A virtual tour of Har HaBayit, the Temple Mount, brings those who have never been upon Mt. Moriah on a tour of Judaism’s holiest site.
Israel National Radio’s Rabbi Chaim Richman, who heads the Temple Institute, has released a first-of-its-kind video that allows every Jew to experience a tour of the Temple Mount.
Due to disagreements over the location of the area of the Holy Temple firbidden to be tread upon and, to a large extent, political and ideological factors, many Jews refrain from visiting the Temple Mount. Rabbi Richman’s video tour, filmed on the Mount in strict adherence with Jewish laws governing the ascent of Mt. Moriah in our time, has now been made available free of charge via the Internet in the hopes of providing all Jews with a connection to Judaism's holiest site.
The video gives a deep historical perspective on each part of the Temple Mount, beginning with an introduction regarding the various opinions as to where the Temple was located and which areas are permitted to visit today.
“The idea is that we are motivated to get as close as we can to the holiest place on earth,” Rabbi Richman says, “to be seen by G-d, to be seen by the Jewish people and even to be seen by our enemies – to let them know we have not forgotten about our Holy Temple.”
The Rabbi says he chose to take the simplest route, sticking to the outer perimeter of the mount added by King Herod when he expanded the platform. The video stylistically performs the approach to more controversial areas through the zoom lens. “We are not going to go as close as we can this morning,” Rabbi Richman explains on the video, “which is what I do when I bring someone here for the first time. On certain sides we can go much closer, but I do not want to give the wrong impression to any viewer who may become confident that he knows the permitted areas, comes here on his own and gets confused, entering a forbidden area.”
Filmed in 2005, a heavy police presence is apparent, with members of Israel’s police, as well as the Muslim Wakf religious trust keeping close supervision to make sure Rabbi Richman or his compatriots to not utter a prayer. “This is the one place on earth where, as a Jew, I am actually obligated to pray,” Rabbi Richman explains. “And it is the one place, where according to modern Israeli law, I am forbidden, as a Jew, from praying. One sees here how fearful the Muslims are of the power of Jewish prayer.”
In the part of the tour, the Rabbi expounds from an ancient Jewish text called the Tractate of Middot which is “the blueprint of the Temple.” He speaks about the Temple as though it were standing, painting a mental picture for the viewer and transporting them back in time to the Temple period, when on Jewish festivals Jewish pilgrims would flock en masse to the Mount.
Rabbi Richman says hundreds of thousands have already viewed the virtual tour. “There have been rabbis and community members whose rabbis are against visiting the Temple Mount that have gone up because of the video,” he says. “I have received letters from rabbis and others who are very intellectually honest. A very Hareidi rabbi told me that he was always under the impression that it was simply forbidden. But now, he said, “I saw and listened to you and then researched it for myself and realized the reasons for staying away are political.”
There remains staunch opposition to ascending the mount, though no religious authority has ever suggested that taking a virtual tour could be problematic. A placard at its entrance placed by the Chief Rabbinate says “Entrance to the Temple Mount for Jews is forbidden by Jewish law” and even senior national-religious Rabbi Shlomo Aviner of Beit El and the Ateret Kohanim Yeshiva in the Muslim Quarter has been a vocal opponent of a Jewish presence at the site. The virtual tour allows those who are unconfortable with ascending the Mount to strengthen their connection with the site in a manner acceptable to them.
Rabbi Richman is optimistic. “Not only have more Jews been visiting the Temple Mount each day since this video was recorded, but we are truly living in a different generation now. There is a new awakening and a collective admission of fault for our abandonment of the Temple Mount.”
The rabbi cautiously reports that police have been much more cooperative and encouraging of groups, large and small, visiting the Temple Mount recently. “There are cynics who see it as just letting us ‘blow off steam’ as the government makes plans to abandon the Mount altogether, but I believe we are witnessing the recognition that the Jewish people are returning to the holiest place on earth and that is an insurmountable force.”