Jewish worshipers are able to pray on the Temple Mount with what appears to be the tacit consent of police forces at the site, The Jerusalem Post observed during a visit there on Thursday.Despite the insistence by Israel Police that there has been no change in the decades-old policy, Jews now pray – in full view of the police – in an unobtrusive and inconspicuous manner.A senior Wakf Department official said he was unaware of any change in the status quo on the Temple Mount, but warned that any change would lead to renewed protests and spark a strong response from Arabs and Muslims.
Led by Rabbi Eliyahu Weber and joyfully singing “Let us go up to the Temple,” a quorum of 10 Jewish men ascended the Temple Mount on Thursday morning at the beginning of non-Muslim visiting hours at 7:00 a.m. This reporter joined the group as it toured the compound.The group began the typical counter-clockwise tour of the site accompanied as usual by several police officers. It began at the Mughrabi Gate and worked its way around the eastern side of the esplanade, stopping at various points and eventually leaving out of the Chain Gate on its western side into the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City.Upon reaching the eastern gate of the Dome of the Rock shrine, Weber and the group of Jewish men, and two women, stopped for between five and 10 minutes to recite the cantor’s repetition of the central Amidah prayer, including the components for congregational participation.A kohen, a member of the priestly line, gave the blessing to the worshipers that is part of the daily morning service.The prayers were recited in full view and the immediate proximity of the police officers escorting the group around the Temple Mount, and they afforded the worshipers the time they needed to complete their prayers. The prayers were said in a deliberately unobtrusive manner without the genuflection that is usually performed in the Amidah prayer, and with Weber leaning against a stone step to avoid drawing attention.Weber said that he and his fellow worshipers deliberately conduct their prayers in a manner that is “not extroverted” or to “antagonize people,” and the police do not intervene when they do it in this way. If we would do this in the face of the Wakf officials, it would not be accepted, but that is not our goal.”The service – a truncated version of the full morning prayer service – was conducted in a very discreet manner, but the worshipers were nevertheless clearly participating in a discernible Jewish prayer service.After the service was finished, the group continued with their tour, stopping again for 15 or 20 minutes to listen to a lesson by Weber on a page of Talmud.Weber and other worshipers pray the morning service every day, and the afternoon service is also recited.In the past, the police would routinely eject or detain any non-Muslim seen to be praying in any way at the holy site, and this stance was mostly backed by the courts, which ruled that although in theory Jewish prayer was legal on the Temple Mount, the police were entitled to prevent it due to security considerations.Police Spokesman Micky Rosenfeld denied that there had been any change in the police’s attitude to non-Muslim prayer at the holy site. “The status quo is exactly the same on the Temple Mount,” he told the Post on Thursday. “The policy has not changed.”All non-Muslim prayer has always been forbidden as the status quo on the Temple Mount, banned by police over concern that the it could inflame tensions and lead to rioting by the Palestinian population.Jewish visitors to the Temple Mount used to be treated with the utmost suspicion by the police, while “Murabitat” activists who were paid to shout and harass Jewish visitors made going to the site an extremely unpleasant experience.Jewish Temple Mount activists have credited current Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan with making the conditions at the site far more amenable and welcoming for Jewish visitors. The number of visits by Jews has increased dramatically as a result, from around 10,000 in 2015 to 29,000 in 2019.“Our ascent to the Temple Mount makes known God’s name in the World,” said Weber, who is styled the dean of the Temple Mount Yeshiva.Weber goes up to the Mount practically every day to recite the morning service with a minyan, and says he has done so for many months.“The essence of our presence on the Temple Mount shows that this place belongs to the Jewish people,” said Weber. “If we don’t come, [it appears] that it doesn’t interest us. The Temple Mount is ours, and we need to know the importance of being there.”Weber said that ultimately he wishes to be able to pray in a more orderly and complete fashion, with the correct prostrations required for prayer at the Temple Mount, and with the use of prayer shawls and tefillin, all of which is not possible at present.The final goal, however, is to rebuild the Temple.“The ultimate goal is to be able to offer sacrifices in the Temple,” Weber says simply. “We are not really dealing with that right now because there are many stages to this."
Jewish worshippers pray in full view of police on Temple Mount (Credit: Jeremy Sharon)
There is religious controversy regarding Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount, let alone when it comes to work aimed at rebuilding the Temple. The influential Torah scholar Maimonides taught that the Temple would be built by Messiah. Other scholars believe that the Temple will descend from the heavens in the messianic era while the modern right-wing flank has called for Jews to build the Temple now and usher in the Messiah.
Weber continued, "We are dealing more with restoring prayer to the site in an orderly fashion. I would love for it to be tomorrow, but offering sacrifices sounds to be a bit more distant.”Temple Mount activists have recently embarked on a campaign to have the site opened for non-Muslim visitors also on Shabbat.Non-Muslims are currently not able to visit the site on Fridays and Saturdays, although prior to the year 2000, visits on Saturdays were possible.Following Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount that year and the outbreak of the Second Intifada, the site was totally shut to non-Muslims. When it reopened in 2003, visits on Saturdays were not permitted.Khaled Abu Toameh contributed to this story.