General Yehuda Fuchs of the Central Command has issued an order changing the route taken by outstanding soldiers as they tour Jerusalem’s Old City, such that they will not ascend to the Temple Mount.
The decision was taken following a request of the Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef made of IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi. In his letter, Rabbi Yosef stressed the halachic prohibition (in Jewish law) of ascending to the Temple Mount, as ruled by the Chief Rabbinate.
Instead of touring the Temple Mount, soldiers will visit other sites in the Old City including the tunnels under Mount Zion, and will also head to the city’s iconic Mahane Yehuda open-air market for a tasting session.
Responding to the decision, Betsalmo head Shai Glick expressed his “distress and disappointment that IDF soldiers are afraid to ascend the Temple Mount in uniform, thereby handing a prize to the Islamic Movement and to Jordan. If outstanding IDF soldiers are not to visit the Temple Mount, then who will?” he wondered. “Maybe Hamas terrorists?”
In fact, Rabbi Yosef made no reference to the physical dangers of ascending to the Temple Mount. In his letter to Gen. Kochavi, he wrote: “Letters from MK Moshe Abutbul and Bezalel Smotrich have been brought to my attention, regarding the intention to bring outstanding soldiers to the Temple Mount for a trip, in advance of Rosh Hashanah.
“As is known,” Rabbi Yosef continued, “Jewish halachah forbids ascent to the Temple Mount, and the Chief Rabbinate, which was appointed by law to establish the halachic norms at the site, has consistently ruled that in our times, it is forbidden for Jews to ascend to the Temple Mount.”
Rabbi Yosef also cited an army regulation that states: “An officer may not obligate a soldier to ascend to the Temple Mount, unless it is required for the execution of a mission.”
As such, the Chief Rabbi requested of the IDF Chief of Staff that he “intervene to ensure that this decision is annulled, as the Temple Mount is the holiest site of all for the Jewish People and Jewish law must be preserved there. I have no doubt that this mistaken decision was made in good faith, and that you will see fit to rectify it at the earliest possible moment.”
Prior to the Chief Rabbi’s request, a similar request was submitted by MK Bezalel Smotrich, head of the Religious Zionism party. In his letter, also written to the IDF Chief of Staff, Smotrich stressed that the decision to tour the Temple Mount had certainly been made with the best of intentions, and that he was delighted at the show of sovereignty over the Mount that such a trip would make. Nonetheless, he called for the trip to be cancelled as it conflicted with clear rulings from the Chief Rabbinate, and also because, he opined, the Temple Mount is not a fitting destination for trips.
“Specifically because of the sanctity of the place, there exists an extremely strict prohibition on ascending to the Mount unless one is in a state of ritual purity,” Smotrich wrote. “The prohibition is one of ‘karet’ [spiritual excision from the Jewish People -ed.], and since it is not possible to ascend to the Mount without proper preparation, the Chief Rabbinate forbade it entirely.”
Smotrich also noted his “great sorrow at the desecration of the holy place during the period in which it is under the control of the Waqf,” and added his “hope that the day will soon come when we will be able to ascend to the Holy Temple in holiness and purity.
“The Temple Mount is not a place for touring, and it is not fitting that the Israel Defense Forces should ascend there on a trip that contravenes the ruling of the Chief Rabbinate,” he added, “thereby causing soldiers to transgress a very serious prohibition. What private individuals choose to do is of no concern of ours, but the same cannot be said of an organized tour by a state institution such as the army.”
Responding to Smotrich’s letter, Yamina MK Yom Tov Kalfon said: “I am very surprised at Smotrich’s activism against the Temple Mount. He surely knows that there are halachic rulings that permit security forces to ascend to the Mount, even in the absence of ritual purity, in order to fulfill the commandment: ‘And you shall inherit it,’ meaning the Land of Israel and also the Mount. Therefore, we should be constantly demonstrating a Jewish presence on the Mount – and such was the halachic ruling of Rabbi Goren.”
Kalfon added that, “I have no wish to disturb my dear friend Itamar Ben Gvir as he recovers from illness (and I again wish him a speedy recovery), but I have the feeling that this letter, written by the head of his party, does not reflect his own views, nor the views of many of the general public who are faithful to the Temple Mount and voted for his party. It is sad that specifically Smotrich is strengthening the hold of the Waqf over the Temple Mount.”