Jewish law, not the Arab world, determines when Jews can go up to the Temple Mount and when they cannot, Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitz said Wednesday in an interview with The Jerusalem Post.
"One thing is clear," said Rabinovitz after explaining that according to Jewish law it is forbidden to go up to the Temple Mount, "Arabs will not dictate to us when to go up to the Temple Mount."
Since 1967, when the site first came under Israel's control, "the majority of rabbis, including the heads of religious Zionism, among them Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook and Rabbi Avraham Shapira, ruled that it was forbidden to go up to the Temple Mount," he said. "The reason we are not allowed to go up is because the Temple Mount is our Holy of Holies, and we have not merited being able to purify ourselves as we need to. We hope to go up there. But the time has not come."
According to Jewish law, it is forbidden to go up to certain parts of the Temple Mount while being in a state of ritual impurity (tuma). One form of such impurity results from coming in contact with the dead. Since, according to Halacha, this ritual impurity is readily transmitted by, for instance, being in the same building as a dead body, all Jews are considered to be unclean. The only way to remove this state of uncleanliness is by obtaining an unblemished red heifer, burning it and mixing its ashes with several other ingredients.
Some rabbis, many of whom are mainstream rabbinical authorities, believe there are places on the Temple Mount that are known to be permitted even to those who are ritually unclean due to contact with the dead. They also see maintaining a Jewish presence on the Temple Mount as important from a religious and political perspective as a precursor to the future rebuilding of the Temple.
However, many rabbis, including Rabinovitz, believe that the Jewish people is still in a state of spiritual exile imposed by God. Therefore, it is still too early to rebuild the Temple or to renew the ancient traditions surrounding it, such as purifying ourselves through a ritual.
Rabinovitz also voiced concern that while technically there might be some places one is permitted to enter after immersion in a mikve (ritual bath) and wearing cloth shoes, uneducated Jews might get the impression it is permitted to go up without any preparation. Therefore, he said, it is preferable to issue a sweeping prohibition.
During Succot, Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, considered the single most influential halachic authority among Ashkenazi haredi Jews, reiterated his opinion that it was forbidden for Jews to go up to the Temple Mount.
His comments came after about 150 Palestinians gathered at the site, known to Muslims as Haram as-Sharif, and hurled stones and bottles at police. Palestinians claimed they had heard rumors that Jewish extremists planned to invade or damage the Aksa Mosque.
Although Israel controls the area, Jordan maintains custodial rights to Muslim religious sites.
MK Ibrahim Sarsur (United Arab List-Ta'al), head of the southern faction of the Islamic Movement, lauded Rabinovitz for his comments.
"The majority of streams within Orthodox Judaism prohibit going up to what the Jews call the Temple Mount," said Sarsur. "I accept the Jewish [belief] that God will be the one who builds the Third Temple and that He will send it down from the heavens on the wings of angels. If all Jews obeyed their rabbis, Jerusalem would be a much quieter place. It is good that Rabbi Rabinovitz made his comments. It should be a message to all extremist Jewish elements who want to destroy al-Aksa and build the Third Temple in its place."
Rabinovitz also commented on accusations made by Muslim leaders - among them Raed Salah, head of the Islamic Movement's more extremist northern faction - that Israel was conducting archeological digs directly underneath al-Aksa.
"For years now Salah has been trying to stoke incitement on the Temple Mount," Rabinovitz said. "We cannot allow ourselves to be dragged into a confrontation with them [the Muslims]. There is a real danger of religious war."
He added, "I want to use this opportunity to make it clear that we are not digging under the Temple Mount. The Jewish religion prohibits going anywhere near that area. So if someone says I am digging there, it is as if he were saying I desecrate the Shabbat, or that day is night."
Sarsur said in response, "There are those who say there is digging going on and there are those who say there is not. I assure you that if Muslim leaders here are permitted by the State of Israel to investigate the issue and we discover there is no digging going on, we will publicly announce it to the entire Muslim world. But as long as the State of Israel refuses to allow transparency, the doubt remains."