A general view of Jerusalem's old city shows the Dome of the Rock in the compound known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount, October 25, 2015.
(photo credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)
A group of Israeli activists are calling on the government to establish a synagogue on the Temple Mount and open it for Jewish prayer.
According to Asaf Fried, a spokesman for an association of organizations dedicated to Jewish rights on the Temple Mount, more than 50 leaders from across the religious spectrum gathered on Sunday to discuss the situation on the Temple Mount. Participants included Rabbi Yehudah Glick (Likud), Baruch Marzel (Otzma Yehudit) and members of the rabbinate.
Jews believe the site – venerated as holy in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam alike – is where the First and Second Temples used to sit.
Riots have continuously erupted on the Temple Mount since last month, when thousands of Palestinians stormed the Golden Gate, which had been closed by a court order since 2003
. Jerusalem Police arrested two senior Wakf officials – east Jerusalem Wakf chairman Sheikh Abdel Azim Salhab and deputy director of the Wakf Sheikh Najeh Bkeirat – banning them from entering the Aqsa Mosque compound for 40 days.
In response, the Muslims took over and converted a 1,500-year-old structure located near the Golden Gate (known as Shaar Harachamim in Hebrew) into a mosque. Currently, the Muslims have four other mosques on the mount, said Fried. Jews, on the other hand, “if you try to pray, you will be arrested.”
The activists argue that by opening the Golden Gate and establishing a new mosque, the Muslims have broken the status quo agreement. Israel has made attempts to shutter the gate, but the Muslims have refused, threatening increased violence.
“If the status quo is broken anyway, then Israel needs to break it, too,” said Fried, arguing that Jews should be allowed to pray on the Temple Mount. “We need a place to pray and we want that structure near the Golden Gate.”
Establishing a synagogue is not unprecedented, explained Yaacov Hayman, head of the Yishai Organization for the Establishment of Synagogues on the Temple Mount. He said in Temple times there was always a synagogue near the Temple.
“The Talmud tractate that talks about Yom Kippur clearly states there was a synagogue,” he said.
His organization has mapped the Temple Mount and created renderings for where up to four synagogues could be located on the holy site.
Marzel told The Jerusalem Post that the Temple Mount is “the holiest place for the Jewish people. Our enemies are taking it over, they are breaking the law, destroying archaeology sites and disgracing Judaism and God. We have to fight.”
Fried said the group is not asking to take over authority on the mount. Currently, the Jerusalem Wakf Islamic religious trust controls and manages the Islamic edifices on and around the Temple Mount. The east Jerusalem Wakf is controlled by Jordan.
However, they would like to see the Temple Mount divided like the way that the Cave of the Patriarchs was divided into a synagogue and a mosque in 1967.
This latest call for a synagogue on the Temple Mount is not the first.
In 2017, MK Bezalel Smotrich (Bayit Yehudi) called for the construction of a synagogue on the Temple Mount in the aftermath of the brutal Halamish (also known as Neveh Tzuf) attack, in which a Hamas terrorist infiltrated the West Bank settlement and murdered three people at their Shabbat table.
“I would set up a synagogue on the Temple Mount today, this morning,” Smotrich said then. “If someone thinks that through terrorism, violence, and the massacre of a family that he will push our sovereignty back, then – if I am the prime minister – this morning, I would close the Temple Mount to Arab prayer and establish a synagogue for Jews. And if the terrorism continues, I would close the mount to Arabs and there will be only Jews there.”
A similar demand was made in 2014, when a large group of religious-Zionist rabbis – including Rabbi Dov Lior, Rabbi Eliyahu Zinni and Rabbi Haim Cohen – penned a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu advocating the construction of a synagogue on the Temple Mount. No action was taken.
Furthermore, there have been bills raised in the Knesset calling for equal prayer rights for Jews on the Temple Mount, but they have generally been shut down, as Muslims threaten violence if the status quo is altered.
Fried said he believes that this time the goal can be accomplished because Israel is in an election period and politicians who can effect change will want to appear responsive.
On March 14, the group is arranging a massive Jewish trip to the Temple Mount. He said he expects hundreds of Jews to attend and to pray in their hearts.
Then, in late March, they will run a protest rally from City Hall to outside the Golden Gate.
“We are all angry about what is going on the Temple Mount,” said Fried. “If we will it, we think this time it will be.”
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