Rabbi Benny Lau Backs Jewish Temple Mount Prayers

High-profile rabbi changes stance in light of recent developments; 'It can't be that Jews are humiliated to the lowest depths.'

Ari Soffer ,

Rabbi Dr. Benny Lau
Rabbi Dr. Benny Lau
Meir Sela

Rabbi Dr. Benny Lau, a high-profile religious-Zionist figure, has added his voice to growing calls to allow Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount.

Rabbi Lau, who had previously opposed Jewish prayer there due to concerns over ritual purity, said that the events of the past few months had forced him to reconsider his stance.

"Enough is enough," he said in an interview with Galei Yisrael radio, going on to level criticism against those who brandish rabbinic opinions which prohibit ascent to the Mount to further their political agendas.

"It can't be that you (Muslims) stand on the Mount, pray as you wish, administer it as you wish via the Waqf administration, and the Israeli people should be humiliated to the lowest depths. This is not possible," he said of the current situation on the Temple Mount.

The Temple Mount is Judaism's holiest site, and also the location of the Al Aqsa mosque compound. It is administered by the Jordanian-run Waqf Islamic trust, and Jews are forbidden from praying there in order to appease Islamists who have repeatedly threatened violence should Jews be allowed to worship there.

Jewish halakhic (legal) opinions are split regarding the site. According to some prominent rabbis, both Jews and non-Jews are prohibited from setting foot on the site due to its supreme holiness and questions concerning how to properly apply the laws of ritual purity there in the absence of the Temple.

Other prominent rabbis disagree, saying that there is in fact a halakhic imperative for Jews to "be seen by God" at the site of the two holy Temples on the three pilgrimage festivals. It is worth noting that even many rabbis who support the former position oppose the ban on Jewish prayer by authorities, on the basis that both opinions are valid and insisting the government should not be weighing-in for political reasons.

In recent years a campaign by Jewish activists calling for Jews to be allowed to pray on the Mount has gathered steam - a stance that is backed by several High Court rulings, which have thus far been ignored by authorities. Currently, those Jews who do pray are usually arrested and even face attacks by Muslim extremists.

In the past few months, Islamists have upped their violent opposition to Jewish prayer rights, attacking police and Jewish visitors and culminating in the attempted assassination of prominent activist Rabbi Yehuda Glick.

Rabbi Lau - who is a cousin of the current Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi David Lau and a household name due to his weekly TV show and regularly media appearances - noted that the campaign for freedom of religion on the Mount could no longer be ignored, particularly since Muslim and Palestinian leaders were wielding the issue as part of their overall war against the Jewish state.

"The battle on the Temple Mount is no longer a battle of a few individuals," he continued. "It has already become a wider battle where both the Muslim leaders and the Palestinian leaders have set their eyes on the Temple Mount which is the focus of everything and impossible to put to the side for one moment."

He added that his decision had also been influenced by recent strongly-worded statements by hareidi rabbis against Jewish visits to the Temple Mount.

Among them, Rabbi David Yoseph - a prominent member of the Shas party's council of Torah sages and brother of Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yoseph - went so far as to pen a letter to the prime minister, asking him to prevent Jews from ascending the Temple Mount.

Rabbi Yoseph even branded the silent prayers of those who did manage to visit the site as "abominations."

Dismissing the long list of prominent rabbis who support and encourage Temple Mount prayer, particularly (though not exclusively) from the religious-Zionist camp, Rabbi Yoseph urged Netanyahu "not to be fooled by an extreme and eccentric minority" who he claimed were "using Jewish law" to justify a "Messianic" agenda and advocating Jewish prayer rights on the Mount.