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Who's Afraid of the Temple Mount?

The following article was written by Rabbi Chaim Richman of The Temple Institute in response to the publication of a renewed "ban" on entering the Temple Mount, the stated intention of which is to stem the growing tide of Jews who are going up to the mount, although they are doing so in strict accordance with halacha, (Jewish law). In light of the seriousness of the issue, we have decided to post Rabbi Richman's response precisely in the section of our site where people investigating the Temple Mount, or considering making 'aliya' to the Mount, can read it.
Again, the Temple Mount Controversy

by Rabbi Chaim Richman
Jan 25, '05 / 15 Shvat 5765

In recent weeks, the dubious controversy over whether Jews are permitted to ascend to the Temple Mount has again made headlines. Both the Israeli English-language daily "Haaretz" as well as the Jerusalem Post ran stories on the "rabbinical ruling" that declares the Temple Mount off-limits to Jews. Other newspapers throughout the world featured stories on the ban, courtesy of the Associated Press.

Note that in the context of this current controversy, the issue is not political and the ban does not refer to the discriminatory practices of the Israeli security policies. The matter at hand refers to an alleged question of Jewish law.

We refer to this controversy and its public reemergence at this particular time, as "dubious." Some synonyms of the word "dubious" include: doubtful, suspicious, ambiguous, vague, questionable, and imprecise.

All of these adjectives and more can be used to adequately describe the context and background of this issue.

The articles which appeared in Haaretz and in The Jerusalem Post can be seen here. (To give the reader an idea of the widespread coverage which the AP article received, we have also included the articles that appeared in The Times of India and The Washington Post.) To see a fascimile of the original Jerusalem Post article and The Temple Institute's response, click here.

The nature in which both of these articles relate to the facts of this case is extremely misleading. The impression they create is that the most authoritative of Israel's rabbis are against Jewish visits to the Temple Mount, and thus they have issued, with the power of their office, a religious ruling which has the strength to ban Jews from ascending to the site according to the Jewish law. This seems to indicate that these rabbis are speaking with the authority of, and thus, in the voice of, the Torah itself - meaning that the Torah is against Jews ascending to the Temple Mount.

Nothing can be further from the truth. No less of a universally recognized Torah authority than Maimonides himself reckons it as an aspect of the positive commandment of showing reverence for the Temple, to enter into the permitted places of the Temple Mount today. No halachic ruling can change this, and no rabbi or group of rabbis, no matter their stature, have the authority to uproot such a principle.

Furthermore, closer examination of these articles reveals a hodgepodge of prejudices and generalizations that are based neither on Torah law, nor on fact. The rabbis are quoted as saying that "over the years we have lost the exact location of the Temple." This is an inaccurate statement. While a number of opinions do differ over the exact location, the picture is far from muddled; there is a great area upon which one may tread with confidence, far from the sanctified areas, according to all opinions.

The articles also seem to indicate what can best be described as an unhealthy linkage, newly invented, between so-called concerns for Biblical law, and further attempts to discredit the settlement movement (and the entire religious nationalist camp) masquerading as so-called "security concerns." Rabbi Rabinowitz, rabbi of the Western Wall, is quoted as saying that "this comes in response to greater numbers of Jews going up to visit the mount... there is a prohibition against attacking the area and it is a great prohibition. If this (ruling) will influence this, it is a very, very good thing."

What is the meaning of this enigmatic statement? Because of the fact - a blessedly positive development in Israel's history - that Jews are visiting their holiest site in increasing numbers, it became necessary to ban them because "there is a prohibition against attacking the area?!"

Sadly, it seems that there is more involved here than meets the eye, and that political and other considerations may be behind the recent renewal of this ban. We are sorry to report that we have established beyond any doubt, that at least several of the signatories on this recent declaration, deny that their signature was requested...

The article below represents the Temple Institute's official response to this controversy. It was published in its entirety in the Readers' Letters section of the Jerusalem Post on Sunday, January 23rd:

"Chief rabbis prohibit Jews from entering Temple Mount" (Jan. 19) took a minimalistic approach to a complicated and vastly misunderstood issue. Like other matters of complex and erudite Torah knowledge, the subject of the Temple Mount is an area in which one must have an expertise before issuing a judgment. Unfortunately, it is an area of study that has been largely neglected, even by Torah authorities. To say that there is a prohibition against Jews visiting the Temple Mount is misleading and inaccurate, and does a serious injustice to the many religious Jews, great rabbis among them, who do ascend the Mount today in strict accordance with all the requirements of Jewish law, based for example on the previous halachic ruling of the great Radbaz (Rabbi David ben Zimra, 1479-1573). Any religious ruling must be firmly based on Torah law and must be substantiated; authentic rulings cannot be based on opinion, feelings, or alleged security concerns. No group of rabbis have the authority to uproot a Torah law, and according to the "due process" of the formation of halacha, a religious ruling must be based on sources. It should be noted that the great codifier Maimonides establishes as a positive commandment that showing proper reverance (morah mikdash) to the holy site of the Temple Mount even in its present state of disrepair means, for example, "entering into the permitted areas" (Maim. Hilchot Beit HaBechira Ch. 7, 7). Indeed, Maimonidies himself - in the tradition of the great sages of Israel - ascended to the Temple Mount, in spite of great personal danger, and prayed there. He gives the date as the sixth day of Cheshvan and writes that he was so moved to have "entered into the great and holy house and prayed there on the sixth of Cheshvan... and I vowed an oath, that I will always celebrate this day as a personal festival, to be marked by prayer and rejoicing in G-d, and by a festive meal (Maimonides, Letters).

Anyone seeking information regarding how to ascend the Temple Mount in accordance with Jewish law may contact us at temple@temple.org.il. Further information is available at www.templeinstitute.org

Rabbi Chaim Richman
Director, The International Department
The Temple Institute
Jerusalem"

 

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