While the nations of the world are being rocked by financial turbulence and meteorological volatility, in the holy city of Jerusalem history is being written with a steady hand amidst increasing signs that the long awaited redemption is at last drawing near.
Wednesday, October 15th, the first day of Chol Hamoed, (1st day of the intermediate days of Sukkot), the designated day for the biblically commanded Hakhel ceremony:
"'At the end of [every] seven years, at an appointed time, in the Festival of Sukkot, [after] the sabbatical year, when all Israel comes to appear before HaShem, your G-d, in the place He will choose you shall read this Torah before all Israel, in their ears.'" (Deuteronomy 31:10)
After months of quiet but intensive behind the scenes meetings with Israel's Internal Security Minister, top Jerusalem police officials, members of Israel's Knesset, and relevant parliamentary committees, (all the tireless effort of the Temple Institute's Director), word went out across the length and the breadth of the land of Israel that a Hakhel ceremony would be taking place on Biblical schedule upon the Temple Mount.
The campaign was conducted without fanfare and with no publicity. Years of experience have taught that when word of such plans are picked up by the media hostile elements soon threaten violence, and the police, suffering from cold feet, back down from their commitment.
People interested in participating in this once-in-seven-years mitzvah, (which in accordance with halachah - Jewish law - requires a ritual immersion prior to ascending), were asked to register in advance with the Temple Institute for the purpose of expediting the police security arrangements at the Moghrabi Gate entrance to the Temple Mount.
Two aliyot (ascents) were scheduled, one at 7:30 AM and a second ascent at 12:30 PM to accommodate those arriving from afar. An unprecedented four hundred Jews showed up at 7:30 AM and were ushered onto the Temple Mount. This was the largest gathering of Jews on the Temple Mount at one time since its liberation from the Moslems in 1967 - a true Hakhel, (literally, assembly). Once on the Mount the group was, with the prior consent of the police, able to read aloud the prescribed Hakhel ceremony passages from the book of Deuteronomy. Both the size of the assembly and the public Torah service that took place were unprecedented milestones in the ongoing efforts to spiritually liberate the Temple Mount from Moslem oppression. History was made.
Already well before 12:00 noon people began gathering again at the foot of the Moghrabi Gate ramp in anticipation of the 12:30 PM ascent to the Mount. The excitement was palpable as the line grew longer and longer. Men, women and entire families, some with infants in carriages, from towns on Israel's northernmost border with Lebanon, from the Negev, Israel's southern desert, from the Galilee, Haifa, the coastal cities, and, of course, from the tens of cites and towns of Judea and Samaria, had all answered the call made out by Moses 3,500 years ago to assemble in this spot and at this time.
The line awaiting entrance to the Temple Mount was longer than the line of Sukkot celebrants awaiting entry to the Western Wall plaza, a phenomenon never before witnessed. At last the police began admitting people to the Mount. Surely not anticipating such numbers, woefully undermanned, and sadly insensitive to the electricity in the air and the grandeur of the historical moment, the police security check performed on every individual going up was devastatingly slow.
Twelve o'clock turned to one o'clock and still the majority of participants had not completed the security check. At one thirty PM the police abruptly announced that no more people would be admitted. The reason stated? At 1:30 PM each day the Moslem Wakf, which was granted custodianship of the Mount by the state of Israel, shuts the gates to non-Moslems.
Two hundred people had passed through security and were already on the Mount, performing the Hakhel. More than five hundred were left below. People pleaded with the police to allow them to complete the purpose of their pilgrimage to Jerusalem, The Hakhel organizers entreated the police to allow the group just five minutes on the Temple Mount to quickly read out the required biblical verses, after which they would quietly leave. The police refused. The would-be Hakhel participants stood their ground. Desperate phone calls were made to higher ranking police officials, asking them to intervene to allow the worshippers entry to the Mount. The police bottom line was predictable as it was pathetic: "The Wakf rules the Mount." Exceptions to accommodate Jews trying to peacefully carry out a once-in-seven-years 3,500 year old Biblical injunction was out of the question. The standoff continued for another twenty tense minutes, until suddenly, in a moment of panic, the police brought in re-enforcements who violently pushed the Jews back from the Moghrabi Gate ramp.
Despite the bitter disappointment of all who couldn't make it to the Mount, (and this included Rabbi Chaim Richman and Yitzchak Reuven of the Temple Institute), the Hakhel gathering was unprecedented both in the numbers of Jews who did succeed in gathering on the Mount, (over six hundred), and in the number of Jews who arrived who weren't allowed on the Mount, (over five hundred). The recitation of Biblical verses out loud on the Mount with the express consent of the police was also a precedent that will no doubt prove extremely valuable in our ongoing efforts to be able to worship with complete freedom on the Mount. But most importantly, perhaps, we witnessed for ourselves the indefatigable spirit of the Jewish people. Our numbers will only continue to grow, our effort will be redoubled: Jewish worship on the Temple Mount is becoming a reality.