Question: Should we be mounting a campaign to recognise the right of Jews to pray on the Temple Mount, because the current policy of restraint seems like capitulating to intimidation?
Rabbi Naftali Brawer
Naftali Brawer is the CEO of the Spiritual Capital Foundation.
In 1967, within hours of the Israeli conquest of Temple Mount, the Israeli Chief Rabbinate issued a ruling that Jews were halachically prohibited from ascending the mount. While halachah prohibits only Jews from entering areas where the actual Temple once stood, the Chief Rabbis took a conservative position owing to the fact that one could not be certain where precisely the Temple buildings were once located.
However, there is a wide consensus that the Temple did not stand on the northern and southern expanses of the mount. On this basis IDF Chief Rabbi (and later Israeli Chief Rabbi) Shlomo Goren argued vigorously for Jews to be able to pray in these areas. Rabbi Goren even went so far as to announce plans for prayer services on Yom Kippur. Defence Minister Moshe Dayan and Chief of Staff Yitzchak Rabin intervened, and the service never took place. Instead a “status quo” arrangement was agreed, in which Jews would be restricted to the Kotel while the Muslim religious authority, the Waqf, would have autonomy over Temple Mount.
In practice, the “status quo” upholds the Kafkaesque situation in which Jews are permitted to enter Temple Mount, albeit only in small, closely monitored groups, but they are not allowed to pray, even as individuals. In recent years this was challenged by activist Rabbi Yehudah Glick who, drawing on Isaiah’s vision of God’s holy mount as a “house of prayer for all nations”, advocates thatthe Temple Mount should be open to members of all faiths, arguing that anything less is to discriminate on the basis of religion.
While I have no sympathy for radical Jewish groups that advocate the rebuilding of the Third Temple as a precursor to the arrival of Messiah and I condemn as abhorrent any talk about dismantling the mosques on Temple Mount, I do support the right of Jews to pray on the mount. We have deep spiritual and historical ties to this holy site that should not be denied. Prayer is not a zero sum game. My prayer does not cancel out a Muslim’s prayer.
God is big enough to listen to the prayers of all His children, especially on this holy ground. I am not Pollyanna-ish enough to believe that praying together will dissolve all the accumulated hatred between Muslims and Jews. For many it will only inflame the hatred. But for those who yearn for Isaiah’s vision, it can
be a start.
Rabbi Jonathan Romain
Jonathan Romain is rabbi at Maidenhead (Reform) Synagogue.
There are two dimensions to this issue. One is the political aspect and the fact that the site is under the control of Muslim authorities. In an ideal world, there is no reason why people of different faiths cannot come to an accommodation over religious practices at the same sacred place.
However, we are not in that world — just think of the violence that regularly occurs at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, where different Christian groups physically fight over who has access when and who can sweep which bit of the floor.
Come closer to home and think of how many Orthodox synagogues in the UK would allow a Reform rabbi to officiate at a private ceremony when the shul was not in use. Tolerance is not our middle name.
Given the current conflict between Israelis and Palestinians — and, just as importantly, the seething hatred and mutual suspicion that underlies it and makes it a much deeper conflict than just a matter of redrawing borders — it is probably very unwise to do anything that would upset the fragile status quo and knowingly inflame the situation.
Let it be one of the many points to be discussed as part of an overall peace settlement, once there is sufficient confidence and goodwill on both sides, but now is not the time to abandon restraint.
There is also the religious aspect. We need to question the obsession by some over the supposed need to pray at one particular site. Yes, it was an extraordinarily important place, but the Jewish view has always been that God is universal and cannot be limited to any one spot.
That is why one of the synonyms for God is Hamakom, The Place, for God is everywhere. That is why Jonah was so foolish in thinking he could board a ship and escape God’s reach. Even Solomon, when dedicating the Temple, declared that praying towards it was just as acceptable as being there.
Moreover, there are many aspects to the Temple with which modern Jews feel uncomfortable. Would we want to reinstate animal sacrifices and sprinkle blood around the altar? How fortunate that the rabbis decided not to continue them after the Temple’s destruction and declared that good deeds can replace sacrifices. We can respect the Temple Mount’s history but acknowledge it belongs to a bygone age and be content to pray anywhere else.