JUST A THOUGHT: On the Temple Mount

The reality is that the Western Wall is nothing but a retaining wall of the Temple Mount. It is not even a wall of the Temple.

By AHARON E. WEXLER
August 23, 2017 21:27
4 minute read.
Dome of the rock

VIEW OVER The Temple Mount. Right: Al-Aksa Mosque. Left: Dome of the Rock. (. (photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)

 believe the time has come for us to start visiting the Temple Mount. Having lived here for more than 20 years, some of those years spent in the Old City, I have never been up there. The Chief Rabbinate has made it clear that modern Jews are in a state of ritual impurity that prohibits their ascent to the mount.

This prohibition has been the accepted wisdom of the masses, which has led to half a century of ignorance and disconnect. And while I say half a century, this disconnect began even before the Six Day War. During the battle for the Old City our soldiers broke through the Lions’ Gate and announced that the Temple Mount was in our hands, and then promptly ignored it by going in search of the Kotel, the Western Wall. It was only upon arrival at the Kotel did the festivities begin by blowing a shofar and it was there that the iconic picture of those soldiers was taken.

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The Temple Mount refers to what was originally known as Mount Moriah. It seems that there has always been a magnetic attraction between human beings and the Mount.

It is as if the fabric between the physical and the spiritual is thinnest right there.

This is the place where Jewish tradition places the binding of Isaac and it is where the First Temple was built by King Solomon.

It was here that Isaiah and Jeremiah prophesied and it was here that King Zedekiah led the failed rebellion against the Babylonians, leading to the Temple’s destruction in the summer of 586 BCE.

After 70 years of exile, the Persians allowed the Jews to rebuild their Temple; but as a small, faraway province of a much larger empire, Judea failed to attract the wealthy and powerful Jews of the Diaspora, who preferred to remain in the lands of their exile.

Those who came were the poor, the intermarried, and dreamers.

It was from this rabble that the Second Temple was built. Having limited resources, this Temple paled in comparison to the one Solomon had built. At the dedication ceremony, the old men and women – who remembered the First Temple from when they were children – cried about how paltry this Temple was. This is the same Temple that was defiled by the Greeks and was liberated and purified by the Maccabees.

Upon Herod’s ascension to the throne, he took upon himself to rebuild the humble Temple and create the magnificent edifice depicted in art. Motivated by political concerns and shame, he built such a wonderful building that the sages said: “He who has not seen Herod’s building has never seen a beautiful building in his life.”

As part of his renovations, using cutting- edge engineering Herod extended the area of the mount far beyond its historical and geographic area into what is now the rectangular Temple Mount of today.

In order to maintain the new plaza and give it stability, four retaining walls were built around the Temple Mount area. These are the very same walls we see today.

Upon its destruction by the Romans in 70 CE, Jews have mourned its loss and hoped, prayed and dreamed of its return for close to 2,000 years. Barred from entry to the mount by both foreign rulers and rabbinic ordinances, Jews started to congregate around the western retaining wall.

This wall was chosen as it was the closest to the Holy of Holies and close to the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem. Over time this wall became the symbol of Jerusalem and of the Temple, while the Mount itself receded into memory.

The reality is that the Western Wall is nothing but a retaining wall of the Temple Mount. It is not even a wall of the Temple. It has no inherent holiness other than the fact that Jews have prayed there since the Temple’s destruction.

A midrash about the Divine Presence never leaving the Western Wall refers to the western wall of the Temple, not the Temple Mount. The real holiness lies beyond the wall at the place where the Ark of the Covenant used to rest.

We have replaced the Temple Mount with the Western Wall and this is a mistake of historic proportions. This abandonment has led to a Muslim denial of any Jewish claims to the mount and a denial that a Temple had ever stood there.

It’s this denial of history and the loss of the Temple Mount in our people’s consciousness that demands us to start visiting the mount.

Contrary to the rabbinate’s prohibition, rabbis from all streams of Judaism have started permitting visits to certain parts of the Temple Mount, in order to reconnect to the real source of Jerusalem’s holiness and to reassert our historic rights.

Why do we religious Zionists not ascend the Mount? Both our ideology and theology demand that we take active roles in bringing about redemption. We must actively build towns, cities, roads and institutions. Every settlement and highway is seen as bringing redemption even closer.

Yet it has been famously asked before: “Why is it that when it comes to all of the Land of Israel we are Religious Zionists, but when it comes to the Temple Mount, we are Satmar?” Why do we believe that we must sacrifice for the Land of Israel, but the Temple Mount will magically be granted to us? Religious Zionists long ago abandoned the idea that the Temple will fall down to us from heaven. If that is the case, why aren’t we more active when it comes to the Temple Mount? I will be more active and hope to make my very first visit in time for the approaching High Holy Days. ■ The writer holds a doctorate in Jewish philosophy and teaches in post-high-school yeshivot and midrashot in Jerusalem.


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