Jewish Israelis flock to Temple Mount in greater numbers
Despite warnings from some rabbis that visits are forbidden, more Jewish Israelis are ascending the Temple Mount than ever.
AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP via Getty Images
Danny Zaken
TOPICS COVERED
Ethnic/Religious Minorities
Israeli-Palestinian conflict
Jerusalem
September 21, 2021
Hundreds of Israeli Jews are expected to ascend the Temple Mount compound today and throughout the week until Sept. 27, celebrating the Sukkot holiday. Security is being beefed up for the week across Israel and especially around the Temple Mount compound, but the site will remain open with the usual visiting hours for Jews.
The Temple Mount is the holiest site in Jewish tradition. It is also one of the holiest sites for Muslims, housing Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, Haram al-Sharif. It is the most sensitive and volatile point in Israel and the site of many conflicts over its history.
In September 2000, opposition leader (and later prime minister) Ariel Sharon visited the site during a crisis between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, contributing to a violent uprising ensued. In 2017, two Israeli police officers were shot and killed outside the site. Israel then installed metal detectors at the entrance to the compound, outraging the Muslim world and sparking riots among Palestinians. This year as well has been marked by violent clashes in the compound between Muslim worshipers and activists and Israeli security forces. The May clashes were sparked by the efforts of Israeli authorities to demolish Palestinian homes in the Jerusalem Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.
But even apart from the interreligious, political, diplomatic and security sensitivities, ascending the site is a complex issue within Jewish tradition. Many rabbis oppose the act for religious reasons and Jewish Israelis find conflicting signs at the site.
A warning sign reminds visitors that ultra-Orthodox and other Orthodox rabbis say it is forbidden to enter until the messiah comes. A few meters ahead, another sign greets visitors warmly with “Welcome to the Temple Mount” and details the religious laws governing the site, according to the rabbis that allow entry. They include restrictions on the areas one may visit in order not to step on the spots that according to Jewish tradition lie above the ruins of the Jewish temple. More restrictions include not visiting in leather shoes and that women must undergo a ritual bath before visiting. 
In recent years relative quiet has returned to the site, and with it the visits of Jewish Israelis making pilgrimage to the place. Various organizations encourage the visits, among them the Temple Mount Administration headed by Rabbi Shimshon Elbaum, who told Al-Monitor that visits are governed by policy dictated by the state. “When Gilad Erdan was appointed minister of public security, he lifted some of the harsher restrictions and the police, which he was responsible for, became more accepting and less restrictive. In recent years there’s a rise in the number of visitors. From fewer than 2,000 a year a decade ago, we have reached 40,000 a year now.” 
The main dates for Jewish visits include Jerusalem Day, which commemorates the Six-Day War and liberation of east Jerusalem; the 9th of Av, the day the two temples were destroyed; and the holidays of Sukkot, Passover and Shavuot, all traditional festivals when the temple stood. Since visiting hours are limited for Jews — between 7 and 11 a.m. Sundays through Thursdays — a busy day may see up to 1,500 Jewish visitors. About 4,000 Jews usually visit over the eight-day Sukkot holiday. Over this year's two-day Jewish New Year, more than 300 Israeli Jews visited.
All Jewish visitors, both religious and secular, enter in groups and walk in a set path from the gate dedicated to non-Muslims in the western part of the plaza toward the Mercy Gate in the Old City wall, a sealed gate that according to Jewish tradition is supposed to open when the messiah comes. From there they circumnavigate the golden Dome of the Rock Mosque and the outer wall.
Elbaum and his colleagues supply visitors with cloth shoes to replace their forbidden leather ones, coordinate with the police and make sure no weapons are brought up to the plaza. 
Before they leave the site, some visitors stop for a brief quiet prayer. If someone prays out loud or makes movements of genuflection, police officers tell them to stop. In the past, doing so could lead to the person being detained and ejected from the site, as Jews are not allowed to pray there. But more recently, a warning is reportedly more common. Last July Israel’s Channel 12 filmed Jews praying silently at the site while police officers watched.
Jewish visitors are diverse. Some see the visit as exerting Israeli control over the site so it will not be abandoned to to the Muslims. Others view it as an obligatory stop on a visit to Jerusalem. One of them, Stewart Coppens, an American Jew from Vermont, told this author on a visit a few years ago, “Every stone in this place carries ancient history and a sense of spirituality — for Jews this is the source, and it’s a place you must visit.”
Ophir Dayan is a student and the daughter of settler leader, former Israeli consul to New York and current chair of Yad Vashem Danny Dayan. She is active in the political organization In Our Hands: Students for the Temple Mount, which brings together both religious and secular young Israelis. According to Dayan, the opposition she encountered when she first visited the site “sparked something more secular inside of me; a feeling that my rights were being violated. Discrimination. I decided that I’d visit the Temple Mount more frequently and I started to read more and understand the historic connection. This is the place where we became a people out of individuals. I’m not a very spiritual person but this is perhaps the only place where I feel spiritual.” 
MORE FROM DANNY ZAKEN
In Dubai, Israel sees normalization as bridge to business in India, Japan
Danny Zaken | Israel | Oct 25, 2021
Little by little, tourists from Emirates, Bahrain arrive to Israel
Danny Zaken | Israel | Oct 18, 2021
Israeli minister promotes controversial reform on conversion into Judaism
Danny Zaken | Israel | Oct 11, 2021
Subscribe to Our Newsletters
Sign Me Up!
POPULAR ARTICLES
Scientists reconstruct facial features of 2,000-year-old mummies
Hagar Hosny | Egypt | Oct 6, 2021
Turkey requests to buy 40 US F-16 fighter planes
Al-Monitor Staff | News Brief | Oct 8, 2021
Israel still fears US approach to Iran
Ben Caspit | Israel | Oct 8, 2021
Intel: US lifts Iran-related sanctions, says no connection to nuclear deal   
Elizabeth Hagedorn | Iran | Oct 8, 2021
Palestinian video game strikes Israel’s nerve
Mai Abu Hasaneen | Palestine | Oct 10, 2021
RECOMMENDED ARTICLES
Israelis fed up with racist, anti-Muslim behavior of soccer fans
Afif Abu Much | Israel | Oct 25, 2021
US questions Israel designation of Palestinian NGO's as terrorist groups
Rina Bassist | Israel | Oct 25, 2021
In Dubai, Israel sees normalization as bridge to business in India, Japan
Danny Zaken | Israel | Oct 25, 2021
Palestinian Islamic Jihad announces end to hunger strike
Al-Monitor Staff | Israel | Oct 22, 2021
RECENT PODCASTS
World not trusting Israel’s ‘flimsy’ terrorist claims against Palestinian NGOs, says Daoud Kuttab
Military correspondent Alon Ben David: Israel cannot destroy Iranian nuclear know-how 
US-Turkish relations unlikely to get better under Erdogan, says veteran Turkey analyst Alan Makovsky
Geopolitical expert Eyal Zisser: A Lebanese civil war won’t really threaten Israel 
Khamenei may still prefer a nuclear deal over a nuclear weapon, says Ken Pollack
NEWSLETTERS
Subscribe
© 2021 Al-Monitor, LLC. All rights reserved.