October 11, 2012
by Marcy Oster
A member of my community who is also a well-known politician was arrested last week for praying on the Temple Mount, Judaism's holiest site.
Moshe Feiglin, the head of the religious Zionist Manhigut Yehudi faction of the Likud Party, has been visiting the Temple Mount once a month for years, with little incident. But when he visited last week, he was arrested for "violating the custom of the site" by praying.
I am not sure the police's use of the word custom is entirely accurate. After the Six Day War in 1967, Israel allowed the Jerusalem's Islamic Wakf to remain in control of the Temple Mount. The Wakf forbids non-Muslim worship on the site that is holy to both Muslims and Jews.
So at the very least, the fact that Jews are not allowed to pray on the Temple Mount is an issue of status quo and not "custom."
When I first heard the news, I was angry with Feiglin. Why do such a thing at a time when tension is so high between Arabs and Jews, and Muslims and the rest of the world? The incident could have sparked the Arab unrest at the Temple Mount following Friday morning prayer services three days later. And certainly the visit of high-profile Jews to the Temple Mount has been said to have led to unrest, including the start of the second Palestinian intifada, linked to a pre-holiday visit to the Temple Mount by Ariel Sharon (though he did not pray there, and the intifada had been planned long before his visit).
But I quickly got over my anger. The Temple Mount is the holiest place in the world to Jews. How is it that we are not allowed to pray there? We are not asking Muslims not to stop praying there, we just want to be able to pray there as well.
We say that the Temple Mount is important to us and that it should be a part of Israel, or that we should at least have equal access to it under any future peace deal with the Arab world. If that is the case we should already be praying there, or at least fighting for our right to do so.
Why should we fool around with a status quo that has been around for more than 40 years? Because it is more important now than ever. Because in the not so distant past we were closer to a peace agreement than ever. And because now it is becoming increasingly likely that an agreement will be imposed upon us. Under those circumstances, we have to show the world what our red lines are, and what is not just important, but essential to our lives as Jews and Israelis.
In the past Jews were forbidden to set foot on the Temple Mount for fear of stepping in holy places. But these holy areas have been demarcated and today many religious rabbis, particularly religious Zionist rabbis, have both visited the site and allowed their followers to visit as long as they avoid the forbidden areas.
At least eight Jewish Israelis, including Feiglin, were arrested last week during Succot for praying at the Temple Mount. The Jerusalem magistrate court judge presiding over Feiglin's hearing said that Jewish prayer should be allowed at the holy site. The judge was echoing Israel's supreme court, which ruled in 2006 that Jewish prayer should not be prevented on the Temple Mount, but ultimately left the decision in the hands of Israeli police, who continue to enforce the no-prayer rule.
But I think in the future, even more Jews will be willing to be arrested for the transgression of praying at Judaism's most holy site.
Marcy Oster writes for the Cleveland Jewish News from Karnei Shomron, Israel. She can be reached at email@example.com.