UTJ's Gafni slams Ben-Gvir, says Temple Mount visit was 'a violation of Jewish law'

Ben-Gvir responded to Gafni's accusations by saying that he should find it "inappropriate to preach morals."

 LEFT: UTJ MK Moshe Gafni, RIGHT: Otzma Yehudit leader MK Itamar Ben Gvir (photo credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90, YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
LEFT: UTJ MK Moshe Gafni, RIGHT: Otzma Yehudit leader MK Itamar Ben Gvir
(photo credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90, YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

National Security Minister MK Itamar Ben-Gvir violated Jewish law by visiting the Temple Mount, United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni said on Wednesday morning, adding that his actions "only cause damage and have no benefit."

"My position is that it is prohibited by halacha [Jewish law] to visit the Temple Mount, and I said this to minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, in the past and today. I think it is not okay. Ascent to the holy of holies is prohibited. That is why the chief rabbis over the generations prohibited this, and said that the punishment was  'kareth' [extirpation or the act of being expelled]," Gafni said at the start of a Knesset Finance Committee meeting.

"In addition to the halachic position, it does not gain anything and is just a provocation in front of the whole world. The fact that one does not ascend [to the site] does not mean that it is not his – on the contrary, it means he respects it as the holy of holies. There is no difference here between the religious-Zionist and haredi positions – the vast majority say that it is prohibited," Gafni added.

Gafni later made similar comments on Twitter.

The prohibition that Gafni referred to is based on the fact that all Jews today are considered halachically impure and are therefore not allowed to visit the holy site. Since 1967, some religious-Zionist rabbis have that there are some places at the site that are not considered as holy, and therefore if one goes to a ritual bath prior to the visit, he or she may follow a specific trail close to the perimeter of the compound.

 National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir on Temple Mount on Tuesday, January 3, 2023 (credit: PUBLIC SECURITY MINISTRY) National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir on Temple Mount on Tuesday, January 3, 2023 (credit: PUBLIC SECURITY MINISTRY)

Ben-Gvir responded to Gafni's tweet, saying: "Rabbi Gafni, I greatly respect you but believe that a party that does not want to be part of the government so as not to take responsibility over the country, should [find it] inappropriate to preach morals.

"The Temple Mount is not just a religious matter (and our rabbis say that it is a commandment to go up!), it is a symbol of sovereignty and governance, and the enemy is testing us according to our actions there. On my watch, Israel will not surrender to Hamas."

Leading haredi daily newspaper Yated Ne'eman, which is associated with Gafni's "Degel Hatorah" faction within UTJ, slammed Ben-Gvir on its front page, calling his visit an "unnecessary and dangerous provocation."

In response, MK Almog Cohen from Ben-Gvir's Otzma Yehudit party wrote on Twitter that the newspaper was "not loyal to the state of Israel."

Ben-Gvir's visit to the site on Tuesday drew criticism from a number of Arab and Western countries alike, including the US and France. The site, according to an agreement between Israel and Jordan after the Six-Day War in 1967, is considered a site of prayer for Muslims and a heritage (not religious) site for Jews. The site is controlled by a Jordanian religious endowment called the "Jerusalem Islamic Waqf," and Jews are not allowed to pray there.

The site is also considered a national and cultural symbol for the Palestinians.

Ben-Gvir seems adamant about continuing the visits to the site and eventually changing the status quo to enable all religions to pray there. This could have security and diplomatic consequences and may therefore lead to a clash between the national security minister and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.