Judge Yahalom added.
That last sentence is crucial because it is a legal confirmation of what has been taking place regularly lately on the Temple Mount, where for the first time—in contrast to the status quo for many years—Jews pray quietly in groups, including the repetition of the Shatz and Kadish, very close to where our Holy Temple once stood. Wednesday morning’s ruling is a seal of approval to what until now has been an unofficially approved conduct, with police turning a blind eye.
Indeed, when after Tisha B’Av, on July 19 this year, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett thanked Minister of Internal Security Omer Barlev and Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai for their excellent management of the ascent of the Jews to the Temple Mount on the occasion of the fast day, stressing in a statement that was distributed in Arabic that freedom of worship on the Temple Mount would be fully preserved for Muslims as well – all hell broke loose.
Bennett’s own Minister for Regional Cooperation, Issawi Frej, announced at the beginning of that week’s cabinet meeting that he objects to Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount. Mind you, Frej is a far-left socialist and not a frequent visitor at his local mosque, but still insisted: “I support the prayer of every person everywhere, but the Temple Mount has a status quo and should be respected. Period.”
And Minister Barlev, another socialist in the Bennett government, announced: “If Jews pray on the Temple Mount – it is clearly against the law. In the past, too, there were Jews who ascended the Temple Mount under the guise of touring and praying. It is against the law.”
Well, as Judge Yahalom, who probably bought herself a nice seat in Heaven Wednesday morning, clarified: the minister was wrong. There is no law against Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount, there’s a 54-year history of contradictory orders by a long list of governments that, after all, is said and done, try to mitigate a situation whereby a hundred thousand Arabs are ready, willing, and able to storm the Temple Mount with judgment day violence should their ownership of the compound be put in question by a few Jews ready who pray silently in a corner.
Nevertheless, the Islamic Movement’s Ra’am party announced in July: “The Al-Aqsa Mosque (which is how Muslims refer these days to the Temple Mount – they used to call it Bait al-Maqdis-literally Beit Hamikdash, the Hebrew name of the Holy Temple – DI) is an exclusive right of Muslims and no one else has any right to it.”
So the prime minister’s office issued a clarification in July saying that Bennett meant that Jews were allowed to visit the Temple Mount but not pray there – he chose the wrong words, the anonymous official source explained.
The Temple Mount Organizations welcomed Wednesday’s ruling, and its activist Assaf Fried said “Israel’s return to the Temple Mount is an existing and intensifying fact. After the police, the court also recognizes this and gives its legal approval.”
Of course, no one can predict how the bombshell dear judge Yahalom has dropped would end: at a minimum, the Ra’am party could walk out of the Lapid-Bennett coalition if it doesn’t issue a law that fixes the loophole the judge carved out. But such a fix would effectively lose Prime Minister Naftali Bennett his last supporters in the Religious Zionist camp and be a career-ender. Thousands of Arab rioters could storm the compound, which would lead to its lockdown, making prayer there impossible for everyone. And the ruling could be appealed at the High Court of Justice, with Israel Police pointing to the rioters as a good reason to ban Jews from the mountain again. Because stopping Arab rioters just isn’t done.
Now, this is a fine issue over which Israel should go to another election: Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount. In a country where much, much less than one percent of the Jews ever set foot on Judaism’s holiest site.