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Who Gets to Pray on the Temple Mount?

Who Gets to Pray on the Temple Mount?

It pains me that I can’t pray there. But it’s not an Arab woman who is preventing me.


So the Arab women, calling themselves the army of Muhammad, stand guard at the Temple Mount/Haram al Sharif, Noble Sanctuary, whatever you call it, depending on what tribe you’re from. In between noshing and knitting and drinking tea, they seek out Jews, the visibly religious kind who ascend the Temple Mount, to stop them from praying there. They chase them down, surround them, terrify them, some calling them pigs and apes. “Everyone must protect Al Aksa so the Jews don’t take it,” a woman says, as reported in the New York Times.

I imagine it's all much worse, especially hearing reports from friends who live in Jerusalem and go to the Kotel frequently.

I wonder: Are these Arab women genuinely afraid of a religious take-over? How much of this outcry is a religious imperative and how much of it is a means to achieving a political goal? I can only guess.

There is no shrine anywhere in the world that can evoke such drama, anxiety, and a complexity of feeling as this spot where Israel's ancient Jewish Temples once stood and where the Al Aksa Mosque and Dome of the Rock now stand.

During the ten years I lived in Israel, I would pray at the Western Wall, a tiny segment of the rocky wall, so plain and small in comparison to the Temple Mount with its huge gleaming edifice of the Dome of the Rock. And yet today, this blunt wall is the most preferred and holiest spot for Jews to pray in the world.

Sometimes I'd wonder what went on above on the Noble Sanctuary, how they prayed, what they were saying, but usually the Western Wall, the Kotel, took all of my concentration. I’d pour out my heart on those craggy stones and walk away feeling an inner alignment, anchored. Later, when I married and returned to the U.S. to live in New Jersey – anti-climactic, I know – I prayed, as Jews do everywhere, facing east toward Jerusalem.

The rabbis of old made it so that the Jerusalem is always on our tongues and on our lips, no matter where we are, even now, in the suburbs of New Jersey. Yes, even when we eat pizza and recite the grace after eating, Jerusalem and the Temple Mount are emphasized in the blessing. When Jewish women immerse in the mikvah, the ritual bath, they say a single prayer, there in the water. Not for fertility, not for love between a wife and husband. But – “Rebuild our temple like the days of old.” For a religious Jew, the Temple Mount surfaces a hundred times a day and more, that's how habituated our tongue is to yearning for it.

But to pray on the Temple Mount? I have no plans to do so, not anytime soon, not even if the Waqf – the Islamic authorities that govern the Noble Sanctuary – were to invite me.

Why? Because normative Jewish law prohibits ascending the mountain. No Jew can walk on the spot where the Holy of Holies once stood, where only the High Priest on Yom Kippur was sanctioned to enter. It is only after the Messiah comes or the red heifer appears, that the Temple will be rebuilt. Until then, to trespass there is a grave sin.

But here's where it gets interesting. For two thousand years, Diaspora Jewry was cautious. One did not irritate the Gentile nations, thereby fulfilling the ancient dictum: One mustn't be a thorn in their eyes. In the Middle Ages the rabbis exhorted their flock not to build lavish homes, lest it provoke the envy of their Christian neighbors. As recently as 50 years ago, the old time European rabbis now in America asked their congregants not to wear their prayer shawls in the streets. One ought not take too visible a position.

Then came the establishment of the State of Israel. Many Christians and Jews understood this to be a fulfillment of the millennia old promise: "Even if your exiles are at the end of the heavens, the Lord, your God, will gather you from there and He will bring you to the land which your forefathers possessed, and you will take possession of it..." (Deut. 30:1-5). It was experienced by many as a divine miracle, as though we had been given enchanted power by the Almighty to win an incredibly improbable victory. The Messiah couldn't be too far off.

However, the Messiah tarried. Perhaps as many theologians have understood, these are the birth pangs of the Messiah, but it's been a long birth, and he still hasn't come.

It's understandable that a few have agitated for a Messianic Caesarean birth. Let us hurry the Messiah along, let us force his hand if need be, by political action on the world stage. Open up the Temple Mount, they say. The Messiah is nigh, and if we meet him halfway he will surely appear.

The Messiah is coming, he is always coming.

Netanyahu said back in November, after the assassination attempt on Yehudah Glick’s life, "It is easy to start a religious fire; it is much more difficult to extinguish it."

Whether he is aware of it or not, Netanyahu is in line with mainstream rabbinical Diaspora ideology, which is the way Jews have been functioning since Roman times. A Jew does not ask for too much, a Jew does not grab. Just give me Yavneh and its sages, Rabbi Yochanan said to Vespasian, after the conquering Roman general offered him anything the elderly rabbi requested. The Talmud famously asks, Why didn't he ask for the return of Jerusalem and the Temple? Because he was a pragmatist.

And yet, and yet... Who cannot be pained and outraged to see Jews hounded on their sacred land? Does one need reminding that Judaism’s holiest spot on earth isn’t the Kotel – it’s the Temple Mount!

Sometimes I want to cry out: Enough with this humiliating passivity. If we don’t claim this land as ours, it may be lost forever.

But then the words of our sages return to me, as they must. One isn’t permitted to force the hand of the Messiah. For now, one cannot pray there. Instead I yearn to see our Temple rebuilt, and Jews from the four corners of the earth coming to pray there as a unified people. May we see this speedily in our days.

Ruchama Feuerman wrote extensively about the Temple Mount in her award winning novel, "In the Courtyard of the Kabbalist."

April 19, 2015

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Visitor Comments: 22

(19) Ken Solomon, February 9, 2016 10:36 PM

Let's take it already

The Temple Mount is our Holy Land. Why are we disbarring ourselves from our inheritance? Surely it is not in fear of riling up the Arabs. The Arabs are riled by our existence. Their anger is guaranteed no matter what we do, so that's a non-factor. Let's claim it and get on with our lives.

(18) Anonymous, April 26, 2015 8:21 AM

WOW! What would Rav Noach Weinberg say?

Mrs. Fueurman negatively quotes Netanyahu, "It is easy to start a religious fire; it is much more difficult to extinguish it." Rav Noach Weinberg Ztz"l positively lived by those same words, starting Aish HaTorah, which means "fire of the Torah", which he happily built into a religious fire that is difficult to extinguish.

Imagine if Rav Noach had lived by Mrs. Fueurman's anemic words, "A Jew does not ask for too much". This website, which asks for quite a bit, never would have existed and this article never would have reached the few hundred thousand people it did. Ironic to find these words here, of all places.

(17) Baruch, April 26, 2015 7:42 AM

Solomon said, "Hashem created us straight, and we made things complicated".

There is only one place in the Western world where Jews are denied the right to pray freely. The Temple Mount. How did Mrs. Fueurman succeed in transforming this denial of our fundamental human rights into some grandiose conspiracy to “force the hand of the Messiah”?

(16) Gershon, April 24, 2015 1:51 PM

good article

I think you speak for me and many of us with this article.

(15) Sharon, April 22, 2015 1:00 PM

some clarifications

As some commenters have mentioned, Going up to the temple mount is NOT clearly forbidden by Jewish law. And it certainly is outrageous that our government prevents us from praying there. If our enemies are so frightened of our praying there, it's probably because they suspect that our ascension and fervent prayer will merit us the ultimate redemption. Why else do they care so much?
I personally wouldn't go because I'm sure the fear of being persecuted by Arabs or even interrupted by IDF soldiers would completely destroy spiritual uplifting. I don't think I could stand to be there and not express my prayer in the usual manner. And so going there and not achieving the uplifting would be sinful. I'll wait until they change their policy.
The main reason rabbis today discourage the practice is because many Jews would not undergo the ritual immersion before going up, so they'd rather just leave things as they are.
BTW, the fact that the Messiah hasn't come after only 67 years after the establishment of the state does not constitute tarrying. It's an insignificant time period in the scheme of things.
When the second temple was built a total of 42 thousand Jews came out of exile. Millions stayed where they were! Today we have about 6 million and almost half of all Jews in Israel. And that trend will continue. This is the best way to show G-d that we're ready to be redeemed. I'm not discounting doing mitzvot and good deeds, but sometimes the Jews of exile are a bit complacent.

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