‘War of the rabbis’ over Temple Mount strife goes from Halacha to politics

Bayit Yehudi MK Wortzman tells 'Post' that halachic debate on issue is legitimate, but he does not accept attempts to tie terrorist attacks to the efforts of those seeking to visit the Temple Mount.

Two men overlook the Temple Mount's Dome of the Rock from a distance. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Two men overlook the Temple Mount's Dome of the Rock from a distance.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
A war of halachic opinions has broken out between haredi and national-religious rabbis over Jewish visitation to the Temple Mount.
Rabbi David Yosef, one of the four members of the Shas Council of Torah Sages and the son of the late Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, wrote to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday and called on him to close the Temple Mount to Jews.
Yosef’s criticism of such visits make him the latest in a series of senior political and rabbinic figures within the haredi Shas party to speak out against the national-religious rabbis who rule it is permitted to visit the Temple Mount, with the debate taking on an increasingly political and ideological thrust.
Shas leaders have in the past two years fiercely denounced the national-religious political party Bayit Yehudi, with Yosef saying earlier this year that the national-religious community was “the biggest threat to Judaism.”
Several senior Bayit Yehudi figures have spoken out against criticism of those visiting the Temple Mount and the tone of the debate, with Deputy Education Minister Avraham Wortzman telling The Jerusalem Post on Sunday that he objected both to the implication that visiting the holy place led to the recent terrorist attacks, as well as the explicit criticism of rabbis who give halachic sanction to such visits.
In his letter to the prime minister on Sunday, David Yosef pointed to one of his father’s works on Jewish law where he cited several opinions of Torah scholars who had ruled that it was forbidden for Jews to visit the site, including Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Hacohen Kook, one of the ideological fathers of the national-religious movement and the first chief rabbi of Mandate Palestine.
“In light of this, I appeal to you to close the entrance to the entire area of the Temple Mount to Jewish visitors and not to be fooled by a small minority of extremist and weird people,” Yosef wrote in reference to the various Temple Mount activist groups.
“For all types of messianic claims [these groups] are using Jewish law falsely, and their evil inclination is finding fictitious leniencies for them... which is causing great harm to the nation that dwells in Zion and are arousing the nations of the world and bringing them to hate us, and their actions are being used by those who hate Israel to take the sword in their hands to kill us and carry out murders and terrorist attacks and to incite all the nations of the world against us.”
It has been the main- stream rabbinic opinion for many years to ban Jews from the site, since it is currently impossible to perform a required ritual to ascend to the Temple Mount. Several senior rabbis in the national-religious community in recent years permitted visitation, however, arguing that the prohibited areas can be avoided.
Speaking to the Post, Wortzman said that the halachic debate surrounding the issue was legitimate, but could not accept attempts to tie terrorist attacks to the efforts of those seeking to visit the Temple Mount.
“This is the mentality of the exile, that we the Jewish people are always guilty and that we should stay in our own corner so as not to upset others,” said Wortzman.
“Rabbi Glick is totally dedicated to his ideals, but is he and his colleagues responsible for violent and murderous Arab terrorist attacks?” he asked in reference to Rabbi Yehudah Glick, the Temple Mount activist who was the victim of an attempt- ed assassination attempt two weeks ago.
Wortzman objected to the attacks on national-religious rabbis who permit Jewish visitation to the site.
“I have spoken personal- ly to my rabbi, Rabbi Haim Druckman, who permits going up, so I very much hope that the chief rabbi was not referring to Rabbi Druckman, or Rabbi [Dov] Lior, or Rabbi [Nachum Rabinowitz], who have all said that it is permitted. “This would be directly harming the dignity of great Torah scholars and I hope he will retract these comments.”
Senior national-religious figure Kiryat Shmona Rabbi Tzafaniya Drori also took issue with the rabbinic opponents of Jewish visitation to the Temple Mount. He said that visiting the holy place was a religious commandment, and cited the historic visits paid to the site by renowned medieval rabbis Maimonides and Nachmanides as proof that Jewish visitation is permitted in Jewish law.
“We know exactly where it is permitted to go and where it is not,” Drori said on Sunday, the Kipa news website reported, saying that the physical structure of the Temple Mount had not changed since antiquity.
The rabbi said that there was “no basis to the claim” that the site of the Temple was unknown, and that it was possible to discern exactly which areas require immersion in a ritual bath before visiting and which areas are entirely off limits.
“If we don’t go up the Temple Mount other people will take control and we will have abandoned it,” continued Drori.
“Every person who goes up should be considered as some- one who is protecting the holy site... Anyone who belittles those who go up to the Temple Mount also abandons his right to be in the Old City of Jerusalem and at the Western Wall. We do not intend to fight with the Arabs, but [going up] is in no way incitement,” the rabbi continued.
“The Arabs claimed in the past that going to the Western Wall was a reason to riot, and today their excuse is the Temple Mount,” he added in reference to the 1929 riots during the British Mandate that were sparked over Jewish access to the site.
“The [recent] violence did not start at the Temple Mount, it began in Jerusalem about other issues entirely, it’s not connected at all, this is just a lie,” he added.
On Saturday night, Shas chairman Arye Deri spoke out against Jewish visitation on Saturday night, saying it was as severe as eating on Yom Kippur, which Jewish law stipulates incurs spiritual excommunication.
“Because Jews are going to the Temple Mount, fewer people are coming to Jerusalem, there are fewer students here, the entire world is against us, and what are we losing? Jerusalem is again becoming isolated, without tourists, [there’s an] intifada,” he said on Channel 2’s Meet the Press program.