I tried to go to the Temple Mount. I have been in Jerusalem for several weeks now, studying at the Mayanot Yeshiva. Over Shabbat, a good friend of mine and I decided that it was time that we went to the location of the true holiest site in Judaism. That is the Temple Mount. Many people believe that the holiest site for Jews is the Western Wall (Kotel in Hebrew). This is actually not the case, that is is simply the wall of the massive structure which was built to house the two great Jewish temples which once stood there. The 1st Temple was built by King Solomon, and the 2nd was built by the Jews following their return from exile in Babylon. It was then massively renovated by King Herod during the 1st Century BCE.
The Temples have long since been destroyed, most recently in 70 CE following the Roman conquest of Jerusalem, but they have remained totally ingrained upon the Jewish national psyche since the beginning of the Diaspora. That is why the experience my friends and I had was so painful, and why something desperately needs to change. The problem is that the Temple Mount, the location of Judaism’s holiest site, the center of Jewish thought, culture and belief for thousands of years is almost off limits to Jewish people. Thats right, even though it sits in the heart of the capital of the Jewish State of Israel, the Temple Mount is under the control of the Waqf. A Muslim religious authority based in Jordan.
That sounds strange doesn’t it? The holiest site in Judaism, the most important location in Jewish history, located in the heart of the Israeli capital is administered and controlled by an organization which is under the authority of a foreign government. It certainly is strange, and since 1967, following the end of the Six Day War, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan has had a stranglehold on Jewish and Christian access (Did you think Jews were the only ones affected?) to the Temple Mount. Well, following the staggering (many would say miraculous) recapture of Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria from the Jordanians, the man in charge was a fairly well known one-eyed general named Moshe Dayan. Dayan had a chance to do a few things that could have very well changed the entire nature of the Arab-Israeli conflict for the better, and one of those things was to take complete control of the Temple Mount. The problem was two-fold for Dayan however. The first being that for centuries, the Temple Mount had been taken over and used as the location for the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and the 2nd being that he, a non-religious man with little interest in the Jewish faith had a bargaining chip to use with the Arabs whom he had just trounced.
Dayan bartered with the Temple Mount. In order to maintain the “status quo” as it is now referred to, he agreed to allow the Muslim Waqf, controlled by Jordan, who had just lost this territory to keep authority over the Mount. The Jews, who had been banned from worshiping or even visiting any of the holy sites in Jerusalem since the Jordanians took the Old City in 1948 would continue to be the victims of hateful bans on prayer and Jewish expression at the Temple Mount. The place where Israeli soldiers had just fought and died. This “status quo” prevented me and several of my fellow yeshiva students from even going up to see the site where the Beit HaMikdash (Temple) once stood.
After a very exciting, stimulating and relaxing Shabbat with one of my friends from the yeshiva, we decided that we should try and go to see the Temple Mount. We are both Baalei Teshuvah and neither of us have ever been to the top of Har HaBayit (Hebrew for Temple Mount). We returned to the yeshiva after Shabbat ended, and immediately started asking our friends if they wanted to come. Being yeshiva students, we realized that there were certain things that we needed to do to make sure that our visit was Kosher. There are certain laws that we had to observe, including immersing ourselves in a Mikveh (ritual bath) and ensuring that we weren’t wearing any leather clothing. There were other requirements though. Ones that exist due to a different set of stringent rules. These rules were decided upon by the Jordanian Waqf that administers the site and agreed to by the Israeli government. These rules include a ban on any Jewish accouterments beyond a kippah or tzitzit. That means no prayer books, no Jewish or Israeli themed jewelry or clothing, indeed nothing pertaining to Judaism or Israel at all. If a Jew is even suspected of speaking words of Torah or prayer, they are at best hurried off the Temple Mount, and at worst, arrested. By Israeli police. This is utterly ridiculous and even more upsetting given the fact that the site has ostensibly been located in the state of Israel for almost 50 years. Still, we complied, because we felt that it was more important for Jews to visit our holiest place than to make an ill-conceived protest by not going. That would be exactly what the Waqf wanted us to do.
We woke up very early, and went to the Mikveh. We had managed to convince three of our friends to come with us, so we were excited to have a nice and enlightening and spiritually uplifting experience. After all, no one could stop us from feeling holiness and a connection to thousands of years of history in our hearts, and thinking words of prayer. That’s been the secret of Jewish continuity for millennia. We finished at the Mikveh and made our way to the one entrance that Jews (and any other non-Muslims) are allowed to use to enter, a rickety looking walkway that starts at the Western Wall plaza. The other ten entrances are reserved for Muslims only. The line to enter was fairly long, there were a number of tour groups from around the world. That made us happy to see, there were people from China, and Germany and several other countries, and when people are visiting Israel, they are going to come to love Israel.
The line moved quickly, as the Israeli Police only send people up in groups, so each group went up one after the other, until the five of us got to the security entrance. Upon arriving at the security checkpoint, we were told that the Waqf had just closed down entrance to the Temple Mount due to a demonstration, which we didn’t have any more information at the time. They told us we couldn’t go up, and we were extremely disappointed. We walked back down to the Western Wall, where we watched groups of soldiers and police as they cleared the people from the security line and ascended the Temple Mount. After going and saying our morning prayers at the Wall, we went to leave and go back to yeshiva for our day’s classes. Before we could leave though, we saw the following:
We had no idea what the nature of the arrest was, but we assumed that it had something to do with the “demonstration” that had prevented us from visiting the Temple Mount. Shortly after this picture was taken, we were informed that the situation had been resolved and that tourists were again being allowed up to the Mount. I decided, along with my friend that had come up with the idea to go that we would save it for another day, as we didn’t want to miss class, but our three classmates chose to make another attempt. Their second experience was even more frustrating than the initial one.
They waited in security and made it up to the entrance. There, security tried to confiscate their yarmulkes and two of them were allowed through. This is the first I’d ever heard of yarmulkes not being allowed on the Temple Mount, but either something had changed, or they decided that it would inflame the “demonstrators” that had just been stopped. Either way, the three of them didn’t get to go up to visit our holiest site. Our third friend had forgotten that in his backpack, he had two plastic Tefillin boxes. Tefillin boxes are not a religious item, they are just used to protect Tefillin from the elements. They have no real religious significance and are not used in any ritual or direct expression of prayer. Regardless, the situation on the Temple Mount is so slanted against Jews that they were refused entry. Small plastic cases were the justification for barring three Jewish men from visiting the site where their people’s temple once stood. This is completely unacceptable, and something needs to change.
Shortly after arriving back at yeshiva, I got a phone alert about news from the Temple Mount, and it turned out that my suspicions about the nature of the “demonstration” were correct. These weren’t “demonstrators” or “protestors”, these were violent people throwing rocks, chairs and shoes at Jewish pilgrims visiting the Temple Mount.
This wasn’t just some peaceful Ramadan gathering, it was radicals engaging in an act that can kill people. Jews have been killed as a result of Arab rock throwers in Israel more than once in the last year, and there is absolutely no justification for this type of violence. It turns out that the person we saw being arrested was one of the perpetrators. Had we not been turned away when we were, we could have been the ones that were being targeted by the stone-throwing Jihadists. Since I began working on this article yesterday, another round of rock throwers have been arrested, and I find that I’m not even surprised.
Fortunately no one has been hurt during these attacks over the last two days, but at what point will something be done to assert Jewish rights to safely and fully experience the Temple Mount? At what point will we be able to take prayer books and their Tefillin up to pray in the spot where our ancestors did thousands of years ago? Something has to change, Arabs cannot be attacking Jews in the heart of Jerusalem while the Israeli government sits on its hands, quivering at the potential for condemnation from Europe and the United States. Jews cannot be afraid to ascend the Temple Mount, we have to continue to make ourselves seen there. The rock throwers want us to stay off, and they are hoping to intimidate us into doing what they want. We need to stand strong.