JERUSALEM – A prominent U.S. rabbi recently ascended the Temple Mount – Judaism's most revered site – stirring a quiet debate among some within the Jewish religious community about whether Jews should be permitted to enter the mount.
Some rabbis forbid Jewish entry, while others permit it. Those who oppose ascending the mount may indirectly contribute to the current Islamic consolidation of the site, argued Rabbi Moshe Dovid Tendler, a Jewish law and ethics professor and top rabbinic scholar.
"The reality is that slowly the area has become without Jews," Tendler told WND. "The claim of the Arabs that it belongs to them is being affirmed by our (Jewish) absence."
A video of Tendler visiting the Temple Mount in January was released this past week on YouTube by the Temple Institute, a nonprofit organization promoting awareness of the mount. The video can be seen below:
The video sparked controversy within the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, where some rabbis forbid Jews to go up to the mount until the Third Temple is built, even though there are records of Jews, including some of the most prominent Jewish law scholars, visiting the Temple ruins from the Byzentine period until recently.
On Vosizneias, a popular ultra-Orthodox blog, user opinions regarding Tendler's visit ran the gamut from praise for the rabbi to calling for him to be excommunicated.
"Way to go Rabbi Tendler," wrote one reader. "Continue to show the world that you are not religious."
Another commented, "(More power to you). About time someone has the guts to stand up for the real (Jewish law)."
Many contemporary rabbinic authorities permit entry to the 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 access are the greatest.
During Temple times, only the Kohen Hagadol, or High Priest, could enter the most restricted area, and this only once a year, on the fast day of Yom Kippur. The outer circles are less restricted.
Tendler, who is a professor and rabbi at Yeshiva University in New York, told WND the exact locations of the restricted areas are well-known. He asserted establishing proper Orthodox Jewish tours of the Temple Mount would help those who currently ascend the Mount from violating Jewish law.
"The rabbinic ban has not been working. We know how to visit the (mount) properly. As of now, secular tour guides take people where they should not to go; they have become a negative force. We need to correct this."
Most rabbis who ban Jewish visits justify their decrees by claiming Jewish ascent may violate the sanctity of the mount.
Tendler countered: "[Holiness] is not emphasized by not going into a place of [holiness], but by going into a place of [holiness] properly prepared.
"The idea of forbidding this area because it's an area of [holiness] is counter to what we know about man's relationship with [holiness]. … Holiness comes from man's behavior. The holiness of [the Temple Mount] comes from all the [holiness] of the [Jewish nation]."
Tendler added, "If we come and pray here, we make the place holy."
In the 1970s, Israel's Chief Rabbinate ruled it was forbidden to enter any part of the mount. Followers of Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Kook, one of the leaders of the religious Zionist movement, opposed the ban. The past few years, more and more rabbis have ruled visits to the mount are permitted.
Some have argued the rabbis who forbid Jewish entry to the Temple Mount may indirectly contribute to the current Islamic consolidation of the site. The lack of a large number of Jewish visitors is likely a major factor in Israeli government's restriction of Jewish ascent to the Mount.
Temple Mount: No pray zone
Israel recaptured the Temple Mount during the 1967 Six Day War. Currently under Israeli control, Jews and Christians are barred from praying on the Mount.
The Temple Mount was opened to the general public until September 2000, when the Palestinians started their intifada by throwing stones at Jewish worshippers 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. It remains open, but only 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.
During "open" days, Jews and Christian are allowed to ascend the Mount, usually through organized tours and only if they conform first to a strict set of guidelines, which includes demands that they not pray or bring any "holy objects" to the site. Visitors are banned from entering any of the mosques without direct Waqf permission. Rules are enforced by Waqf agents, who watch tours closely and alert nearby Israeli police to any breaking of their guidelines.
During Tendler's visit to the mount, he can be heard in the video complaining about the Israeli rules.
"I'm little bit annoyed at the instructions that we get," he quipped, "as if we were aliens and have to be told how to behave on [the Temple Mount]."
Muslim holy site?
King Solomon built the First Temple in the 10th century B.C. The Babylonians destroyed it in 586 B.C. The Jews built the Second Temple in 515 B.C. after Jerusalem was freed from Babylonian captivity. The Romans destroyed the Second Temple in A.D. 70.
The First Temple stood for about 400 years, the second for almost 600. Both Temples served as the center of religious worship for the whole Jewish nation. All Jewish holidays centered on worship at the Temple – the central location for the offering of sacrifices and the main gathering place for the Jewish people.
According to the Talmud, God created the world from the foundation stone of the Temple Mount.
The site is believed to be the biblical Mount Moriah, where Abraham fulfilled God's test of faith by demonstrating his willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac.
Jewish tradition also holds that Mashiach – literally "the anointed one," the Jewish Messiah – will come and rebuild the third and final temple on the Mount in Jerusalem and bring redemption to the entire world.
The Western Wall, called the Kotel in Hebrew, is the one part of the Temple Mount that survived the Roman destruction of the Second Temple and stands to this day in Jerusalem.
The Temple Mount has remained a focal point for Jewish services for thousands of years. Prayers for a return to Jerusalem and the rebuilding of the Jewish Temple have been uttered three times daily by religious Jews since the destruction of the Second Temple. Throughout all the centuries of Jewish exile from their land, thorough documentation shows the Jews never gave up their hope of returning to Jerusalem and reestablishing their Temple. To this day Jews worldwide pray facing the Western Wall, while Muslims turn their backs away from the Temple Mount and pray toward Mecca.
Muslims constructed the alâ€Aqsa Mosque around A.D. 709 to serve as a place of worship near a famous shrine, the gleaming Dome of the Rock, built by an Islamic caliph, or supreme ruler.
About 100 years ago, Muslims began to associate alâ€Aqsa in Jerusalem with the place Muhammad ascended to heaven. Islamic tradition states Muhammad took a journey in a single night from "a sacred mosque" – believed to be in Mecca in southern Saudi Arabia – to "the farthest mosque," and from a rock there ascended to heaven to receive revelations from Allah that became part of the Koran.
While Palestinians and many Muslim countries claim exclusivity over the Mount, and while their leaders strenuously deny the Jewish historic connection to the site, things weren't always this way. In fact, historically, Muslims never claimed the alâ€Aqsa Mosque as their "third holiest site" and always recognized the existence of the Jewish Temples.
According to an Israeli attorney, Dr. Shmuel Berkovits, Islamic tradition mostly disregarded Jerusalem. He points out in his book "How Dreadful is this Place!" that Muhammad was said to loathe Jerusalem and what it stood for to the other monotheistic faiths.
Muhammad also made a point of eliminating pagan sites of worship and sanctifying only one place – the Kaaba in Mecca – to signify the unity of Allah.
As late as the fourteenth century, Islamic scholar Taqi alâ€Din Ibn Taymiyya, whose writings later influenced the ultraconservative Wahhabi movement in Arabia, ruled that sacred Islamic sites exist only on the Arabian Peninsula, and that "in Jerusalem, there is not a place one calls sacred, and the same holds true for the tombs of Hebron."
Not until the late nineteenth century – when Jews started immigrating to Palestine – did Muslim scholars claim that Muhammad tied his horse to the Western Wall and associate Muhammad's purported night journey with the Temple Mount.