A little more than a week ago, I ascended the Temple Mount together with a group
of more than 50 Jews from Ra’anana’s Ohel Ari synagogue.
Needless to say,
all of us immersed in a mikva (ritual bath) prior to the trip, refrained from
wearing leather shoes, and walked only in areas that are permitted by
Guided by the indefatigable Rabbi Chaim Richman of the Temple
Institute, and led by our congregation’s Rabbi Ronen Neuwirth, we got a
firsthand look at the situation which prevails at Judaism’s holiest
Put simply, it is absolutely infuriating.
discrimination is practiced against religious Jews, who are singled out for
special treatment by Israel’s police that is not accorded anyone professing a
After going through a security checkpoint, a gruff
policeman told our group, “you must stay together at all times, you must move
quickly through the site and do not pray. You are not allowed to
Not exactly the welcome that I expected to receive at a place of
such profound significance to Jewish history and destiny.
visit, we were accompanied by five to six Israeli Arab policemen and two or
three officials from the Muslim Wakf which administers the site. In addition to
hurrying us along and brusquely interrupting our guide, their primary task was
to keep an eye on our lips, lest anyone dare to move them and utter a silent
prayer to his Creator.
There were other groups on the Mount at the same
time as ours, including Christian pilgrims from Romania, various non-religious
tourists, and Israeli Arabs. None of them were subjected to the same watchful
In the week prior to our visit, the police had arrested 15 Jews
for praying or being suspected of praying (whatever that means) on the Mount.
Later, when I asked a border policeman why Jews were barred from praying, he
shrugged his shoulders and said, “it would upset the Arabs.”
The state of
affairs on the Temple Mount is intolerable and untenable. Basic freedoms, such
as the right to worship and free speech, are being trampled, and Jews are
subjected to discrimination unheard of anywhere else in the Western
A way must be found to enable Jews to exercise their right to
commune with their Maker, without further stoking hatred and intolerance. In
fact, there is a simple and very practical solution to this predicament: build a
synagogue on the Temple Mount where Jews would be free to pray as they
NOW BEFORE you start rolling your eyes at the idea, consider the
following: for over four centuries after the Caliph Omar conquered the land of
Israel in 633-4 CE, a synagogue and Jewish house of study operated on the Temple
Mount and Jews were able to pray there freely.
Among others, this is
attested to by Rabbi Abraham bar Chiya HaNassi, a leading Spanish rabbinical
authority of the 12th century, who wrote in his book Megilat Megaleh that, “at
the beginning, after the Romans destroyed the Temple, Israel was not prevented
from coming and praying there, and similarly the kings of Ishmael enacted a
beneficent custom and allowed Israel to come to the Temple Mount and build a
house of prayer and study.”
Furthermore, he notes, “all the exiles of
Israel who lived near the Temple Mount would ascend on festivals and holidays
and pray there.”
In other words, there is a clear historical precedent
that even during periods when the Mount was under Muslim control, the rights of
Jews were respected. So now that it is under Israeli sovereignty, should we
accept anything less? Even after the synagogue was closed in 1080, individual
Jews continued to pray on the Mount, such as the great medieval Jewish authority
Maimonides. In the 13th century, the Meiri, one of the greatest commentators on
the Talmud, noted in his comments on Tractate Shevuot (16a) that there was a
custom among Jews to enter the Temple Mount.
More recently, prominent
rabbinical authorities such as former chief rabbis Shlomo Goren and Mordechai
Eliyahu have supported the idea of Jews ascending the Temple Mount and
constructing a synagogue there.
Indeed, after Israel liberated the Temple
Mount in 1967, Jews prayed and studied there regularly.
Rabbi Goren, who
served as chief rabbi of the IDF in the 1967 Six Day War, wrote in his
monumental work Har HaBayit (p.14), that after the site’s liberation, “in the
framework of the IDF Chief Rabbinate, we held symposiums and conducted organized
public prayers on the Temple Mount – morning, afternoon and evening – and we
read from the Torah on the Sabbath and on Mondays and Thursdays.”
of angering the Arabs, the Israeli government later put an end to Rabbi Goren’s
But the idea of building a synagogue on the Temple Mount did
not die, and six years ago, in October 2006, National Union MK Uri Ariel
proposed a similar measure, saying at the time, “a synagogue will not harm the
status quo and it will not come in place of a mosque. The Arabs can do their
thing in the mosque, and we will do ours in a synagogue” on the
Ariel has it exactly right.
Building a synagogue on the
Temple Mount will not exacerbate tensions with the Arabs, it will alleviate
By preventing Jews from praying on the Mount, and mistreating those
who do, the police are actually fanning the flames of outrage, rather than
The best way to prevent friction on the Temple Mount is to
accommodate the needs and wishes of both Jews and Arabs, rather than squelching
one at the expense of the other.
The Temple Mount is our holiest site,
one that has served as the focus of our people’s dreams and yearnings for the
past 2,000 years. Visiting it was a powerful spiritual experience, one that
touched me to the core of my very being.
But it was distressing to see
the extent to which Israel’s government defers to threats of Arab unrest at the
expense of its own citizens and their basic rights.
Building a synagogue
on the Temple Mount will underline Israel’s sovereignty, while also guaranteeing
the freedom of access to all religions that is at the heart of governmental
policy. It would give the Muslims a chance to demonstrate just how tolerant they
truly are. We don’t begrudge them the right to pray, so why should they begrudge
us? Just before the leaving the Mount, I leaned over and pretended to whisper in
my 12-year old son’s ear, reciting the section from the daily Amida prayer, “May
You return in compassion to Jerusalem Your city, and dwell in it as You
promised. May you rebuild it rapidly in our days, an everlasting
Just then, my son interrupted me, saying, “Daddy, there is
a policeman running at us.” I looked up and saw the officer, his face contorted
in anger, as if I had just stolen his donuts.
The cop barked at us,
yelling that we should leave immediately, which my son and I proceeded to do,
but not before I stubbornly completed the rest of the prayer: “May You install
within it soon the throne of David. Blessed are You, O Lord, who builds
May the day soon come when that prayer, and others like it,
can be recited freely by Jews in the place where the Temple once stood, and will
yet stand again.