“Last Thursday I had an exciting experience: praying Mincha in a minyan on the Temple Mount,” writes Haggai Hoberman, editor of the weekly freebie magazine Matzav Ha’Ruach who was the last night editor of HaTzofe, the daily newspaper of the National Religious party that gave up the ghost in 2007. Hoberman represents the center of the National Religious community in Israel, although his right-wing mainstream credentials have been questioned after he had thrown his unabashed support behind Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett. In any event, when Hoberman talks, he still represents a century-plus of the Mizrachi movement.
Which is why it is practically earth-shattering that Hoberman decided to devote the cover article of Matzav Ha’Ruach, to be available in every Orthodox shul in Israel this Shabbat, to declare with exuberant glee that he experienced “Mincha prayer in a minyan with the repetition of the Shatz, with a Kdusha recitation and saying ‘Amen’ on the Kaddish.”
Hoberman recalled the first time he had ascended to the Temple Mount when it was reopened to Jews exactly 18 years ago, in August 2003. His group was accompanied all the way by a Muslim Waqf agent, and when this agent noticed that the lips of one member of the Jewish group were silently chanting some verse, he shouted, Hada salli! Hada salli! – He’s praying! He’s praying! and the policeman who also accompanied the group hurried over to grab that man’s elbow and lead him away in disgrace.
“What a different feeling it was last week, as we stood facing the site of the Temple and prayed openly in a minyan, with the cops watching that no one disturbed us,” Hoberman rejoiced in his report. He also mentioned that according to third-generation Temple Mount activist Haim Elboim, when a tenth man is missing, one of the policemen completes the minyan.
“We’ve often heard that ‘the law forbids the prayer of Jews on the Temple Mount – but there’s no such law in the Israeli books,” explained Hoberman. “On the contrary – the law expressly forbids such a prohibition. According to the law, it is forbidden to prevent any person from worshiping in his holy place, and the Temple Mount is the holiest place for the Jewish people. That’s why, whenever the police arrested Jews for praying on the Temple Mount, the court released them immediately.”
The police always cited its concern that Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount would generate a violent response from the local Arabs, which would harm public order. It’s typical police thinking: wherever there’s a danger to the life of a peaceful individual from murderous thugs, arrest the peaceful individual.
This was the case “until Internal Security Minister Gilad Ardan (Likud) decided to challenge the police on the issue of ‘public order’ and ordered them not to interfere with the prayers of Jews,” Hoberman gave credit where credit is due. “And lo and behold, a miracle from heaven: Jews pray and the public order is not violated,” the veteran journalist remarked, in a tone reminiscent of a restaurant review: “The cops were efficient and excellent. There was no long queue at the entrance. There were no unnecessary delays. Everything was done with ease and in good spirits.”
Hoberman conceded that “truth be told, this is not yet the ideal situation. The prayer is not said out loud. Shacharit prayers are not possible because the authorities don’t allow wrapping in a tallit and putting on tefillin.” But his report is exciting because the norms have changed on the part of the Israeli government – both under PM Benjamin Netanyahu and PM Naftali Bennett.
Now the only thing missing are hundreds of thousands of Jews who would give one last kiss to the ancient stones of the supporting wall of the Temple Mount, a.k.a. the Holy Kotel, and crowd up the entrance to the real thing, our Holy Temple, where our Divine Father has been waiting for His returning children since Tisha B’Av of the year 70 (that’s 3830 to you and me).