Op-Ed: They Stab, We Are Arrested for Praying at Temple Mount
Aryeh SonnenbergThe writer lives in Beit Shemesh, wants to exercise his right to pray at Judaism's holiest site.
Imagine if the Israeli police prohibited praying at the Kotel, Judaism’s most sacred place on earth.
Imagine if the justification for such a decree was because it offended Muslim religious beliefs!
Imagine if Israel’s Supreme Court ruled time and time again that praying at the Kotel is NOT illegal, and yet the police still insisted on forbidding our quiet, halakhic prayers!
Which Jew wouldn’t rise on his feet to fight this evil decree in whatever way he could! Even Jews that do not pray at the Kotel would understand that our basic rights, both as Jews and as the Israeli owners of the Land, are being violated by the police who don’t let us pray in this holy place.
It was with this level of indignation that I ascended the Temple Mount last week, ready to get arrested for praying.
If the Kotel is our holiest place on earth, then the Temple Mount is our Holy of Holies. It is the Temple Mount where our two Batei Mikdash stood, and where the final Bet HaMikdash will be rebuilt, one day; the place where the “akeida” of Isaac took place; the place where Hashem appeared to Moshe in the burning bush according to the Midrash. The Kotel is “but” the surrounding wall of this glorious place.
It is so ironic, then, that in all of Israel, the Israeli police forbid Jtraditional ewish prayer, exactly, specifically, and with such a vengeance, on the Temple Mount.
I have been ascending the Temple Mount, with pretty much monthly regularity for the past 10+ years. I ascend with the support and halakhic guidance of Torah authorities such as Rav Dov Lior, Rav Tendler, my own Rav, and others. I know there are famous rabbis who forbid it, but that is because of their opinion that one cannot be sure where the areas that are halakhically off-limits to Jews are, not because the site is holy to them.
Each time, after we pass through the security gates, the police issue the same warning: No praying, no bowing, no singing, and no tearing one’s clothes.
This time, I decided that I was going to break free from these guidelines.
In consultation with a lawyer beforehand, we decided that the courts are the place for this battle to take place. But in order to get to court, you need to have grounds for a suit. The suit was to be the police’s illegal discrimination between Jews and others, and their illegal ban of my ascending the Temple Mount after I was arrested.
The day went like clockwork: Early morning mikva, seder, davening, and an 8:30 start to Jerusalem. By 9:15, I had arrived at my parking spot.
When I got through Shaar Ha’ashpot, Ithe Dung Gate, I saw a relatively long line of tourists waiting to go to the Temple Mount. I made my way past all of them, saying “excuse me, excuse me,” so I could fulfill my first obligatory act of discrimination: giving my identity card to the police at the checkout point.
No one needs to show their identity cards except for people that look like religious Jews. I started taking some video of how the tourists walked right through while I was forced to wait. A young English chap asked me what was going on, and why I was videoing. I explained to him that religious Jews have special rules at this religious site.
After several minutes of waiting, I was called out to come through the security gates. I was asked to remove everything from my pockets, all papers, and my wallet. Everything of mine was checked over, inside and out, to ensure that I wouldn’t bring any religious items in with me. I had never gone through such a thorough check like this.
Then, the police gave me the whole nine yards about what I was not allowed to do, and then I made my way up, by myself, to the entrance to the Temple Mount.
At the entrance, 2 policemen and an arab wakf official waited for me. It is unusual that there are two police for only one visitor. One was Jewish, an officer by the name of “Teddy,” while the other was an arab of some sort.
I made my way, turning to the right as is customary on the Temple Mount. Just as I started, I met an elderly Jew who was walking, with his police escorts, in the other direction. I asked him, “Why are you circling from the left?” He answered that he was a mourner, following the Mishnaic rules for a mourner ascending the Temple Mount. I countered with the proscribed blessing, “He who rests in this place shall send you consolation.”
I then passed the Shaarei Chulda to the right, the presumed site of the altar, Mizbeach, off to the left, and then walked backwards to the Eastern wall, the only wall that is thought to be directly over where the original Temple Mount walls stood.
All the while, I had been praying, more or less silently. Once, when the Jewish policeman saw and heard me, he asked me to pray silently. Instead of my changing my tone, he walked further away. It seemed to me like he didn’t want trouble.
As I proceeded on the Eastern side I reached opposite the Sha’ar HaMizrach, where there is a direct view into where some opine the gates to the Ezras Nashim and the Azara once stood. It is at this point that most Jewish visitors stop and say silent prayers for what they most need.
I started praying a little loudly, but still barely imperceptibly. Teddy, the Jewish officer again asked me to continue without making noise. At this point, I knew that I wanted to force an arrest, so despite the police being right in my face, I continued at the same volume. Now he told me that if I continue, he would arrest me. I continued. I had to.
He called his supervisor on the phone and told him that I was causing a disturbance, and that he was going to arrest me. Then he decided he would give me one more chance. He got off the phone, and warned me again. I was then in the middle of the prayer of Aleinu, and I simply continued what I was saying.
It is interesting to note that the Wakf official was not aware of what was going on. It was the police, the Jewish police who was interested in stopping me. Then and there, in the middle of Aleinu, he announced that he was detaining me for causing a public disturbance (I guess only to him), and that I would have to accompany him to the police station. He confiscated my phone and turned it off.
I sighed a breath of relief. I came to accomplish something, and the wait was over. I was not nervous at all, surprisingly, as I knew I was well-trained for what was to come ahead. As I was walking backwards, away from the holy place, Makom Hashechina, the Wakf person saw me davening and started yelling at me. I paid no attention to him. He told the police and the arab police told me that I was being taken away already.
I was walked out through the Lion’s Gate (no, no handcuffs) and was then picked up from their in a police van. After waiting about 20 minutes in the parking lot of the Kotel, I was driven to the police station that’s right near Migdal David (called the Kishle). I waited in the interrogation area for about 20 minutes.
The investigator, an arab, called me in. he read my charges “disturbing the peace” or something like that by performing the ILLEGAL act of praying on the Temple Mount. He asked me if I wanted to call my lawyer. I got my one phone call to the lawyer, he reviewed with me what to do, and that was it.
When the investigation started, the police asked me if I had any comments. I answered him in the following way: I exercised my right to pray on the Temple Mount, the holiest Jewish site in the world. This right is protected by over 15 rulings of the Supreme Court. Seeing as I performed no crime, this is a political investigation, and I have nothing further to add.
He asked me where I lived, and I told him, in Bet Shemesh.
He asked me why I came to Jerusalem today, and I told him: I exercised my right to pray on the Temple Mount, the holiest Jewish site in the world. This right is protected by over 15 rulings of the Supreme Court. Seeing as I performed no crime, this is a political investigation, and I have nothing further to add.
He asked me did I know that it was forbidden to pray on the Temple Mount, and I told him: I exercised my right to pray on the Temple Mount…
I explained to him that this was going to be my answer to every question.
After several more questions, he printed out the interrogation, asked me to sign it, and then took me for fingerprinting and a mug shot (no, I did not need to hold up numbers under my face). I had been charged with a CRIMINAL OFFENSE, which requires fingerprints and mug shots. Oh my!
When we finished, he brought me back into the interrogation room. He explained to me that he was letting me off easy on my own recognizance. I needed to sign that I would come back for court if called, for, or face a 5,000 NIS fine. Also, that I was banned from the Temple Mount for 15 days. BINGO, that’s what I was waiting for.
I smiled inside, knowing that my job was done. I signed the forms, and added, according to my lawyer’s suggestion: “Under protest and with the intent to sue in court.” I got a copy of the forms, made my way home, and sent them over to the lawyer.
The next day, the lawyer filed suit in the Jerusalem court, and we are awaiting the next act in the story.