Photo Credit: Sraya Diamant/Flash90
MK Bezalel Smotrich (Religious Zionism) in Kdumim, where he studied in a local yeshiva until enlisting for a shortened stint in the IDF at age 28.

Outstanding IDF soldiers serving the Central Command were scheduled to be rewarded with a festive trip to Jerusalem in three weeks. In part of the event, in celebration of their excellent service, the soldiers were going to ascend to the Temple Mount. However, according to Kipa (סמוטריץ’ לחץ – צה”ל התקפל: הסיור בהר הבית בוטל), their visit was quashed by Religious Zionism Chairman MK Bezalel Smotrich, who last Thursday wrote IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi and the Chief Military Rabbi, Rabbi Eyal Krim, asking them to cancel the visit to the holiest Jewish site.

Here’s my translation of MK Smotrich’s letter:

It was brought to my attention that as part of a trip for outstanding soldiers conducted by the Commander of the Central Command on the occasion of Rosh Hashanah, there are plans for the outstanding soldiers to ascend the Temple Mount.
First I would like to point out that I am sure the organizers’ intention is for the good and that encouragement can certainly be drawn from the broad consensus that the Temple Mount has received in recent years in Israeli society. Temple Mount, the place of our temple, the Foundation Stone, the place upon which, according to Jewish tradition the world is founded, is the holiest place to the Jewish people. In recent years there has been a great influx to the Temple Mount and we are happy about any manifestation of Jewish sovereignty on the mountain.
However, precisely because of the sanctity of the place, according to Jewish law, one is forbidden to go there in a state of impurity under the penalty of Karet (which could mean premature death, boycott, or childlessness – DI). Ascent is not possible without careful halachic preparation. Therefore, the Chief Rabbinate forbids ascending to the Temple Mount.
It is with great pain at the desecration of the temple site under the temporary control of the Waqf, and in anticipation of the day when we will return to making the pilgrimages to the Temple in holiness and purity, I appeal to you to cancel the trip on the Temple Mount in its current format. The Temple Mount is not a place for a “trip” and it is not appropriate for the Israel Defense Forces to send its soldiers for a trip that’s contrary to the instructions of the Chief Rabbinate and cause them to violate a severe ban. What people do on their own is their business – not so regarding a trip organized by a state entity like the military.
Also, this tour will necessarily exclude religious soldiers who are careful not to ascend the Temple Mount following the ruling of the Chief Rabbinate, and of course, such exclusion is also inappropriate.
I shall be grateful for your urgent response,
MK Bezalel Smotrich
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Kipa asked the IDF spokesman for a response, and the spokesman claimed the tour was canceled for scheduling reasons. But Kipa pointed out that the only thing that was switched in the schedule was the visit to the Temple Mount, meaning there were no other “scheduling reasons.” Also, the revised event schedule now dropped the requirement for the soldiers to show up in civilian clothes. It’s OK to dress in their uniforms, they won’t be going to the Temple Mount.

But MK Smotrich’s appeal to the IDF brass to cancel this opportunity for the soldiers to experience the Temple Mount also suggests that he is entrenched with the Hardali (Haredi-Nationalist) segment of the Orthodox community in Israel, and certainly not with the majority of Modern Orthodox Jews. While the Modern Orthodox have been celebrating the expansion of Jewish rights on the Temple Mount, most notably the report in the shul freebie Matzav Haruach last Shabbat on organized Mincha prayer with a minyan on the Temple Mount (Israeli Journalist Participates in Regular, Uninterrupted Afternoon Prayer on Temple Mount) – Smotrich and the Hardali rabbis are siding with the Chief Rabbinate – which currently includes elements that are openly hostile to the Modern Orthodox.

As to the reason MK Smotrich offers for canceling what could be a momentous opportunity in the lives of these Jewish soldiers, it is nothing short of patronizing and insulting: “Ascent is not possible without careful halachic preparation.” This careful preparation should include 1. Taking the soldiers to the nearest mikvah for a dip – now, that could be a trip all by itself; and instructing them to follow their guide and stick to the perimeter of the holy mountaintop. Does MK Smotrich doubt the ability of IDF soldiers to walk in a straight line?

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David writes news at JewishPress.com.