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Heres Why Not Pray on the Temple Mount

Itamar Ben-Gvir, a key coalition partner in the new Israeli government and the person in charge
of policing at the Temple mount, would like Jews to pray at that site. He is making a religious
freedom argument that feels compelling to us as Jews who believe in pluralism. Yet there are
dangerous halakhic, spiritual, and political problems in this apparent call for equity.


As a matter of Halakhah, Jews traditionally did not even go up to the site of the Temple Mount.
While we know the approximate location of the Temple, we do not know its exact size and
shape. As a result, there are areas that no one may enter unless they are Cohenim with the
proper cleansing rituals which we are unable to do today. For this reason, observant Jews
almost never went up to the site until the mid 1980s.


As a matter of spirituality, the prayers people want to offer there are denigrating of another
people and so will in the long run damage our connection to God. The people who want to pray
up there are praying for the restoration of the Temple, meaning the erasure of the Muslim holy
sites that are currently on that site. Prayer needs to be an encounter with awe and the might of
God’s love. When prayer becomes a political act, a hope for erasure, it blocks us from God.


Finally, as a matter of politics, Israel is the power in the Middle East and certainly in Jerusalem.
The Palestinians held certain historic rights, some of them logical and some of them by custom.
After 1967, Israel made the decision to place the Temple Mount under Jordanian control. In
part, this was done for Israel’s own internal reasons. The secular socialist government wasn’t
itching to manage the religious conflicts that would arise from control of the site. Further, they
didn’t view it as actively meaningful to the Jewish community because of the halakhic issue I
mentioned above.


The status quo that evolved is that the Temple Mount is a Muslim site. It is important to the
Palestinians as a place and location they control. Changing the status quo will be perceived as
an attack on one of the few places over which they have control.


I wish the world were different. I wish that Palestinians could see Jewish prayer at that Temple
Mount as simply Jews also honoring their sacred past. For that matter, I wish Jews could pray
there without a desire to destroy what is currently on the site. Yet in the current reality, I
believe it is ethically and spiritually wrong to pray on the Temple Mount. I worry that it could
lead to a new intifada and that it will not gain Jewish Israelis anything of lasting value.


Seek after peace in the city that should be the city of peace, the city of Jerusalem.


Shabbat Shalom-
Rabbi David Booth

Sun, February 5 2023 14 Shevat 5783