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HaRav Moshe Feinstein zt'l on the Permissibilty of Jews Ascending the Temple Mount


The following excerpt is a halachic response written by Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt'l, considered by world Jewry as a gadol hador - that is, among the outstanding halachic (Jewish legal) authorities of his generation. The direct question he is relating to is not whether it is permissible halachically for Jews to enter the Temple Mount. However, in the course of his response he finds it necessary to address the issue of Jews ascending to the Temple Mount. It becomes clear by Rabbi Feinstein's words that he held that areas on the Temple Mount situated outside of the Temple courtyard boundaries are absolutely permissible for entry by Jews, after having first immersed in a mikve.

The excerpt below has been translated by Rabbi Chaim Richman. Bracketed words were added by Rabbi Richman for the purpose of helping to convey Rabbi Feinsteins's thoughts, which, in the Hebrew original, are expressed in the terse legalistic style typical of halachic literature. Bolded words represent aspects of Rabbi Feinstein's responsa most relevant to the subject of Jews entering the Temple Mount.

The original, untouched Hebrew text appears directly below the English translation.


"Concerning that which you answered"

Now concerning that which you answered regarding the question raised in the book Omer HaShik'ha, regarding the fact that in both the Tur and Shulchan Orech there is no mention of a law stating that in our time, it is forbidden to spit on the Temple Mount:

[You offered as a possible answer] that in any event, such a case is only hypothetical because such a possibility could never occur since it is forbidden for tamei meitim (those rendered impure by exposure to death) to enter into the area of the Temple Mount, and [after all] we are all in that category today [and this would be the reason that the aforementioned codes of law did not mention this principle - namely, because it has no practical bearing] -

But observe, there is a place on the Temple Mount where entry for tamei meitim is permissible, even according to [the stricter] rabbinical ordinance - that is, up to the cheil, which lay within the soreg. Now, as far as that which the Rambam cites (Hilchot Beit HaBechira, Ch. 5,3) that the soreg encompassed all around, it is possible that the cheil was also encompassed all around. The Tosafot Yom Tov (Midot 2,3) explains it this way in the name of Rabbi Eliezer ben Yaakov - according to this, it is permissible for tamei meitim to enter into the Mount until the soreg (which was a number of cubits wide - I have not been able to determine how many) from all sides, even from the west. And according to the opinion of the Rosh (ibid) who maintains that the soreg was only on the eastern side from north to south, perhaps the cheil was also only to be found there, and if that were the case, perhaps on the other sides the ten cubits of the cheil were past the Women's Court - and thus, it would even be permitted (for the tamei met) to enter from the west.

Now regarding other forms of impurity [that may effect an individual], after all, it is possible to immerse [in a mikveh, and thus be purified of these other types of impurity, therefore the issue of other forms of impurity other than that of death is not an issue that could prevent one from entering into those areas of the Temple Mount which are permissible for tamei met to enter]. If one is concerned [about the more severe state of impurity - not common in our times - ] about zivah, then that individual can count seven clean days, and immerses in a spring (or other natural source of fresh water) and afterwards wait until the following day [and that process would be sufficient even to allow a zav, a person with an unnatural flow, to enter into the Temple Mount as described above]. And even though such an individual is still in the category of mechusar kapara, [a halachic category referring to one who has now been rendered pure but is still missing an element of atonement because he did not bring a required offering - that is not problematic, for] the Rambam cites in Hilchot Beit HaBechira 3,5 such an individual may still enter, even into the Women's Court - [which possesses a higher level of sanctity] - and may certainly enter into the other areas of the Temple Mount.

Thus we find that the law which forbids spitting on the Temple Mount in the areas in which entry is permitted to tamei meitim, is indeed applicable... and thus, the question raised by the Omer HaShicha is a valid one.

[Rav Moshe now offers a possible explanation, in order to suggest an alternative answer to the question of the Omer HaShicha, as to perhaps why the issue is not addressed by the Tur and Shulchan Orech]. Now perhaps it is somewhat unclear as to which wall (this is) - was there a clear tradition that it is the Western Wall of the Temple Mount, or was it perhaps the wall of the Azara behind the location of the Holy of Holies - and if that were so, indeed entry for tamei metim into that area would be forbidden, as you have postulated. Alternatively, it is also possible that this is the wall of one of the cells, an area that would be forbidden even according to the opinion of the Rosh.

I seem to recall that in the book She'alat Dovid by the Gaon, Rabbi Dovid of Karlin, the author expresses doubt as to which wall this is. Perhaps this is the reason why it is related that the Gaon of Brisk Z'tl did not visit the Kotel Ha Maarivi out of concern for impurity.

But I find this strange: in that place of our prayer, there is certainly a well established tradition that it is permitted to go there, dating from the time of our early sages - and how is it possible to differ with them?

With esteem,
Moshe Feinstein

שו"ת אגרות משה אורח חיים ח"ב סימן קיג ד"ה ומה שתירצת

ומה שתירצת מה שהקשה בספר אומר השכחה מה שבטור וש"ע לא הוזכר הדין דאסור לרקוק בזה"ז בהר הבית, משום שלא יצוייר למעשה דאסור ליכנס טמאי מתים לשם וכולנו טמאי מתים, הנה הא יש מקום בהר הבית שמותרין טמאי מתים ליכנס לשם אף מדרבנן שהוא עד החיל שהיה לפנים מהסורג. ולמה דאיתא ברמב"ם פ"ה מביה"ב ה"ג שהסורג היה מקיף סביב אפשר גם החיל היה סביב ובתי"ט מדות פ"ב מ"ג מפורש כן בשם הראבי"ה, הרי מותר מכל צד אף במערבי ליכנס טמאי מתים עד הסורג שהיה רוחב איזה אמות, ולא מצאתי השיעור, ולפי' הרא"ש במדות שם שהסורג היה רק לצד המזרח מצפון לדרום אפשר גם החיל היה רק שם, וא"כ אפשר שבצדדים האחרים אחר העשר אמות של החיל אחורי העזרת נשים וכן מצד מערב היה מותר לטמאי מתים. ומשאר טומאות הא אפשר לטבול, ואם יחוש לזיבה יספור שבעה נקיים ויטבול במים חיים ויעריב שמשו, ואף שהוא מחו"כ =מחוסר כפרה= הא מותר מחו"כ אף בעזרת נשים וכ"ש בשאר הר הבית כדאיתא ברמב"ם פ"ג מביה"מ ה"ה. ונמצא שנוגע הדין שאסור לרקוק באותו המקום מהר הבית שמותרין טמאי מתים ליכנס ומקשה שפיר. ואולי אינו ברור כ"כ איזה כותל היא אם היה קבלה ברורה שהוא כותל מערבי של הר הבית או כותל העזרה שאחורי בית הכפורת שלכן אסור לשם טמאי מתים כתירוצך וגם אפשר שהוא כותל התא שאף להרא"ש אסור. וכמדומני שבס' שאילת דוד להגאון ר"ד מקרלין מסתפק בהכותל איזה הוא. ואולי זהו טעם הגאון רי"ז מבריסק זצ"ל שאמרו עליו שלא הלך אל כותל המערבי מחשש טומאה. אבל אני תמה כי מקום שמתפללין שם הוא ודאי קבלה מדורות רבותינו הראשונים שמותר לילך לשם ואיך שייך לחלוק עליהם
,ידידו מוקירו
משה פיינשטיין



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