The Temple Institute: The Temple Mount: Truly Ours?



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The Temple Mount: Truly Ours?

July 18, 2002

(This editorial appeared in the Jerusalem Post on Thursday, July 18, 2002)

Today is Tisha B'Av, the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av, the saddest day on the Jewish calendar. It marks the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem, the ancient demise of Jewish sovereignty and the dispersion of the people of Israel to the four corners of the earth.

Throughout Jewish history the date has come to be associated with a range of national disasters, from medieval expulsions and persecutions to the outbreak of World War I. Accordingly, it is a day steeped in sorrow, one tradition says is to be spent in fasting and remembrance.

For Israelis, the need for a national day of mourning has perhaps never been so self-evident. After a lull of nearly three weeks, Tuesday's horrific terror attack in Emmanuel was a lethal and painful reminder that Palestinian terror is still very much a threat, lying in wait for any opportunity to kill and maim as many innocent Israelis as possible.

The central focus of the Tisha B'Av rituals, of course, concerns the Temple Mount, where King Solomon's temple once stood. Observant Jews pray for its rebuilding daily, and for many Israelis the Mount itself symbolizes the historic return of the Jewish people to their homeland. Indeed, the crowning moment of the Six Day War came when the crackling radio blared the words "Har HaBayit beyadenu!" (The Temple Mount is in our hands!) across the airwaves, signifying the liberation of Judaism's holiest site.

The enthusiasm of the moment, however, was quickly diluted when defense minister Moshe Dayan handed over the keys of the Mount to the Muslim Wakf. Worse still, in the intervening years successive Israeli governments have demonstrated shameful apathy - often outright indifference - to the Wakf's actions, doing little to prevent the wanton destruction of priceless historical and archaeological artifacts.

As prominent archaeologist Dr. Eilat Mazar, a leader of the Committee Against the Destruction of Temple Mount Artifacts, noted the other day, the situation on the Mount is highly precarious. In an interview with Arutz Sheva, Mazar said, "The large scale destruction of artifacts has stopped and the trucks have stopped carting away tons of valuable debris, but the situation is still bad: There is no supervision whatsoever on the Temple Mount. We have no way of knowing what is going on underground in the large caverns, where the Wakf has been making preparations to build and make major changes."

Even more worrisome, Mazar noted, are the effects of the Wakf's unsupervised work on the structural stability of the site: "The Southern Wall is beginning to buckle because of the changes they are making... and nothing is being done about it. The Sharon government has decided to ignore the matter, despite the critical importance of what is going on there."

Last year alone the Wakf was able to remove some 20,000 tons of debris uncovered during its unlawful excavations, which reportedly included artifacts dating back to the First Temple period. To date, charges have yet to be brought against anyone in the Wakf for these brazen acts of defiance.

As Mazar put it: "Their stated goal is to turn the entire Temple Mount compound - all 144 dunams of it - into an active mosque. They are doing so, and no one is stopping it."

Sadly, the government continues to play into the Wakf's hands by acceding to its refusal to allow non-Muslims to visit the Temple Mount or pray there. Though Israel justifiably prides itself on its policy of freedom of access to the holy sites for members of all faiths, that policy - inexplicably - does not seem to apply to Jews on the Temple Mount.

Leaving aside the halachic issues involved, it is simply unfathomable that Israel's government should close off the Jewish people's holiest site and bar entry to Jews, all because of the Wakf's intolerance and bigotry. It is an affront to the rule of law and, as Tisha B'Av reminds us, to Jewish history as well.

It is time for the sound of Jewish prayer to return to the Temple Mount. Three decades of inaction have allowed the Wakf to thumb its nose at Israeli rule, calling into question just who is in charge on the Mount.

Interior Security Minister Uzi Landau courageously chose to shut down the offices of Al-Quds University in Jerusalem last week because they were defying Israeli law and sovereignty. One can only hope the government will awaken to the plight of the Temple Mount as well, and act to restore Israel's control over it - in the fullest sense of the word.

Rabbi Chaim Richman

PO Box 31876 Jerusalem, Israel 97500



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