Temple Mount
Temple Mount

Israel’s Chief Rabbis and the Chief Rabbi of Haifa have been invited to the White House for pre-Annapolis talks to explain the Jewish connection to the Temple Mount.

Chief Rabbis Yonah Metzger and Shlomo Amar, as well as the Chief Rabbi of Haifa and Chairman of the Chief Rabbinate Communications Committee Rabbi She'ar-Yashuv Cohen departed Saturday evening for a series of meetings to clarify to US leaders that the Temple Mount is Judaism's holiest site.

Ahead of the Annapolis Conference, the Bush administration is trying to gauge Israel’s “red lines” and examine the possibility of relinquishing the Temple Mount to Islam.

Despite the fact that many rabbis both visit and encourage other Jews to visit the Temple Mount in the manner permitted by Jewish law, the chief rabbinate says that Jews should not visit the Temple Mount. A large sign is affixed to the path leading to the Mount saying it is “forbidden for Jews to visit the Mount according to Jewish law.”

All three rabbis agree that the Temple Mount must remain under Jewish sovereignty.  However, the chief rabbis believe the mount should be closed to all since a special level of ritual purity must be obtained before ascending to the site of the Jewish Holy Temple. Rabbi Cohen believes the Temple Mount should be open to Jewish worship and a synagogue should be constructed there.

Second Such Meeting

Arutz-7's Yedidya HaCohen reports that a secret meeting on the matter took place two weeks ago during one of the recent visits by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Jerusalem. The meeting dealt with Jerusalem’s holy sites and was attended by Rabbi Cohen, as well as Muslim and Christian religious leaders. The meeting lasted over two hours.

Muslim leaders aired their claim that “the Jews want to destroy the Al-Aksa Mosques” and their oft-heard denial that there was ever a Jewish temple at the site. The chief Mufti has already declared that Jews should not be allowed to pray at the site. Recent archaological finds from the First Temple have not tempered Muslim denial of pre-Islamic history on the mount, as well as the Western Wall.

Rabbi Cohen responded to those present: “It is forbidden to deny that the Jews had our Holy Temple at that site. It is forbidden to forget that King David purchased the Temple Mount, King Solomon built the Holy Temple and Ezra the Scribe rebuilt it as well [after it was destroyed –ed.]. All who come afterward must recognize the rights of those who came first. Although I do not propose the demolition of the mosques, the Muslims must remember that they are there due to us.”

Rabbi Cohen also recalled the historical fact that the Muslim Caliph Omar Suleiman built a synagogue on the Temple Mount where Jews prayed, and that it was later destroyed by another Caliph.

In summation, Rabbi Cohen told Rice and the other religious leaders that he is completely opposed to any withdrawal from the Temple Mount and site of the Holy Temple.

Rice reportedly responded: “Honorable rabbi, I understand you well. I am the daughter of a priest and the granddaughter of a priest, I learned the Bible and know what is written there.”

Rice said, at the conclusion of the meeting, that she understood that religious matters were at the root of the disagreements ahead of the conference. “If this matter is not solved, then nothing will be solved,” she said. Those at the meeting reported her demeanor as tense.

As a follow-up, the invitations to the Chief Rabbis to the White House for three days of meetings were issued. The meetings, which will be attended by members of the Islamic Wakf and Christian leaders, will reportedly deal with a proposal similar to that floated by Vice Premier Chaim Ramon (Kadima). According to the proposal, the Jerusalem “Holy Basin” – meaning the Old City and surrounding areas – would be administered by a joint committee and not remain under Israeli sovereignty. According to Ramon’s plan, the Western Wall and Temple Mount would remain under Israeli control, but the Americans are reportedly pushing to see the Temple Mount relinquished as well.

Sources connected to the Chief Rabbinate say there is great significance to the inclusion of Rabbi She'ar-Yashuv Cohen, who has declared publicly that he will fight such a plan and not just take part in the inter-religious arrangements being planned for the Holy City. Rabbi Cohen’s position that the Temple Mount must be opened to Jewish prayer is well known, as well as his call for the establishment of a synagogue on the Mount.

Also joining the rabbinic delegation are Chairman of the Chief Rabbinate Oded Weiner and Rabbi David Rosen, former chief rabbi of Ireland and the head of the World Committee for Jewish-Christian relations. 

Conference Mirrors Pre-State Events

The meetings resemble similar discussions by the British Shaw Committee that took place 80 years ago. Those meetings aimed to determine to whom the Western Wall belonged. Former Israel Chief Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook went before the committee to offer his perspective, while the committee honored the Muslim Mufti by coming to his office adjacent to the Temple Mount.

Rabbi Kook presented the committee with arguments for Jewish rights to pray at the site and emphasized its holiness. When asked to bring supporting proof, Rabbi Kook responded: “By relying on documents, we are liable to weaken this truth, which is among those that are so well known that it is not in need of proof. It is similar to one who raises a candle to increase the brightness of the sun’s light…It is known that this site is enwrapped in the same holiness of our Holy Temple.”

Later in the deliberations, the heads of the Zionist establishment agreed to relinquish claims of ownership of the Western Wall and receive only the right to pray at the site. In response to the initiative, Rabbi Kook responded: “G-d forbid we give up the Western Wall; we have not received power of attorney from the Nation of Israel!”