Why I Believe Jews should go to the Temple Mount

There are many facets to this problem.

Dr. Moshe Dann,

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Because the site of the First and Second Temples is considered sacred to Jews, the Chief Rabbis and many rabbinic authorities oppose Jews visiting the site and praying there as a violation of halakha (Jewish law). All agree that Jews must not enter the area where the Temples stood; they differ, however, about where the Temples were located, and whether the prohibition applies to the specific site of the Temples, or to the entire Temple Mount.

The First and Second Temples were small buildings, about 50 meters square, which contained an inner sanctuary, the Holy-of-Holies, which the High Priest entered once a year, on Yom Kippur; the immediate surrounding area – around 200  square meters surrounding the golden Dome of the Rock – is also forbidden.  The Temple Mount, however is nearly 1,500 square meters, the size of 15 football fields, and there are rabbis who are are reconsidering the ban in order to allow Jews to walk in areas which are not forbidden by halakha.   

Apparently visiting the Temple Mount and praying there was not always forbidden. The Rambam (Rabbi Moses ben Maimon) knew the exact location, and prayed there, as well as the Ramban (Rabbi Moses ben Nachman. But during the Ottoman and Mandate periods Chief Rabbis Avraham HaCohen Kook and Isaac Herzog, and halakhic authorities like R’ Yisrael Meir Kagan (author of “Hafetz Hayim”) prohibited visits.

After the Six Day War in 1967, when the Western Wall and Temple Mount were open to all, IDF Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren conducted research* and permitted Jews to visit the site and pray there in certain areas. But Defense Minister Moshe Dayan opposed this - in order to appease Jordan - and issued two decrees which the government of Israel accepted: (1) he gave the Wakf (Islamic Authority) near-total control, and (2) he forbade Jewish prayer on the site.

Article Nine of the Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty (1994), however, seems to suggest a more open policy:

“Each party will provide freedom of access to places of religious and historical significance. In this regard … Israel respects the present special role of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in Muslim Holy shrines in Jerusalem … The parties will act together to promote interfaith relations among the three monotheistic religions with the aim of working towards religious understanding, moral commitment, freedom of religious worship, and tolerance and peace.”

The Office of the Chief Rabbis – a government authority – prohibits visits in order prevent all Jews from entering forbidden places. But the ban ignores reality: more and more Jews are going to the Temple Mount and many rabbis allow visits to areas which are not forbidden and with proper preparation.  Rather than imposing a halakhic ban, therefore, and criticizing rabbis who permit visits, it would be more helpful to increase understanding of the site and provide information to visitors. A brochure could offer caution and an explanation; then people could make their own decisions.

Until recently Muslims did not consider the entire Temple Mount a holy site. Since more people are visiting the site, the Wakf  sought to assert exclusive rights. Palestinian leaders like PA Presidents Yassir Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas deny all Jewish historical claims and use Jewish visits as a pretext for violence and incitement.

The Wakf  has also desecrated and pillaged the site in an effort to destroy all remains from the First and Second Temple periods. This occurred with the tacit permission of the Israeli police and the Prime Minister’s office. Protests by Jews and archeologists from around the world have been ignored.

Subordinating freedom of worship to Muslim demands, despite diplomatic considerations, are problematic. Instead, religious leaders should insist that as a matter of morality and humanistic principles, the Temple Mount should be open to all who want to worship there.

Jewish sovereignty in Eretz Yisrael means not only honoring and cherishing the Temple Mount, but preserving and protecting its sanctity for everyone. As one of the most important sacred sites in the world, both Muslim and Jewish authorities are obligated to ensure the safety of all visitors.

The fact that Jewish and Islamic history is intertwined on the Temple Mount symbolizes co-existence, mutual respect and toleration. Only when the site is open to all then can there be real understanding and acceptance. Religious leaders have an opportunity to encourage a spirit of openness and religious fulfillment. Allowing Jews to pray at this site furthers this noble goal.   

Jews should go to the Temple Mount not to make a political statement, but a moral one: peace and prayer – for all. Bigotry cannot be allowed to destroy the sanctity of this space. Allowing Muslim gangs to attack visitors shames Islam; it is uncivilized.

Prohibiting Jews from visiting and praying at their holiest site dishonors the reason the Temple and al Aksa mosque were built in the first place: reverence to God.