Ascending to Har Habayit

The spiritual experience of praying on the Temple Mount awakens gratitude for the miracles we have seen along with yearning for Redemption.

Shira Schreier ,

inbow over the Temple Mount and the Mount of Olives
inbow over the Temple Mount and the Mount of Olives
Yonadev Horowitz

“But to the place which the L-rd your G-d shall choose out of all your tribes to rest His name, there shall you seek Him, at His dwelling, and there shall you come” (Devarim 12:4).

I go up to Har HaBayit to “pour out my heart” to G-d at the place (ha’makom) where G-d chose “to rest His name,” the place of the Akeida (the binding of Isaac), the place where the two Holy Temples stood and where the third Holy Temple will one day stand again (speedily in our days, amen!), the place where G-d’s presence, the Shechina, is closest, most palpable and most accessible.

In the six years since I was first privileged to go up to Har HaBayit, a lot has changed, all for the better. The Jewish policemen who accompany the Jewish religious groups are pleasant and friendly and the visits can last for over an hour. The Waqf policemen who used to gruffly rush us along or threaten to arrest those suspected of the slightest infraction of the law, who might have been mumbling or swaying as though praying or sitting down to rest without authorization, now keep their distance from our groups.

The Arab women, dressed from head to toe in black, who used to incessantly shout “Allahu Akhbar” at our groups, are no longer there. Recently, Jewish policemen have even permitted participants to openly pray, which is forbidden according to the Islamic Waqf, who were inexplicably handed the keys to the Temple Mount by Moshe Dayan in 1967.

A record number of 2,641 Jews went up to Har HaBayit this Pesach be’tahara (the halakha requires prior immersion in a mikveh and not wearing leather shoes). The atmosphere was festive and welcoming, and some even shared on social media with much enthusiasm and joy that they actually prayed as a group - be’tzibbur: shacharit, Hallel, mincha and musaf, with no disruptions. Hard to believe, yet true.

There are many rabbis today who permit - and encourage - Jews to go up to Har HaBayit, including Roshei Yeshiva of Hesder Yeshivot and other prominent Orthodox rabbis. There are also many prominent rabbis who unequivocally do not pemit it. There are those who assert that the Rambam (Maimonides) himself prayed on Har HaBayit, based on an autobiographical letter about his travels in Eretz Yisrael.

Many brides and grooms are opting to go up before their wedding day. Bar and bat mitzva boys and girls are going up with family members to mark this milestone in their lives.

I’ve been up with a woman, carrying her baby in a front carrier, who wanted to give thanks and commemorate the korban yoledet (offering brought by a woman after childbirth at the Holy Temple) by going up to Har HaBayit. More and more individuals and groups from the religious Zionist as well as the haredi community are going up. Record numbers go up on Tisha B’Av and on Yom Yerushalayim, the day when our heroic paratroopers liberated the Old City during the Six Day War, when Rav Shlomo Goren blew the shofar and General Motta Gur declared, “The Temple Mount is in our hands” (“Har HaBayit Beyadeinu”).

***

Last time I went up to Har HaBayit was on Rosh Chodesh Nisan with a group of about 20 women from the “Women for the Mikdash” organization, led by Rena Ariel, who shared uplifting words of Torah related to the Mikdash, as we walked together on the route rabbis who allow the ascent have found permitted by halakha. Rena Ariel leads a group of women up to Har HaBayit every month, in memory of her beautiful, beloved 13-year old daughter Hallel Yaffa Hy”d, a talented dancer and precious neshama, who was murdered in her bed in Kiryat Arba in a brutal terrorist attack four years ago. I try to join her group whenever I can.

Also joining our group was a bat mitzva girl and her mother, a family with three young children, several men, including a rabbi and a soldier in uniform, and former member of Knesset, Shuli Mualem, who also inspired us with her words. I wore my non-leather sneakers and carried only a small pouch with my ID card, some money and car keys, a bottle of water and my phone.

I picked up my friend at 6:45 am and drove toward Jerusalem. It was a crisp, clear morning. We saw bright pink and purple blossoming trees along the way. The traffic from Gush Etzion leading toward the tunnels was unexpectedly light and moved along nicely, despite the noisy construction on both sides of the highway. I parked in the parking lot of the Old Train Station and we walked along Derech Hevron toward the Old City, past the Begin Center and Sultan’s Pool, up the winding dirt road and many stairs to Zion Gate, through the Rova (Jewish Quarter) parking lot and down the winding road leading to the Kotel.

The entrance to Har HaBayit is just to the right of the entrance to the Kotel. In non-Corona times, there would have been a long line of foreign tourists, speaking many different languages and dressed in a wide array of colors and fashion, waiting to enter Har HaBayit, miraculously fulfilling the first part of the prophecy of Yeshayahu (56:7): “I will bring them to My holy mountain and make them joyful in My house of prayer…for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”

As we walked up the ramp, it was wonderful to look down at the Kotel plaza swarming with people again, men in tefillin and talitot praying in clusters of minyanim, the joyful sounds of Hallel melodies permeating the air, a group of Yeshiva students singing and dancing, and women of all ages, albeit divided into Corona-era “capsules,” praying and reciting tehillim (Psalms).

As we waited for several women to join our group before ascending, I was happy to see the new sign that greeted us. Instead of only a small sign at the entrance warning that it is forbidden to go up to Har HaBayit according to the Chief Rabbinate of Israel with no explanation, this new sign proclaimed in large, bold print (translated from Hebrew):

Welcome to Har HaBayit!

The holiest and most important place in the world according to Jewish tradition

***

My interest in going up to Har HaBayit was initially piqued when I participated in an intensive course run by the “Women of the Mikdash.” Going up to Har HaBayit requires proper preparation – physical, spiritual and psychological. The goal of the “Women for the Mikdash” organization is to strengthen the connection of the Jewish people to Har HaBayit and increase the awareness of the absence of Mikdash in our lives.

Another source of inspiration for me to go up to Har HaBayit was Rabbi Yehuda Glick, then a member of Knesset, who for more than three decades has been a staunch, dedicated and courageous advocate for the Jewish right to pray on Har HaBayit. In October 2014, an Arab terrorist on a motorcycle shot him in the chest outside the Begin Center in Jerusalem following a conference about the Jewish presence on Har HaBayit. He miraculously survived and continues to spread his impassioned message and dream that all religions should be able to peacefully pray on Har HaBayit.

The first time I went up evoked an overwhelming emotional response, and left me on a spiritual high which lingered for a long time. “Shehecheyanu ve’kiyemanu ve’higiyanu la’zman ha’zeh.”

These are some excerpts of what I wrote in my journal afterward:

Kadosh, kadosh, kadosh. Holy, holy, holy.

I feel like an angel. I feel uplifted. I feel blessed.

Eizeh zechut! What a privilege!

Zachiti Baruch Hashem. Zachiti to go up to Har HaBayit.

Eizeh zechut it was to come on aliya 39 years ago with my husband and baby. Eizeh zechut it is to live 20 minutes from Kever Rahel, 30 minutes from Me’arat Ha’Machpela, and 30 minutes from the Kotel and Har HaBayit, the holiest place in the world.

We stopped at the place closest to the Holy of Holies where it is claimed halakhically permitted to walk. I closed my eyes and prayed – feeling as I do when I light Shabbat candles - et ratzon (a time of grace) – under a chuppa, at childbirth, at a brit, at the passing of my mother. I felt peaceful. I felt God’s presence. I felt He was right there listening.

Eizeh zechut – to see the very same stones from the Beit HaMikdash, with remnants of the gold color still visible, to see the ancient wooden beams, the stairs, the gates, the walls, the majesty. To walk on Har HaBayit and pray in my heart. Eizeh zechut.

***

“In the month of Nisan, the nation of Israel was redeemed from Egypt and in Nisan they will be redeemed again.” (Rosh Hashana 11a)

Our Sages explain the paradoxical words of the prophet Yeshayahu about our future redemption: “be’ita achishena” (“in its time I will hasten it”) as meaning that it will either come at its designated time or if we merit it, G-d will accelerate the process. Therefore, in addition to improving our actions, particularly in areas of social justice and moral behavior, we need to truly yearn for the redemption and pray for it with all our heart.

According to the Talmud (Shabbat 31a), when a person is brought to judgment for the life he lived in this world, one of the questions he is asked is: “Did you anticipate salvation?” Rashi explains that this means: “Did you yearn for the words of the prophets to come true regarding the Ingathering of the Exiles, the rebuilding of the Holy Temple and the commandment to go up to appear before G-d there three times a year?”

***

“The blossoms have appeared in the land. The time of pruning has come; The song of the turtledove is heard in our land.” (Song of Songs 2:12)

Redemption is in the air. We just need to open our eyes – and our hearts.

Note:

There are many renowned rabbis who are against ascending the Temple Mount, among them Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook zts"l, (and may they llive and be well) Rabbi Zalman Melamed, Rabbi Yaakov Shapira and Israel's Cheif Rabbinate since there is no across the board consensus on the exact layout of the Har HaBayit in Temple times, although there is much learned literature on the subject. (In addition, they add, non observant Jews are thus encouraged to ascend and they do not follow the guidelines nor the preparation halakhot).

The Waqf violently stopped Jewish underground exploration which would have found the exact location of the altar and allowed clear extrapolation, using Talmudic sources from there as to the entire area - they then sealed the underground passage with cement..

Others, however, such as Rabbi Shlomo Goren zts"l, (and may they live and be well) Rabbi Lior and Rabbi Medan permit it, within carefully specified boundaries.. Tour guides for religious Jewish groups know the precise boundaries of those rabbis' permitted route. They avoid treading on sacred ground, including areas where those rabbis say there is uncertainty.

Prior to ascending, one must immerse in a kosher mikveh (the halakhot for women are complex and one should consult with a rabbinic authority or an individual well-versed in the halakhot for guidance); no leather shoes may be worn, and one must behave in a manner befitting the holiness of the place (mora haMikdash), showing awe, reverence and humility. For preparatory halakhic guidance: 058-5252208 (for men) and 050-3663101 (for women).

Current hours for Jews to go up to Har HaBayit are Sunday-Thursday 7:00-11:00 in the morning and 13:30-14:30 in the afternoon (check first: it will be closed to Jews during the afternoon hours in the month of Iyar because of the observance of the Moslem Ramadan).





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