Another group of some 40 religious Jews ascended to the Temple Mount today, but a group of Moslems caused a disturbance, and in the end, the holy site was closed to Jewish visitors earlier than planned.

The Temple Mount has been opened and closed several times of late: it was closed almost totally after the outbreak of the Oslo War in September 2000, and re-opened to religious Jews for the first time last month - but only, as in the past, to small groups of 2-4 people.

During the week of Tisha B'Av - when Jews mourn over the destruction of the Temples that stood on the Mount - the site was abruptly closed again, for what the police mysteriously called "operational reasons." Public Security Minister Tzachi HaNegbi said at the time that Jews would soon be allowed to visit once again, and in fact yesterday morning, large groups of 40 at a time were allowed to ascend. Participants said that only minimal restrictions were placed upon them. After this morning's disturbances, however, the police closed the site - first to religious Jews and then to everyone. They said that they would open the mount this afternoon, but did not do so. Tomorrow's schedule is currently not clear, but many supporters plan to be there at 8 AM in any event.

Does Halakhah [Jewish law] permit Jews to enter the Temple Mount? The Bible specifically forbids those who are ritually impure - as we are today - from entering the inner areas of the Holy Temple. However, many hareidi and religious-Zionist rabbis say that after immersion in a mikveh [ritual bath] and taking other precautions, one may enter the other areas of the Temple Mount. Rabbi Yehuda Edri, of the Movement to Establish the Temple, a principal and educational supervisor for ten years in the hareidi Shas Party's El HaMa'yan educational system, spoke about this with Yosef Zalmanson today. "Several of our great sages of the Rishonim period," he said, "such as Maimonides and Ishtori HaParchi, actually set foot on the Temple Mount. In addition, Rabbi Akiva Eiger [d. 1837] tried to find out if the Turks would allow Jews to bring the Passover offering... Over the centuries, the Jews simply got used to not frequenting the Temple Mount because the Moslems allowed neither Christians nor Jews to do so."

Rabbi Edri said that even now, "not one religious authority forbids entry into the Temple Mount per se. It is only that because the sin of entering the Holy of Holies is so grave, they are afraid that Jews who either don't know or don't care will also ascend to the Temple Mount and will enter the wrong places. But this does not affect Jews who do know and who are careful." He agreed that these rulings, ironically, prevent only knowledgeable Jews from entering, while having no influence on those whose entry they wish to stop.

Rabbi Edri said that many members of the hareidi community, including leading rabbis, agree that entry to the Mount under rabbinical supervision is acceptable - but they do not wish to say so publicly. Among those who are outspoken on this topic are Rabbi Yisrael Appel of Bnei Brak, who has discussed this issue with many hareidi rabbis and confirmed this; the well-known Sochatchover educator and Temple Mount supporter Rabbi Yosef Elbaum; Rabbi Yosef Rothstein, Rosh Yeshivat Keter HaTorah in Jerusalem; the Nadvorne Rebbe, Rabbi Elimelech Leifer; Rabbi Yosef Laufer, head of the Kotel HaKatan Kollel; Rabbi Tzvi Rogen, head of Yeshivat Beit HaBechirah in Jerusalem; Rabbi Zalman Koren, who wrote a work on the matter of the permitted place on the Temple Mount; and others.

Zalmanson asked, "What of those who fear that by entering the holy and controversial compound, we are provoking the nations of the world?" Rabbi Edri said,

"On the contrary, we know that in order to conquer it, we are allowed to enter the area even while impure. This is our way of asserting our rights to this holy spot! In fact, the Shabak (General Security Service) has long been in favor of allowing Jewish entry, for exactly this reason - so as not to leave a 'vacuum' in which we abandon our sovereignty. Those who feel that it's a provocation, it's because for so many years we lived in the Exile and had to be worried about what they goyim would do, so we closed ourselves off into the shtiebel... But now, thank G-d, we have a State, and an army, and we can assert our rights. We must remember that foreigners' hold on the Land of Israel is based on their hold on the Temple Mount - the stronger they are there, the stronger they are in the whole country. The Moslems, for many centuries, never claimed that this spot was holy to them - only of late have they done so, in response to [our conquest in the Six-Day War] - and this shows that it's just political machinations on their part."

Rabbi Edri said that former Chief Rabbis Bakshi-Doron and Lau asked Rabbi Yisrael Ariel of the Temple Institute to prepare a pamphlet on the topic: "Rabbi Ariel proved conclusively that the rock under the Dome of the Rock is in fact the Holy of Holies, in accordance with all the accepted opinions. Based on this, he determined the exact places we are permitted to walk. All that is needed is to immerse, not to wear leather shoes - and to know the precise route."