Rabbi Leo Dee
Rabbi Leo DeeCourtesy

On 5th April 2023, Israeli police officers stormed the Al Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, to stop terrorists bombarding worshippers at the Kotel below with stones and fireworks. Two days later, my wife Lucy and two daughters, Maia and Rina, were murdered by Palestinian Arab terrorists on their way to a Pesach vacation. The war named the “Al Aqsa Storm” by Hamas had begun. Six months later, it exploded into the cruellest terror attack in modern Jewish history.

The Temple Mount is Judaism’s holiest site and Islam's third holiest site. Technically, the Al Aqsa Mosque is not within the boundaries of our historic Temples, only the Dome of the Rock, which is historically only a monument and not a mosque. Due to the current political situation, Jerusalem has sadly become a place of conflict between Jews and Muslims.

Yom Yerushalayim is a holiday commemorating the reunification of Jerusalem following the victory in the 1967 “Six Day War”. We wish each other “Yom Yerushalayim Sameach”, but is it so “Sameach” (happy)?

The Mishnah (Keilim 1:6) mentions ten levels of holiness within the Land of Israel in ascending order: the walled cities, the city of Jerusalem, Mount Moriah, the area within the surrounding rampart, the Women’s Courtyard, the Courtyard of the Israelites, the Priestly Courtyard, the area between the Altar and the Entrance Hall to the Sanctuary, the building of the Sanctuary, and the Holy of Holies.

The attentive reader will notice that eight of these levels are within the Temple compound, currently occupied by the Dome of the Rock and under Jordanian jurisdiction. Despite the fact that we now have sovereignty over 99% or more of Jerusalem by area, since the level of holiness does not rise linearly as we zoom into the Holy of Holies, but rather exponentially, we have less than 1% sovereignty of Jerusalem by holiness.

Yom Yerushalayim is, therefore, not as happy a day as we would wish.

The last king of a united Israel (i.e. before it split into separate regions) was King Solomon, who reigned for forty years - the most peaceful years in Middle Eastern history - at the beginning of the First Temple period. When Israel was disunited, or occupied by other nations, there was no such peace in our region. When the Christians occupied Jerusalem in the 11th and 12th centuries there were Crusades. Since the Muslim occupation of the Temple Mount in 1187, there have been countless wars and, today, Jihad abounds.

Rashi (on Gemara Rosh Hashanah 18a) writes that there will be peace when the Temple is rebuilt, and this is the clear position of all of our prophets (see for example Zecharia chapter 8).

Three times a day, Jews recite the Amidah prayer. Its latter half spells out the destiny of our nation: returning to Israel, building a judiciary, fighting our enemies, constructing our religious institutions, uniting Jerusalem, and ushering in the Messianic era. It then continues with a prayer “Hear our voices” and follows with the petition to rebuild the Temple. There’s clearly an odd-one-out. What is the destiny in “hearing our voices”?

Perhaps that is the message. Only if we hearken to OUR own voices, expressing our desire to rebuild the Temple, can we get to that stage. Perhaps the blockage is us.

Our brave soldiers are fighting in Gaza and in Northern Israel, but perhaps the secret to Shalom in the world is a 20-acre plot of land lying right in the middle of our capital city.

What if our Rabbis, the Prophets and God knew something that we do not? What if the freeing of the Dome of the Rock from its 850-year occupation is the key to peace for us and our region? What if we can partition the Temple Mount fairly between the Al Aqsa Mosque (the Muslim holy space) and the Dome of the Rock (our Temple location)? What if we just need to heed our own prayers and rebuild the Temple to bring peace?

Until such time as we are able to listen to our own pleas to bring back the holiest part of Jerusalem to its Torah-stated purpose, and thereby bring peace to the world, let me wish you a muted “Yom 1% Yerushalayim Sameach.”