Analysis: How rabbinate lost influence over holiest site

By Nathan Jeffay, December 20, 2013
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Israeli police clash with Palestinian stone-throwers on Temple Mount

Israeli police clash with Palestinian stone-throwers on Temple Mount

Israel’s chief rabbis have issued a declaration reminding the public of the religious ban against visiting the holiest site in Judaism, Temple Mount.

The new chief rabbis, who took office five months ago, have stated that they adhere to the traditional position, which has dominated Israeli Orthodoxy since Israel captured Temple Mount in 1967.

They wrote regarding Temple Mount: “Nothing has changed and this strict prohibition remains in effect for the entire area.”

Rabbis have banned religious Jews from ascending, reasoning that pre-entry purification rituals such as bathing are not in place today and also that one could accidentally step on the inner sanctuary of the temple — where one must not tread — as its location is unknown. A by-product of the prohibition is that by keeping the number of Jewish visitors low, it has largely kept a lid on Jewish-Arab tensions on the Mount.

But in the last nine years, more and more Orthodox rabbis, and some Conservative ones, have rejected this ban, and advocated pilgrimage up the Mount. This trend is getting under the chief rabbis’ skin — they wrote that their restatement of the ban is a response to its “neglect” by some.

However, the state rabbinate seems to be fighting a losing battle. Today, it is not only the religious-Zionist right that is following alternative rabbinic rulings and going up the Mount, but the trend is also taking hold in the strictly-Orthodox community. In the last couple of years there have been Charedi groups that have ascended it, and even rallies in favour of going to the sacred spot.

The religious-Zionists who go up have their own rabbis who emphasise the political importance of the act. The Charedim who ascend also have rabbinic backers, some of who speak about visiting the holy site as a religious mission. Neither group is going to budge as a result of the rabbinate’s renewed plea.

What is more, the interest of politicians in Temple Mount is heightening the interest of religious groups. The Likud freshman Moshe Feiglin, who is Orthodox, has made the subject of Temple Mount his signature issue since his election in January. And restrictions that are imposed on Jewish visitors at certain times further fuel the feeling among some that there is a battle to be fought here.

Religious consensus regarding the Temple Mount issue is well and truly shattered, and the Chief Rabbinate is proving itself powerless to restore it.

Last updated: 5:46am, December 20 2013