Jew arrested on Temple Mount (illustration)
Jew arrested on Temple Mount (illustration)Yonatan Sindel/Flash 90

One of the largest Orthodox organizations in North America has publicly endorsed a Temple Institute letter writing campaign to demand freedom of expression for Jewish visitors to the Temple Mount.

The Orthodox Union (OU) released a call to action in their weekly newsletter to Rabbis and community leaders across the United States, encouraging them to support the campaign that has already generated thousands of e-mails to Israeli MKs, demanding an end to the "anti-Jewish racism on the Temple Mount."

The OU newsletter further encouraged Rabbis to inform and educate their congregants about the ongoing incitement against Jews on the site and call on them to write to the Israeli government to demand a change of policy.

In a subsequent statement, the OU noted that it was not weighing in on the matter from a halakhic (Jewish law) perspective, but as an issue of civil liberties. While Jewish scholars debate whether visiting the Temple Mount is forbidden (for Jews and non-Jews alike) due to issues regarding ritual purity, or not just permitted but obligatory (for Jews) as the site of the former holy Temples, from a political perspective even many from the former camp have come out in opposition to measures forbidding other Jews from exercising their right to freedom of religion at Judaism's holiest site.

The endorsement "was neither endorsing entry upon the Har Habayit nor addressing the dispute surrounding the halakhic permissibility of ascending the Temple Mount," it said.

Despite being the holiest place in Judaism, as the former site of the two holy Temples in Jerusalem, the Temple Mount is currently administered by the Jordanian-run Islamic Waqf authority, and Jews are forbidden to pray there due to pressure and threats of violence by Muslim groups. Religious Jewish groups in particular are singled out for harsh treatment, including severe restrictions on the size of such groups and the very small window of time Jews are allowed to ascend the Mount at all each day.

Jews who are suspected of flouting the rules against prayer or other forms of worship are routinely arrested and expelled from the site - even in cases in which they were not in fact praying at all.

In recent weeks, Jews were even banned from drinking from water fountains or carrying fruit, lest they make a blessing before consumption.

This, despite the existence of numerous court rulings that right to freedom of religion - including Jewish prayer - must be ensured on the Temple Mount.

Compounding the problem is a concerted campaign of harassment directed towards Jews by Islamist groups, who pay groups of activists - particularly Muslim women - to heckle and intimidate Jewish visitors, and at time even physically assault them.

Yet despite all that, the numbers of Jewish visitors to the Temple Mount has been steadily rising year on year.

Following thirty years of intensive Halakhic research and educational activities by the Temple Institute, Orthodox visitors to the Temple Mount have almost doubled in the last five years, according to recent police figures.

Rabbi Chaim Richman, International Director of the Temple Institute, praised the OU's endorsement.

"We commend the brave stance that the Orthodox Union has taken in supporting the Temple Institute’s campaign to restore Jewish rights on the Temple Mount," he said. "We call upon all Rabbis and Jews of conscience to stand-up and be-counted as their people are attacked and harassed on our holiest site on a daily basis."

"Had this type of anti-Jewish sentiment been expressed anywhere outside of the Jewish State, there would have already been outcry and thousands of people would have taken to the streets," he noted.

"The daily incitement and racism demonstrated to Jews has already led to bloodshed and its time that Jewish leaders worldwide take a stand, before more Jewish blood is spilt," Rabbi Richman added, referring to violent riots by Islamists, as well as the attempted assassination of veteran Temple Mount activist Yehuda Glick, which left him seriously injured.

The Temple Institute is the center of research and preparation for the Holy Temple. In addition to educational activity focused on the centrality of the Temple Mount and Holy Temple, they have also recreated over 60 sacred vessels for use in the Third Holy Temple, which can be seen at their Visitors Center in the Old City of Jerusalem.