The Ultimate Aliyah

In recent years, a growing number of people and organizations have been "re-discovering" the Temple Mount. The most famous of these was then-Foreign Minister Ariel Sharon.

Dani Wassner,

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During Chol HaMoed Pesach, I went somewhere that I had never been before: I went up to Har HaBayit - The Temple Mount.

Now, before you get too confused, let me dispel some rumours about whether or not one can, in fact, go up to the Temple Mount.

When Israel liberated the Old City of Jerusalem in 1967, General Motta Gur declared the famous words over his communications equipment: "Har HaBayit beyadeinu!" - "The Temple Mount is in our hands!" Unfortunately, his declaration turned out to be somewhat hollow.

For reasons best known to himself, immediately after the war, General Moshe Dayan handed the keys of the Temple Mount back to the Wakf, the Muslim religious authorities, and gave them full control of the Mount, including the power to make rules over who can go up, when, where and how.

The Wakf immediately established a number of laws that included restricting most of the entrances to the Mount to Muslims. Non-Muslims could go up through only two gates, at very restricted times (a few hours each morning, except Friday, and between 1:30-2:30pm most days). They also declared that Jews could not pray, sing or worship in any way while up there.

At the same time, the rabbis were aware of the significant challenges under Jewish Law (halacha) to entering the Temple Mount. Examples include the problems of treading where the Holy of Holies once stood, as well as the complications of ritually impure people going up (from a halachic perspective, just about every Jew is ritually impure, to varying degrees, at various times). In addition, halacha forbids the wearing of leather shoes on the Mount, as well as a host of other actions that are considered inappropriate for the site.

As a result of all of these factors, the Chief Rabbinate decided that the best solution was to forbid anyone from going up to the Temple Mount whatsoever. For the next two decades, this situation remained in place with very few Jews going up to the Mount.

However, in recent years, a growing number of people and organizations have been "re-discovering" Har HaBayit. The most famous of these was then-Foreign Minister Ariel Sharon.

Today, there are essentially two types of people and groups who go up. The first are the "protesters". These are people who are fighting hard to assert Jewish rites on the Mount. They attempt to go up in large groups with protest signs, and they shout, sing and chant. In the vast majority of cases, the Israeli police do not let them on to the Mount. These groups are also constantly lobbying the police and politicians, as well as appealing to the Supreme Court, to expand Jewish rights on the Mount. These groups include organizations such as the Temple Mount Faithful.

At the same time, a much larger body of thousands of people are slowly, quietly asserting Jewish rights by providing a steady stream of Jews who go up without protest, and who, by and large, obey the rules. These people are mainly observant Jews who conform with all of the relevant halachot and try to go up as often as possible: all with rabbinic sanction. In fact, more and more halachic authorities are openly stating that "aliyah leHar HaBayit" is permissible, and many significant rabbis are doing so themselves.

It was such a group of people that I joined last Thursday. The rabbi who was organizing this particular "tour" sent me a long document a few weeks beforehand describing in detail the various halachot to which I needed to adhere in order to go up.

So, on Thursday morning, I went to a mikveh and dunked with a b'racha (this is the only occasion for which a male dunks in the mikveh with a b'racha). Dressed in non-leather shoes, the group of 15 or so Jews gathered at the bottom of the ramp near the women's side of the Kotel.

After an extensive security check by police, the head policeman carefully examined our ID cards and wrote down our details. Apparently, the police often photograph those going up, for their records, but in our case, this did not happen.

We were then gathered in a group where the police lectured us as to what was permitted on the Mount: no praying, no moving your lips in prayer, no bowing down, nothing that looks like prayer. No singing, dancing or holding signs. No shouting. The police ended their speech by saying that "anyone seen praying will be immediately arrested, while the rest of the group will be thrown off the Mount."

The words seemed more appropriate for the Vatican in the Middle Ages; one had to pinch oneself to believe that this speech was being given by a Jewish policeman, in the Jewish state, regarding the holiest site in Judaism.

Nonetheless, we all nodded our agreement and began our short ascent. It is difficult to describe the overwhelming feeling that came over me and my group as we approached the actual platform of the Mount. I felt like I was walking into the Palace of the King, similar to the final moments of Yom Kippur. A guy next to me was actually trembling and I thought that he may faint.

Once we were up on the Mount itself, we were constantly followed by three to four Israeli police officers, as well as four to five members of the Wakf. These Wakf guys ran around watching our every move, making sure that our lips did not move in prayer while they conferred with each other over their walkie-talkies.

Our guide, Rabbi Nachum Schnitzer, ensured that we only walked in those areas of the Mount that are permissible. (In short, dunking in the mikveh only obviates certain kinds of ritual impurity. Today, with no Red Heifer, we cannot become completely ritually pure. As such, the more important parts of the Mount are still off limits to observant Jews.) Although this meant staying mainly on the outer extremes of the Mount, the views of the main platform where the Temple once stood were extraordinary. It did not take much imagination to see the Temple standing exactly as it had 2,000 years ago.

Our guide was also able to somewhat circumvent the "no prayer" rule by saying things along the lines of "So this is where the pilgrims to the Temple Mount would stand and say...." We were also, of course, able to pray "in our hearts", and every one of us used various opportunities to secretly turn our backs and mumble some words of actual prayer.

At one point, we were astounded to run in to a group of Haredi Jews on the Mount. They were being led by Rabbi Yosef Elbaum, a leading proponent of going up to the Mount.

Apart from the occasional tourist, most of the people on the Mount were Muslims of all ages, male and female. They seemed to be largely just milling around, sitting on the grass, talking etc. They did not give us a second glance.

When we left the Mount, we stood on the other side of the gate and sang (permissible now because we were officially off the Mount) "Adir Hu", perfect for Pesach, with the appropriate words "yivne beito bekarov" ("May His House be built soon"). Ironically, two of the police that had been escorting us joined in the song.

As we came off the Mount, I saw the thousands of people at the Kotel. As important as the Kotel is, I can unfortunately never again look at it in quite the same light. I felt like shouting to the people: "No. Look up there. You're all looking straight ahead at the outer wall. The real thing is up there!"

I'd urge everyone to start talking about the Temple Mount and to begin considering a personal trip for themselves.

This year, Pesach 5765, I finally made a true aliyah leregel.