In one sense, this story started nearly 3,000 years ago when King Solomon built the First Temple on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. In another sense, it started 16 years ago, when Tzipora Piltz saw a simple newspaper ad for a small organization called Nashim L’Ma’an Hamikdash (Women for the Temple Mount).“It hit me that this is something I wanted to be connected to,” Piltz told In Jerusalem. “There were different groups of men involved with the Beit Hamikdash [the Temple] and we felt there should be something especially for women.”Historically, first there was the Mishkan, the portable sanctuary in the desert that preceded the First Temple. Later, after the Jews were settled in Israel, there were two Temples built on the Temple Mount. Traditional Jews today still long for the third, permanent Temple in the same location.The Book of Exodus describes how the women willingly donated their gold jewelry to help build the Mishkan. Echoing this, in the very beginning of their activities, Women for the Temple Mount collected gold jewelry and donated it to the Temple Institute. The Temple Institute, in turn, melted the donated gold down to replicate some of the vessels that were used in the Temple.Piltz wanted to ascend the Temple Mount on her wedding day, but she couldn’t because it had been closed to non-Muslims. In fact, as a result of the second intifada, the Temple Mount was closed to non-Muslims from 2000 to 2003.“When it reopened, we wanted to bring women,” recalled Piltz. “It’s much more complicated for women. So the rabbis said women shouldn’t go up.”Undeterred, Piltz said the group started learning all the Jewish laws concerning what a woman has to do to prepare to ascend the Temple Mount. “Now every single month, we have small groups of women who go up to Har Habayit [the Temple Mount]. And my sister Rina Ariel, mother of Hallel Ariel [the 13- year-old girl who was murdered in a terrorist attack on June 30], is organizing a group of women to go every month on Rosh Hodesh [the first day of the Hebrew month], in memory of her daughter.” In addition, the group is starting a program to make it possible for children to ascend the Temple Mount.
Each woman in Women for the Temple Mount has a different expertise. Members Rivka Shimon and Rachel Sela take brides to the Temple Mount early on the morning of their wedding. Although the brides are not allowed to enter wearing their wedding dresses, according to Piltz, Shimon and Sela speak with them about “the connection between building a private home and God’s home. We also give them some sand that came from Har Habayit to put on their groom’s head during the huppa ceremony. This is another way of remembering the hurban [destruction]and that God still doesn’t have His home.”Orna Herschberg, another group member, is an expert in weaving the ark curtains.Piltz explained that there were 13 such curtains in the Temple, and each year two new ones were woven. This was a significant undertaking, as these curtains were each 20 meters high.Member Ma’ayan Ayash is a jeweler who creates jewelry with Temple themes.Ma’ayan Ben Ami makes the special garments that priests wore when conducting Temple services. Today, any descendant of the biblical priests can order a whole set of custom-made ritual clothing.Tziporet Chezi brings drama and music to the group. Another of Piltz’s sisters, Yael Kabilio, leads a workshop on music in the Temple in which she plays the flute. The flute was one of the instruments of the Levites, who served in the Temple alongside the priests. And Ori Hadasa Kalush writes books about the Temple. Along with her sisters Kabilio and Ariel, Piltz’s role in the group is primarily educational. “I personally give lectures.Especially during the Three Weeks (the preparatory period before Tisha Be’av), people want to hear about the Temple. I give lectures about women in the Beit Hamikdash. What did women do in the Second Temple? I teach about the sacrifice women brought after childbirth. I teach about the weaving of the parochet, the decorative curtains used in the Temple.I teach about the dyeing of the wool.“Also for young girls, we teach the basics of how to weave, so they can get a sense of what it feels like to be involved in making the parochet. We teach simple weaving techniques for girls as young as 10.”Piltz also helps her students rediscover the mishnaic tradition of women dancing in the fields on Tu Be’av and Yom Kippur, a tradition designed to help young women meet their future husbands.As an extension of her commitment to the Temple Mount, Piltz and her family live in an old Arab house at the entrance to the Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives. From her home overlooking the Temple Mount, she can see al-Aksa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock.“I live at the entrance to Ras el-Amud, just at the entrance to the Arab neighborhood,” she said.“This is the holiest place in the world.One of the things Jews are supposed to do is to leave a portion of a wall unpainted as a remembrance of the destruction of the Temples, but I see it from the window every day, so I don’t need another reminder.”Piltz explained that every Jewish family in east Jerusalem has security and they constantly patrol the area. She is aware that there is more of an Israeli police presence near her home on Fridays when thousands of Muslims pray on the Temple Mount. She explained that there have been many more terrorist attacks in Gush Etzion than on the Mount of Olives where she lives.“It would be more convenient to live in an ordinary neighborhood where my children would be very free to go by themselves to their friends and feel comfortable,” she acknowledged. “Over here, we have a courtyard and they play outside all the time. If they want to go to see friends, we have an escort to go with the children.“We are kind of isolated. [The nearby closed Jewish community of] Ma’aleh Hazeitim has 100 families. We’re two families, and that’s something that’s much more challenging. We’ve been living by ourselves here for 14 years. My oldest son was born here. We travel outside of the area a lot and our children see other ways of life. They never challenge the decision to live there. It’s a big z’chut [merit] to live here. My kids live a regular life with youth movements, sports, music lessons and so on.”Returning to the subject of women and the Temple Mount, Piltz spoke about the common impression that men were central to the functioning of the Temple and women were peripheral.“It’s true that the women are not going to bring the korbanot [sacrifices]. But women were very involved with bringing their children and davening [praying] there. It’s a place of prayer.“The men and the women used to daven together in the Ezrat Nashim [the Women’s Courtyard]. On Succot, so many women came that they brought women upstairs to the balcony.”Piltz describes the Temples as a place where women routinely came to connect themselves to the spiritual side of life.Extending her educational role to mothers and daughters in the period leading up to the bat-mitzva year, Piltz is developing a personalized program for the mothers and daughters to do together.“Every month is a new topic connected with the bat-mitzva girl.Each month, they get an activity to do together and they get a story that’s connected to the theme of the month plus a source sheet to learn together.” Part of the project involves the pair documenting everything.“For example, one month, they will go together to the grandmother and the grandmother will teach the granddaughter to make a special food for Shabbat. The three generations will cook together,” Piltz illustrated.Another activity is for the mother to take her daughter to the places in Israel where she grew up and went to school in order to help her daughter better understand the family’s roots. Not surprisingly, another of the monthly themes is the Temple Mount.As preparation for writing the yearlong program, Piltz interviewed mothers about how they look at the bat mitzva year and what might be meaningful to include. She plans to eventually publish her program as a book, in memory of her niece Hallel Ariel.Although the program is still being refined, Piltz plans to meet with the participating mother and daughter to see which activities would be most meaningful for the family. In addition, during the year, she plans to have two meetings for the girls involved in the program, so they can share what they’ve done so far in the year.She recognizes that not every mother and daughter may be able to complete all 12 activities, so she’s prepared to help them choose which ones are the best match for the pair. She plans to launch the program with Hebrew-speakers and expand to include English speakers in the second stage.Addressing herself briefly to Tisha Be’av, which marks the destruction of both Temples, Piltz spoke about a lecture she gives on why we even need the Temple.
“We live comfortable Jewish lives. It seems that we have everything.What’s missing in our daily lives? Actually, we have a lack of peace, a lack of blessing, a lack of spirituality. So many things lacking, but we don’t feel it today.“The shulhan [golden table] in the Temple used to give physical blessings to one’s private kitchen. The Sanhedrin [Jewish court] used to sit in the Beit Hamikdash. We had a king. We had the law.We had a higher level of spirituality.”When the Third Temple is restored, “the whole situation will change. If we don’t learn about it, we can’t understand what’s missing.A blind person can’t understand the color blue. It’s hard for us to understand what it was like when the Beit Hamikdash was with us.“We were born blind to the power of the Beit Hamikdash. Learning about what the Temple contributed to Jewish life starts to make it real and it opens eyes. When you learn what’s lacking, then you can really increase the urge to have it again,” Piltz concluded.