Last week I felt compelled to explain why I fight for my right, for Jewish rights, on the Temple Mount. Depleted by the disdain directed towards us, the ascending Jews, for praying in the place where our Holy Temple twice stood – the place Hashem selected to dwell amongst us – warranted, in my humble opinion, a clear response.
This resulted in a well storm of controversy, contention, and a slew of death threats after an ill-intentioned Islamist posted my personal information online. The hostility and harassment was to be expected, although the breath at which it occurred exceeded my imagination.
Perhaps most bewildering of all, was the incessant repetition of a single question from friend and foe, the religious and non-religious, learned scholars and lapse laymen alike:
But why must you pray on the Temple Mount…?
The Talmud refers to prayer as, “the service of the heart”. But to pray on the Temple Mount is more than just service; it is far more than an act of devotion.
In fact there are five commandments which we fulfill when praying on the Temple Mount.
First, as Rambam explains, to seek His presence. As the verse says, “Only on the site that G-d your Lord will choose from among all your tribes as a place established in His name. It is there you shall go to seek His presence” (Devarim 12:5).
Second, as Rambam further explains, to serve Him. As the verse says, “The Lord your G-d you shall fear Him and you shall serve him” (Devarim 6:13).
Third, as the Torah states, “You shall observe My Sabbaths and revere My Sanctuary” (Vayirka 19:30). This, as the Sages derived, implies, “Just as we are to keep the Sabbath forever, so are we to revere the Temple forever” (Yevamot 6b).
Fourth, as the Torah demands, “Lo tekhonem” (Devarim 7:2), which is interpreted to mean, “do not give them a foothold in the land” (Avoda Zara 20a). As Rabbi Shlomo Goren notes, “our halakhic authorities established that loss of sovereignty is like destruction. It turns out that when the government forbids Jews from going up freely it is redestroying [sic] our Temple (Har HaBayit).
Fifth, as Rambam writes, “we should not leave it in the hands of the nations, or desolate,” for the verse says, “conquer the land” (Bamidbar 33:53). As Rabbi Elisha Wolfson elucidates, “when we go up to the Temple Mount we merit to fulfill the positive commandment of settling the land” (There You Shall Go To Seek His Presence: A Comprehensive Halakhic Analysis Regarding Ascending the Temple Mount).
But the obligations of the Torah – which for some are antiquated, mundane or irrelevant – are not the only justification for our ascendance.
In fact, for thousands of years the Jewish people have prayed towards Mount Moriah, the lofty home of the Temple Mount. For it is here, as Abraham tells us, Hashem is seen.
And for thousands of years Jews have prayed on Mount Moriah – before, during and after the time when the Beit HaMikdash stood. The act of prayer and worship, of ascension and sacrifice, of honor and hope, here on this hill, has continued consistently, unceasingly, and completely unbroken since the dawn of creation.
It is universally accepted, as Rambam teaches, that the Temple Mount is the exact location where Adam and Eve made the first sacrifice after their fall from grace; where Cain and Abel made offerings to Hashem; where Noah built an Altar after descending from the Ark; where Abraham bound Isaac; where Rebecca prayed; and where Jacob dreamt.
It is universally accepted that the land upon which the Temple Mount stood was purchased by King David, who built the first altar before his son, King Solomon, built the First Temple.
It is universally accepted that the Temple Mount is where the Prophets Chaggai, Zechariah, and Malachi attested to its authenticity and purpose, and where the exiled Ezra returned in order to revive Jewish life.
It is universally accepted that the Temple Mount is where the Maccabees valiantly fought, fatefully perished, but eventually won the war which finally ensured strictly Jewish rule over this consecrated ground.
And it is also unquestionably where, in ancient times – 70 years before its total destruction – that Herod vastly expanded the complex, creating a place so beautiful that (as Jospeheus writes) even Titus questioned whether or not he should destroy it… before he destroyed it.
But still we, the Jews, ascended.
Since the end of the Second Temple era, Har HaBayit is where the greatest men of the greatest generations – including Rambam, Maharit, Horvitz, and Goren – traveled to pray. It is here that Rabbi Akiva stood close enough to the most Holy of Holies that he watched a fox emerge from its ruins.
It is also here, on the Temple Mount, that written records – from the likes of Meiri, Radbaz, and Chida – of Jewish ascendence, reverence, worship, and mourning abound, attesting to a record of uninterrupted prayer, despite the very many restrictions which have stood in our way, enforced by the whims of whichever foreign entity (including the current coalition government) had last laid siege to our Jewish land.
But it was not until 638 AD that the Temple Mount was seized by the Arabs – centuries after the Beit HaMikdash first stood. It was not until 692 AD that the Temple Mount’s signature gold dome was installed by the Arabs – constructed, in fact, to honor the Jews who fought alongside them against the encroaching Byzantine and Persian Empires. And it was not until 715 AD that al-Aqsa Mosque was completed – the structure upon which the Arabs now base their claim to control over the entire complex.
And so it is must be – according to the nations of the world and the Israeli government – that the Temple Mount is a Holy site exclusively for Muslim worship.
I refuse to be a part of a generation that forgets our duty, our responsibility, our commandment to pray on the Temple Mount. I refuse to allow our government to restrict Jewish rights, the freedom of worship, on the basis of maintaining a status quo established on a falsified history. I refuse to allow the perpetuation of the myth that it is us – the ascending Jews, and not them – the rioting Muslims – who have brought upon the state of Israel the dismal destruction and caustic chaos unfolding before us in Jerusalem, the eternal capital of the State of Israel.
I refuse to partake in the breaking of a centuries old bond to honor the place which Hashem chose to dwell amongst us. Because to do so would be, at the very least treacherous, and at the very worst, sacrilegious.
I care not at all that Yair Lapid is merely ‘uncomfortable’ that his coalition government denies Jewish freedom of worship. Let him be uncomfortable while we continue to pray.
I care not at all that Nafatli Bennett – whose coalition government includes the very terrorist entities who seek to steal from us our birthright – refuses to protect Jewish freedom of worship. Let him fail so that we can appoint leaders who will succeed. Until then we will continue to pray.
I care not at all that Nachman Shai, a member of the so-called “coalition” government, blames me, blames us, the ascending Jews (who he laments as being too many in number) for the rioting and destruction on the Temple Mount… rioting which we have not now, nor have we ever, partaken in. Perhaps he should concern himself with the Diaspora’s Aliyah and not ours, so that we can continue to pray.
Because if it is too difficult for our Jewish leadership to honor our Jewish history, to protect our Jewish practice, and to respect our Jewish religion, perhaps we should consider if managing our predominately Jewish government, in our majority Jewish state, is too difficult a task for them as well.
To believe, as I and many Jews do, that we are the generation in which the footsteps of Moshiach can be heard, we can’t be bothered by the sounds of petty politics. And if we could only believe that we are the generation – the last of all who came before us, and to whom the sanctity of the Temple Mount was finally entrusted – then we can’t allow the destruction to continue.
Among the many dozens of people I have been privileged to take on their first ascension, or have met on Har HaBayit, experiencing with them their first Aliyah, all have returned. Some come back months, weeks or even days later. A fair number return regularly, many more frequently. And a handful have joined our movement, ascending with us daily. For this place calls to you in a way you cannot comprehend until you catch the contagious courageousness it confirms to you.
Har HaBayit becomes your practice. And practice makes purpose. This is our purpose, and so we will not fail in achieving our goal: to once again freely worship, as we were always intended to, on the Temple Mount.
And to the terrorists who purport to control this Holy place, and who have prevented our ascension during these dark days, we will return. Sooner rather than later. We will clean up the damage you have caused. We will restore the antiquities you have ravaged. We will rebuild our sanctuary as we have twice before…
And we will now, and until then, continue to pray.
This article was written in collaboration with Rabbi Yehuda Levi. Supporting references were drawn from works by Rabbi Elisha Wolfson of Yeshivat Har HaBayit.
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