The ongoing discrimination against Jews on the Temple Mount needs to change. Currently, Jews are not allowed to bring prayer books or a Torah to the site, and cannot wear tefillin. Only recently have small groups of Jews been able to pray quietly during the five hours a day that the Mount is open to them.
Despite the restrictions, 50,000 Jews visited the Temple Mount over the past year, approximately double that of the previous year. This is believed to be the highest number of Jews to visit the Mount since the Bar Kochba revolt almost 2,000 years ago. The increase has occurred partly because more and more rabbis are permitting visits to the Mount, so long as the visitor goes to a mikvah ahead of time, wears non-leather shoes and tours areas of the Mount that the late Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren considered permissible.
The situation on the Temple Mount today is eerily similar to that of ancient times. In the Talmud, the destruction of the Second Temple is blamed on the actions of Rabbi Zechariah Ben Avkulas. Avkulas was criticized for not speaking up when he witnessed a man named Bar Kamtza being thrown out of a party. In revenge for his humiliation, Bar Kamtza went to the Roman emperor and told him the Jews would not accept the emperor’s sheep as a sacrifice. Then, Bar Kamtza put a blemish on the sacrifice to make it unacceptable according to the Torah.
The rabbis wanted to allow the sacrifice to proceed in order to avoid angering the emperor, which they believed was acceptable because a Torah prohibition can be violated to save a life. They rightly feared that the emperor would murder Jews if they did not permit the sacrifice. However, this time Avkulas spoke up. He opposed the sacrifice and prevailed. As a result, the emperor was incensed, which led him to destroy the Second Temple, murdering many Jews and ending all sacrifices.
Many rabbis hold that since all Jews today are considered ritually impure, they are not allowed to go up to the Temple Mount because it may violate the holiness of the site. But they fail to take into consideration that this decision has led to a far greater desecration of the Mount: The destruction of Jewish artifacts by the Muslim Waqf, which Israel unfortunately permitted to control the Mount after the 1967 Six Day War.
Rabbi Berel Wein famously said that G-d showed which rabbis were correct about whether Zionism would be successful by the many miracles that led to Israel’s establishment and survival. G-d’s hand is also apparent in regard to the Mount. The most famous ascension to the Mount since 1967 was that of then-Likud leader Ariel Sharon. He visited the site on Sept. 28, 2000 to show his opposition to then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s offer to give up sovereignty over the Mount to the Palestinian Authority. Within six months of the visit, in March 2001, Sharon became prime minister. His friend, journalist Uri Dan, wrote that it was Sharon’s visit to the Mount that catapulted him to head of government.
Today, we see that, in current election polls, there has been an incredible rise in support for the Religious Zionism Party, which has gone from six to 12 seats. This is mainly due to the popularity of Itamar Ben Gvir, who is best known for his frequent public visits to the Temple Mount.
A former legal advisor and deputy director-general of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Alan Baker, recently called on Israel to end its discriminatory practices on the Temple Mount. The religious freedom of Jews should be protected on Judaism’s holiest site. Along with this, there must be an end to the Muslim Waqf’s desecration of the Mount and its destruction of Jewish artifacts.
At the end of Yom Kippur, we say “next year in Jerusalem.” May we also see a year of religious freedom on the Temple Mount.
Farley Weiss is Chairman of the Israel Heritage Foundation (IHF) and former president of the National Council of Young Israel, as well as an intellectual property attorney for the law firm of Weiss & Moy. The views expressed are the author’s and not necessarily representative of NCYI.
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