Jabotinsky's Followers Fought for Jew's Rights to Pray

How times have changed since the days the Irgun showed the British what freedom of religion means.

Ronn Torossian

OpEds Ronn Torossian
Ronn Torossian

The Temple Mount is the historical location of the First and Second Temples, the holiest place in the world for Jews.  

Years ago, at the Western Wall, prayer was restricted – and today while an Israeli police chief vows to prevent government officials from visiting the Temple Mount, it is interesting to review history on a very similar subject.

From the website of the Irgun Zvai Leumi – the Jewish underground movement before the State of Israel was founded: “One of the operations which undermined the prestige of the British authorities and made them the object of ridicule was the 'Wall' scheme, which concerned prayer arrangements at the Western Wall.

In the late nineteen twenties, the Arabs had already begun to complain that blowing the shofar at the Western Wall was an insult to Islam.

In 1931, the King's Order in Council (the legislative authority of the Mandatory government) stipulated that the Moslems' ownership rights to the Temple Mount also encompassed the Western Wall area. As a result, Jews were banned from blowing the shofar at the Wall, despite the fact that this ceremony is an integral part of the Rosh Hashana (New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) prayer services.

The ban deeply offended Jews, and the Irgun decided to act. After the imposition of the ban, Irgun and Betar members "smuggled" a shofar into the Western Wall area every Yom Kippur. There a volunteer was waiting to blow the 'Tekia Gedola', the blast which marks the end of the fast. This was not easily done, since large numbers of British policemen were stationed along the routes to the Wall and conducted careful searches of the belongings of the Jews visiting the Wall.

The shofar blower was usually arrested and jailed in the Kishleh, the police building in the Old City, which had served as a jail since the Turkish era. (The building is still standing and is now used by the Israeli police). The blowing of the shofar at the Wall at the end of Yom Kippur was not only a religiously ceremony, but also bolstered national pride throughout the country.

On Yom Kippur 5703 (September 1942), Menachem Begin visited the Wall and witnessed the British policemen bursting into the area in search of the Betarite who had blown the shofar.

In summer, 1944, the question of the shofar ceremony at the Wall was raised again. This time the Irgun decided not to confine itself to bringing in a single shofar-blower to mark the end of Yom Kippur. Several weeks before the High Holydays, the Irgun began to issue warnings to the British to keep away from the Wall, and announced that any policemen found near the Wall on Yom Kippur would be "punished.”

Signs were posted which read: “Any British Constable who will commit acts of violence near the Western Wall on the Day of Atonement and, in defiance of the moral law of civilized people, will disturb the worshippers assembled there and will desecrate the sanctity of prayer will be regarded and LISTED by the HEBREW Youth as a CRIMINAL OFFENDER.”

The shofar was blown.  The followers of Ze’ev Jabotinsky demanded Jews be allowed to blow the shofar at the kotel – whether or not it offended the Arab population – and fought for the right of Jews to do so.  

One wonders how – especially with a Likud government in power - anyone can prevent Jews from praying anywhere in Jerusalem. Jews must have the right to pray at the Temple Mount.

Ronn Torossian is a contributor to Arutz 7, entrepreneur and author of “For Immediate Release”, a best-selling public relations book.