A Jewish man visits the plaza of the Dome of the Rock on October 27..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
There are two pivotal battles being fought today in our holy capital of Jerusalem.
The first, of course, is the ongoing street war between Israeli security forces and hundreds of hooded thugs (perfectly fitting the appellation “hoodlum”), who are incited and inspired on a daily basis by Palestinian politicians and clerics to use any means possible to create a state of chaos. This is not a new phenomenon; it is merely the latest chapter in a hundred-year Arab-Muslim war against any Jewish presence in the Middle East. Today’s installment is just playing out in Jerusalem.
Never mind that the Koran never once mentions Jerusalem (as opposed to hundreds of times in the Tanach ). Never mind that not a single Arab leader – including the Saudi “caretakers” of the Muslim holy places – bothered to visit Jerusalem during the Jordanians’ 19-year occupation of the city. Only now that the Jews have returned to Jerusalem, reunified and rejuvenated it, are the Muslims suddenly crowing about its importance in Islamic life and decrying its “defilement” at the hands of the “impure” Jews.
But this is only one of the wars being waged. The other – which may be even more tragic – is the internal Jewish conflict over the right of Jews to go up to Har Habayit – the Temple Mount. The haredi world is taking a hard-line, rigid stance against Jews ascending the Mount, asserting the long-held opinion that the eternal holiness of Har Habayit is compromised when Jews walk there. The Chief Rabbinate has traditionally adopted this position, issuing regular declarations proclaiming it a “great sin” to enter the area where the Temple once stood.
Rabbi David Yosef, son of the late former chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, reiterated this decree earlier this week, calling on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to close the site to Jews and physically bar them from entering.
On the other side of the debate are numerous leading rabbis of the national-religious camp, who steadfastly maintain that going up to Har Habayit is not only permissible, but a religious obligation that can and should be carried out under specific religious guidelines. Their spiritual mentor in this belief is the late Rabbi Shlomo Goren, who served as the first chief rabbi of the IDF – from independence until 1968 – and as the country’s Ashkenazi chief rabbi from 1973 to 1983.
Rabbi Goren was among the first to reach the Western Wall upon its liberation in 1967, and is immortalized for sounding the Shofar there and proclaiming, “ Har Habayit b’yadeinu! ” (The Temple Mount is in our hands!) Rabbi Goren, who was a talmudic scholar par excellence, steadfastly held that while we do not know for certain the exact place where the Holy of Holies once stood – agreeing that it was, indeed, a place off-limits to Jews due to ritual impurity – we definitely do know the places where it was not located, and those places must be visited by Jews of faith.
He cited both Maimonides and Nahmanides as being among the great Torah sages who had prayed there in generations past. To that end, he organized a prayer service on the Temple Mount on August 15, 1967, soon after the Six Day War ended, and drew a detailed map of the places where a Jew may or may not go. He also called to build a synagogue on the Mount, a call being heard more and more often today.
CERTAIN SALIENT points about this debate seem glaringly obvious to me:
• The claim that a Jewish presence on Har Habayit “inflames” Muslim sensitivities and invites disaster is disingenuous.
While today the Mount may indeed be a flashpoint for them, last week it was the light rail, and tomorrow it may be the Malha Mall. What shall we do when they riot en masse at the Kotel, or at the Cave of the Patriarchs – two other sites that they maintain are exclusively Mus - lim shrines? Shall we forbid Jewish worship there, too? Let us not forget that the murderous Arab riots of 1929 began when a Jew had the audacity to blow a shofar at the Kotel at the conclusion of Yom Kippur. Though the law must be administered wisely and judiciously, especially in a country so multi-dimensional and complex as ours, the inmates must never, ever be allowed to run the asylum.
• The present situation, whereby the Israeli government has empowered the Muslim Wakf (religious council) as “master” of the Mount, and whereby a Jew who enters is identified and checked against a master list of “provocateurs” and then rudely warned by a Jewish policeman not to pray – or even to move his lips – while on the Mount, is completely insane. Not only does it demean and de - grade our Jewish citizens – and reinforce the Muslim position that they, and not we, are the spiritual heirs of this land – it gives the lie to the claim that we “respect the right of all religions to pray at their respective holy places.”
• The call by members of our own rabbinic establishment to stay away from Har Habayit, well-intentioned as it may be, undermines our claim to the land and our very legitimacy as a state. It emboldens the extreme elements of the Muslim population, whose murderous activi - ties are fueled by the constant mantra, passed down from generation to generation, that “the Jews stole our land” and that we are therefore deserving of whatever vengeance they can wreak upon us.
And for good measure, it makes us look ridiculous, while branding us as the guilty party in the eyes of the world. As one US senator bluntly asked me, “Why in God’s name are you Jews making such a fuss over the Mount if you don’t even go up there in the first place?!” Jews have clung to Jerusalem since the moment that Abraham brought his son Isaac to the Akeda on Mount Moriah, an act of devotion that endowed the spot with eternal holiness and set the stage for the building of both holy Temples there. We have seen untold for - eign countries and conquerors covet and capture Jerusalem, from the Babylonians to the Greeks to the Romans, the Mus - lims, Crusaders, Mamelukes, Turks and British. Through it all, wherever on the planet we happened to live at the time, we never lost our connection to the Holy City, physically or spiritually. We faced Har Habayit when we prayed thrice daily to return there; we remembered Jerusalem at every wedding, at every brit mila, at the Passover Seder and in the very last prayer of Yom Kippur; we even kept a bit of the soil of Mount Moriah on our mantle.
And we certainly will not falter now that we have returned and rebuilt this unique capital of ours – the jewel of the Middle East, the eye of the universe, the crossroads of human history, the place where Man and God meet. Unlike in the past 2,000 years, our backs are no longer to the wall. Now we face the Wall with heads held high.The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana.