November 14, 2013
by Marcy Oster
KARNEI SHOMRON, Israel – In the last two weeks, Israeli police have arrested at least 10 Jewish men for praying on the Temple Mount. The arrests did not involve a full-blown prayers service, those arrested were silently mouthing the words to Jewish prayers as they walked on the Temple Mount, the holiest place in the world to Jews.
Jews should be allowed to pray on the Temple Mount. And they should not have to do it on the sly as they do now – some, under the watchful eye of the police and Arab bystanders, pretend to have a conversation when what they are really doing is reciting prayers, while others grab quick moments when no one is looking to utter a short phrase or two from Psalms.
To add insult to injury, a group of Muslim women sits atop the Temple Mount when Jewish groups are permitted to visit, shouting catcalls and slurs for the duration, making the visit unpleasant.
Even though Israel's Supreme Court has upheld Jewish prayer rights on the Temple Mount, Jews generally are not permitted to pray or bring ritual objects there in order to avoid confrontation with Muslim worshipers at the Al-Aksa Mosque, Islam’s third holiest site. The Muslim Wakf, the Muslim religious administration charged with managing the Temple Mount site, oversees the site.
The Wakf has overseen the Temple Mount since 1187. When Israel retook the Temple Mount in June 1967, Israel agreed not to rock the boat and to leave the administration of the holy site with the Wakf.
That was a mistake.
A bill proposed earlier this month by the Jewish Home Party would set regular hours for Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount. That seems fair. I do not know if Muslims would be removed from the site during the Jewish prayer hours, though I think the site is big enough for both groups of worshippers. It certainly would be a great way to test the spirit of cooperativeness that would be needed under a peace deal, which should ensure that Jews have access to our holy sites in eastern Jerusalem.
But if a recent Knesset committee meeting is any indication, I would be very wary of any deal with the Palestinians.
During the meeting last week of the Knesset Committee for the Interior, Arab-Israeli lawmakers – yes, citizens of Israel democratically elected to serve in the government – objected to Jewish access to the Temple Mount, and rejected Jewish claims to the holy site. They also threatened a third Intifada, or Arab uprising, over the concept.
“There is no such thing as the Temple Mount, there is only the al-Aksa Mosque,” Arab lawmaker Jamal Zahalke of the Balad Party said. “The second Intifada broke out because of Al Aksa and the third intifada will break out because of you,” Ahmed Tibi of the United Arab List said before he was ejected from the meeting for incitement.
I would be remiss if I did not mention that the Chief Rabbinate of Israel objects to Jewish visitation on the Temple Mount out of concern that visitors will step in the area of the holy of holies, prohibited for all Jews but the Kohen Gadol on Yom Kippur in the time of the Holy Temple. But many respected rabbis have outlined parameters for visiting the Temple Mount that are believed to comport with Jewish law.
And those Jews who want to pray on the Temple Mount should be allowed to without fear of arrest.