Shabbat is supposed to be a time of peace, when Jews with their family and friends celebrate their connection to God and to each other. Israel’s Salomon family had an additional cause to celebrate this past Friday night. Yosef and Tova Salomon’s youngest son and his wife had given them a new grandchild. The Salomons were holding a Shalom Zachor, a traditional after-dinner celebration for family and neighbors to welcome the new baby into the world.

A knock at the door seemed to herald the arrival of their first guest. Instead Omer al-Abed from a nearby Arab village burst into the Salomon home with a long knife. He butchered Yosef, aged 70, his daughter Chaya, 46, and his son Elad, 36, and seriously wounded Yosef’s wife Tova, 68.

Elad’s wife Michal quickly grabbed her children and fled into an upstairs room where her twin babies were already sleeping. The door to the room wouldn’t lock so Michal frantically held the door shut while she called the police. An off-duty Israeli soldier, hearing the screams, shot the 19-year-old terrorist through the window, wounding but not killing him.

Elad and Michal Salomon

Why, oh why, does this horrific terrorist attack remind me of the murder of the Fogel family six years ago, in which a mother, father, and their three children were stabbed to death in their home? Is it the photos of the blood-stained floors? Is it that the victims were all from one family, a family tree gouged out by a single deadly knife? Is it that the grandparents of the Fogel family, Tzila and Chaim Fogel, live in Halamish, where this latest terrorist attack took place?

Halamish is a community in north-central Israel, located some 50 kilometers (31 miles) from Sebastia, the ancient Biblical capitol of the northern kingdom of Israel. (The capitol of the southern kingdom of Judah was always, always Jerusalem.) Just 8 months ago, a fire set by Arabs destroyed the homes of 15 families in Halamish. In the wake of the Shabbat night massacre, Halamish issued an official statement: “This is not the first time that our community has been struck by terror. Our resolve remains strong and we will continue to build a better life for our children, here in our ancestral homeland.”

Murder Due to Metal Detectors?

The terrorist Omer El-Abed was released from the hospital into police custody on Saturday afternoon. In questioning, he said he bought the knife two days ago and sought to commit a terror attack because of events surrounding the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Arab journalists as well have linked the attack to the clamor going on because Israel installed metal detectors at the entrances to the Temple Mount in response to the murder of two Israeli policemen on July 14 with weapons that were hidden in a mosque on the Temple Mount.

The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem (the highest Muslim official in Jerusalem) has forbidden Muslims to come to the Temple Mount, railing that “Allah does not listen to prayers that come through metal detectors.” (This is curious, since the Great Mosque in Mecca, Islam’s holiest shrine, has metal detectors.) Local imans have whipped up protest to a fever pitch, calling on Muslims to be willing to die to protect El Aqsa, one of the two mosques on the Temple Mount.

On the Israeli side, politicians and pundits are claiming that the metal detectors are merely an excuse for violence, as nothing has changed in the status quo on the Temple Mount; Muslims, tourists, and others are still allowed free access to the site (albeit after passing through metal detectors).

I live in Jerusalem’s Old City, a few hundred meters from the Temple Mount, and while friends in America are scratching their heads over the frenzied reaction to the metal detectors, they fail to see why this piece of real estate that we call the Temple Mount is so important both to us Jews and to our Muslim cousins.

Why is the Temple Mount Important?

“Build Me a sanctuary and I will dwell among you,” was God’s charge to the ancient Israelites when they were encamped around Mt. Sinai after their Exodus from Egypt. Almost half of the Torah is dedicated to commandments relating to the Tabernacle. It was to be a place in the physical world where the Divine Presence would actually manifest, the vortex between Heaven and earth, the channel through which prayers would ascend and Divine miracles would descend.

About 400 years later (3000 years ago), King David decided that instead of an itinerant tabernacle, God deserved a fixed dwelling place. David purchased a field on the top of Mt. Moriah in Jerusalem and his son Solomon built an exquisite Temple there. The Bible describes in detail the dedication of this Temple, which, like the Tabernacle that preceded it, was to be the place in this physical world where God’s supernal presence would rest.

After standing for 410 years, Solomon’s Temple was destroyed by the conquering Babylonians in 586 B.C.E. on the 9th of the Hebrew month of Av. Seventy years later, 40,000 Judeans who had been exiled to Babylonia returned to Israel and set about building the Second Temple on the same site, then and forever known as “Har HaBayit,” the Temple Mount. In the first century B.C.E. King Herod expanded and beautified the Second Temple. It stood for 420 years until the Romans destroyed it, also on the 9th of Av, in the year 70.

The 9th of Av, known as Tisha B’Av, thus became the greatest day of mourning in the Jewish calendar. Not because we lost the war, not because we lost the city of Jerusalem, not because Jewish blood ran knee-deep through the streets of Jerusalem, but because with the destruction of the Temple, the manifest Divine Presence retreated from this physical world, leaving humanity in the state of spiritual turpitude and confusion that pertains to this day.

The Arab Conquest of the Byzantines, who were ruling Palestine (so named by the Romans to obliterate the Jewish connection to “Judea”) in 634 led to the siege and eventual conquest of Jerusalem in 638. The Dome of the Rock (the “Golden Dome”) was built on the Temple Mount in 691, and the smaller silver dome, the Al Aqsa Mosque, was built at the end of the compound in 705. This site, which is considered to be the place from which Mohammed (who was never in Jerusalem) ascended to heaven in a dream, is the third holiest place for Sunni Islam.

The Three Weeks

The Jewish people are now in the period known as “The Three Weeks” leading up to the fast day of Tisha B’Av. At the time of the Roman conquest in 70 C.E., the walls of Jerusalem were breeched three weeks before the catastrophe of the Temple’s destruction. This three-week period is a time of mourning, considered dangerous for Jews. Many catastrophes have befallen our people during this time.

The murder of the Salomon family is a horrific tragedy. It is also inextricably linked to this tragic period of The Three Weeks when Jews around the world are being forced to wrestle with the soul-wrenching debate over who the Temple Mount really belongs to. The mourning we experience during Tisha B’Av is a stark reminder of how the Temple Mount is the holiest site for the Jewish People. It is to this place Jews all over the world face when praying, the site that remains forever the vortex between Heaven and earth, what the Talmud calls “the gate of prayers.” (Muslim pray facing Mecca.)

The Salomon family chose to live in the Biblical heartland of Israel, with all the sacrifices that entailed. Yosef, Chaya, and Elad Salomon lived for their spiritual heritage. Shabbat night they died for it.