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Unbroken Chain: The Historical Jewish Presence on the Temple Mount

reposted from The Jerusalem Post
01.22.2015 | 2 Shevat, 5775

From time immemorial the Jewish people have had an unbreakable bond with the Temple Mount, beginning when Abraham journeyed there at G-d's request to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice.

Years later at this same location, King David officially bought the land, the “threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite,” and built an altar to the Lord (2 Samuel 24:18, 21), and it was here that the First Temple (10th century BCE-586 BCE) and Second Temple (516 BCE-70CE) stood.

In 67 CE, the Jewish revolt against the oppressive Roman rule in Palestine broke out, and three years later the Roman army, commanded by Titus, conquered Jerusalem and destroyed the Second Jewish Temple. It is widely believed that after this point in history Jewish physical contact with the Temple Mount was lost. Though Jews continued for generations to pray to return to their holiest site, once they went into exile, any tangible connection came to an end. As General Motta Gur, the commanding general of the paratrooper brigade who liberated the Old City in 1967 told his troops, “For some two thousand years the Temple Mount was forbidden to the Jews. Until you came and returned it to the bosom of the nation.”

However, the truth a Jewish presence on the Temple Mount actually continued throughout history. In fact, when Beitar, the last Jewish fortress town of the Bar Kochba rebellion fell in135 CE, the Romans did not object to the continued worship of local gods, and did not prevent Jews returning to worship on the Temple Mount, the site where the Temple had stood only a few years earlier. And Jews did ascend, as we know from numerous Talmudic accounts.

With the rise of the Christian Byzantine Empire in the 4th century, Jews were allowed access to the Temple Mount only one day a year on the anniversary of the day when the Second Temple was destroyed, however, when Julian became emperor in 361, among his first acts was an edict of universal religious toleration that extended freedom and equal rights to all sects and beliefs- pagans, Jews and Christians, including once again full access to the Temple Mount.

In 637 CE, Jerusalem was conquered by the Muslims who made clear their intention to establish their rule over this site. A Jewish letter written in the 11th century describes how Jews who accompanied the Arab invaders showed them the exact spot where the Temple once stood. In return they received a number of concessions, including the right to reside in Jerusalem, the assignment to keep the Temple Mount clean, and permission to pray on the Temple Mount without interference.

During the Crusader years, the famous Jewish traveler Benjamin of Tudela, who visited Jerusalem sometime between 1159 and 1172, wrote that Jews continued to pray “in front of the Western Wall." The Western Wall that Benjamin described was not the present Western Wall (which did not become a site for prayer until the 16th century) but the ruins of the western wall of the Temple building itself, on the Temple Mount.

When Saladin re-took control of Jerusalem from the Crusader kingdom in October 1187, he permitted both Jews and Muslims to settle in the city and to once again worship on the Temple Mount. As Rabbi Menachem Meiri (1249 – 1316), the famous French Talmudic scholar wrote, “We have heard that it is the accepted custom to enter (the Temple Mount)” and generation or two later, the chief rabbi of Jerusalem Rabbi David ben Shlomo Ibn Zimra (1479-1573) wrote that the city’s Jews regularly went up to the Temple Mount in order to view the entire Temple ruins and pray there. He added that “we have not heard or seen anyone object to this.”

In 1516, after Jerusalem became a part of the Ottoman Empire, Suleiman I ordered the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem that had been in ruins almost three centuries, and at soon after established for all times the right of Jews to pray at what is today's Western Wall. This royal decree was said to have been issued to the Jews in compensation for their relinquishing their legal rights to pray on the Mount itself, which now became off limits for all non-Muslims, and would remain as such for more than three hundred years.

In 1967, nineteen years after the Jordanian army captured Jerusalem’s Old City, including the Temple Mount, Israeli paratroopers entered Jerusalem’s Old City and made their way to the Temple Mount. That was when General Motta Gur radioed his famous message: “The Temple Mount is (again) in our hands.” However, after the dust settled from the Six-Day War, Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol decided to return the authority of the Temple Mount to the Jordanian Waqf. Despite Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel, the Temple Mount remains in exile.

 

 

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