Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, along with several other senior rabbis, issued a public statement on Tuesday warning the public that visiting the Temple Mount is forbidden by Jewish law.

According to the statement, the warning is being issued at this time because of increased organized attempts to go up to the holy site.

“It is a sacred duty to awaken your hearts [to the fact that] it is completely forbidden according to Jewish law to go up to the Temple Mount,” the statement reads. “This prohibition has been simple and clear for a long time, and has been forbidden by all of the great Torah scholars.” Because many different organizations have been calling on the public to visit the Temple Mount in recent months, the declaration continues, it is incumbent upon the signatories to reiterate that the prohibition remains.

The Temple Mount is Judaism’s holiest site, but Jewish law requires those going up to certain sections of the mount to be ritually pure – a status only obtainable through a ceremony that cannot be performed today.

National Union MK Arye Eldad denounced the declaration, saying that such statements damage Jewish claims to Jerusalem and the Land of Israel: “The unholy alliance that has been formed – between some rabbis in Israel, and the extreme Left and the Wakf [the Wakf Muslim religious trust] – is likely, God forbid, to cost us the fate of Israel in its entirety.” He continued: “Someone who gives up on a permanent Jewish presence at the Temple Mount and... on sacrificing the Passover offering for reasons of communal peace – and accepts as a heavenly decree the situation in which Arabs control the Temple Mount and destroy the remnants of the Holy Temple – convinces the entire world that Jews are not serious about their claims to Israel and Jerusalem.” Some rabbinical authorities say that since it is now known which areas may be visited without the purification ceremony, it is permissible according to Jewish law to visit the site.

Rabbi Yehuda Gilad, a former Meimad MK and co-dean of Yeshivat Ma’aleh Gilboa, said that in his opinion and that of many adjudicators of Jewish law, it is permissible to go up to the mount – but added that he has reservations about doing so.

“Of course I am drawn to our holiest site – not the Western Wall, the Temple Mount – but perhaps something should be left for the times of the Messiah,” he said.

“The Jewish people still have much work to do on ourselves,” he added, quoting a line from Psalms: “Who may go up to the mountain of God, and who may stand at His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart.” Rabbi Chaim Richman, director of the International Department of the Jerusalem-based Temple Institute, was extremely critical of the statement. “It is preposterous and absurd for official rabbinic representatives of Jewry to say that it is forbidden.”

“It is false, misleading and criminal to say that we don’t know where the Holy of Holies is,” he continued, in reference to the holiest of the areas that are forbidden to enter according to Jewish law. Richman also pointed to the Temple Mount visit of revered medieval sage Rambam [Moses Maimonides] in the twelfth century.

Richman also referred to a responsum written by Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, a greatly respected adjudicator of Jewish law who died in 1986.

Feinstein had ruled it was permissible to visit certain areas of the Temple Mount and cited a strong tradition of continued ascent to the site following the destruction of the Second Temple.

Others who signed Amar’s statement forbidding ascent included Avigdor Neventzal, the much-respected rabbi of the Old City of Jerusalem, former Sephardi chief rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron and Rabbi Shalom Cohen, dean of the Porat Yosef Yeshiva in the Old City.

Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger added his name to the declaration and said that anyone giving permission to Jews to visit the site was leading them astray.

Rabbi of the Western Wall Shmuel Rabinovitch, who also signed the declaration, stressed that only prayer – not going up to the Temple Mount – would bring about the rebuilding of the Temple.

He said while the law permits Jews to go up to the site, according to his opinion and that of leading rabbis, Jewish law forbids it.

Rabinovitch also pointed out that Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook, a leading figure of the national-religious community and settler movement before his death in 1982, forbade Jews from visiting the Temple Mount.

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