After more than 3,000 Jewish pilgrims visited the Temple Mount in Jerusalem during the first days of the week-long Sukkot holiday, one of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s key ultra-Orthodox coalition partners on Wednesday demanded that the holy site be closed to Jews.
“The ascension to Temple Mount involves a severe prohibition of karet,” tweeted United Torah Judaism Party Knesset member Moshe Gafni, using the Hebrew religious term for a Divinely inflicted premature death.
“It pains my heart that 3,000 Jews violated this severe prohibition and went up to Temple Mount,” said the haredi politician, adding: “We demand the closure of Temple Mount to Jews.”
Under a status quo arrangement reached with Jordan in the wake of the Six-Day War in June 1967, Jews may visit the Temple Mount but not pray there.
However, Israel’s Chief Rabbinate opposes visits to the mount by Jews due to the concern that they may inadvertently set foot in an area that, according to Jewish law, is forbidden to enter unless one is ritually pure.
On the other hand, prominent Religious Zionist rabbis have permitted, and even encouraged, their followers to visit Judaism’s holiest site in recent years. They argue that measurements taken after 1967 have determined the boundaries of the area Jews may enter following immersion in a ritual bath.
According to a 2022 survey, most ultra-Orthodox Jews, nearly 87%, oppose Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount.
Conversely, more than half of Jews who identify as either national religious or traditional religious support prayer on the mount, as did nearly half of all “traditional non-religious,” who said Jewish prayer bolsters Israel’s sovereignty at the site.
Tom Nisani, the executive director of Beyadenu—Returning to the Temple Mount, blasted Gafni’s post in a response on X (formerly Twitter) late Wednesday.
“Gafni, without those 3,000 (by the way, tomorrow we’ll pass 5,000 visitors in one week!!!) there would not be a Temple Mount at all. But keep alienating [Jews] from the Temple Mount, we’ll manage without you,” he wrote.
Gafni’s remarks came as local reports said the head of the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) made a “rare” phone call to Israel National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, urging him to delay a planned visit to the Mount.
Shin Bet Director Ronen Bar told Ben-Gvir he seeks to avoid exacerbating tensions with the Palestinians during the ongoing Jewish holiday season, according to Israel’s Channel 13 . Ben-Gvir agreed to postpone his visit, according to the report.
On Oct. 1, Ben-Gvir celebrated a newspaper headline indicating a surge in visits to the Temple Mount. “This is what governance looks like!” he tweeted.
Moshe Gafni’s United Torah Judaism Party, which represents the various factions within Ashkenazi (European) ultra-Orthodox Jewry, has seven votes in Netanyahu’s 64-seat government. The Sephardic ultra-Orthodox Shas Party holds another 11 seats, and Ben-Gvir’s Otzma Yehudit Party holds six seats.