JERUSALEM – Rabbinic leaders and Temple Mount activist groups here today demanded the Israeli government allow Jews to pray on the Temple Mount – Judaism’s holiest site.
Israeli restrictions forbid Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount and only allow Jews to ascend for certain hours on some days while the Mount is open to Muslims yearlong. Muslim prayer services take place throughout the day on the many mosques and Islamic religious schools situated on the holy site.
“We demand the Government of Israel allow the Jewish people to have freedom of religious expression on the Temple Mount. This will serve as a preliminary step in confirming the Jewish people’s inexorable connection with the Temple Mount, location of the Holy Temple, under the sovereignty of the people of Israel,” states a letter to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert signed by the leaders of the New Jewish Congress, the Sanhedrin and the Holy Temple and Temple Mount movements.
The Congress is a group of religious Zionist leaders here while the Sanhedrin consists of prominent rabbinic leaders who in 2004 reformed the ancient group of Jewish judges that previously constituted the legislative body of Israel. The reformed Sanhedrin has been a subject of debate within some Jewish communities.
The rabbinic leaders and activists demanded the Israeli government move toward allowing non-Muslim worship by initially establishing special days for Jewish communal prayer in fixed locations on the Temple Mount.
They demanded Olmert allow prayer on the Mount on important Jewish holidays, including Passover, Shavuot, Sukkoth, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, the first day of Hanukkah and on the Israeli national holidays of Jerusalem Day and Israeli Independence Day.
Not all rabbinic figures allow Jewish prayer on the Mount although many schools do as long as entry and prayer is restricted to outer areas of the Mount, which can be measured by a change in the kind of foundation stone.
According to Jewish law, the sanctity of the Temple Mount is structured in concentric circles. In the innermost circles, where the Holy of Holies was said to be located, the restrictions of Jewish access are the greatest. Jewish tradition and literature relates that during Temple times, only the kohen gadal, or high priest, was allowed to enter the most restricted area, and this happened once a year on Yom Kippur. The outer layers are less restricted.
The rabbis’ and activists’ letter to Olmert was prompted by an episode last week – reported exclusively by WND – in which Israeli forces closed the Mount to Jews during an important Jewish fast day mourning the First Temple’s destruction while the Hamas terror organization broadcast from the Mount’s Al Aqsa Mosque, which Muslims say is their third holiest site.
“In light of the broadcast of Hamas from the Temple Mount and the serious implications of this situation, we demand that the Government of Israel allow the Jewish people to have freedom of religious expression on the Temple Mount,” stated the rabbis’ letter to Olmert.
WND broke the story that Hamas Wednesday exclusively broadcast Muslim prayers from the Mount’s Al Aqsa Mosque on the group’s official radio station, Al Aqsa Radio. The services are broadcast alongside anti-Semitic commentary, including incitement against Jews.
The official Hamas radio network announced last week it would continue airing exclusive daily streams of Muslim morning services from the Temple Mount, and, indeed, the broadcasts continued yesterday as scheduled. Hamas radio is heard throughout Palestinian cities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
“Our broadcast is a victory for the Al Aqsa Mosque, which is suffering from Judaization efforts imposed by the Zionist government. Broadcasting daily radio is a way to bring Al Aqsa to the Gaza Strip and challenge the siege imposed on us by the Zionist entity,” said Rami Kaoud, a manager at Al Aqsa Radio.
All broadcasts from the Mount must be approved by the Waqf, which guard the Muslim entrances to the Temple Mount along with the Israeli police. Broadcasts in theory must also be approved by the Israeli police, but cameramen and reporters routinely enter the site from Muslim gates to broadcast without prior police approval as long as Waqf agents allow the entry.
While Israel again has not yet acted to halt Hamas broadcasts, for most of last week it barred all non-Muslims from ascending the Mount, even on a Jewish holiday held last Wednesday.
Last Wednesday marked the start of Muslim holiday of Ein ul-Adhaa, which commemorates the Islamic belief of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael for Allah. According to Jewish and Christian tradition, Abraham nearly sacrificed his son Isaac, not Ishmael.
Also last Wednesday, Jews commemorated the Jewish fast day of the Tenth of Tevet, mourning the First Temple’s destruction and the siege placed on Jerusalem leading up to Temple’s destruction during the reign of the Babylonian ruler Nebuchadnezzar.
Jewish organizations and Temple Mount activist groups here were planning visits to the Temple Mount in observance of last Wednesday’s Jewish day of mourning. Rabbi Chaim Richman, director of the international department at Israel’s Temple Institute, a Mount activist group which planned to lead a tour of the site this week, said Israeli police informed his group earlier this week that they had decided the Mount would be closed the rest of the week to non-Muslims for fear of offending Muslims on the Islamic holiday.
Due to Israeli restrictions, the Temple Mount is open only to non-Muslims Sundays through Thursdays, 7:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m., and not on any Christian, Jewish or Muslim holidays or other days considered “sensitive” by the Waqf, the Mount’s Islamic custodians.
The Temple Mount was opened to the general public until September 2000, when the Palestinians started their intifada by throwing stones at Jewish worshipers after then-candidate for prime minister Ariel Sharon visited the area.
Following the onset of violence, the new Sharon government closed the Mount to non-Muslims, using checkpoints to control all pedestrian traffic for fear of further clashes with the Palestinians.
The Temple Mount was reopened to non-Muslims in August 2003, but only on select days for certain hours.
The First Jewish Temple was built by King Solomon in the 10th century B.C. It was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. The Second Temple was rebuilt in 515 B.C. after Jerusalem was freed from Babylonian captivity. That temple was destroyed by the Roman Empire in A.D. 70. Each temple stood for a period of about four centuries.
The Jewish Temple was the center of religious Jewish worship. It housed the Holy of Holies, which contained the Ark of the Covenant and was said to be the area upon which God’s “presence” dwelt. The Al Aqsa Mosque now sits on the site.
The Temple served as the primary location for the offering of sacrifices and was the main gathering place in Israel during Jewish holidays.
The Temple Mount compound has remained a focal point for Jewish services over the millennia. Prayers for a return to Jerusalem have been uttered by Jews since the Second Temple was destroyed, according to Jewish tradition. Jews worldwide pray facing toward the Western Wall, a portion of an outer courtyard of the Temple left intact.
The Al Aqsa Mosque was constructed around A.D. 709 to serve as a shrine near another shrine, the Dome of the Rock, which was built by an Islamic caliph. Al Aqsa was meant to mark where Muslims came to believe Muhammad, the founder of Islam, ascended to heaven.
The letter to Olmert called the Temple Mount “the holiest place in the world for the Jewish people, yet Jews are denied the right to pray in groups, and even as individuals … they are granted no opportunity for any religious expression whatsoever on the Temple Mount.”
“However, let it be known that the Jewish people will never accept the total refusal of Jewish communal prayer on the Mountain,” the letter states.
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