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The Jewish experience ascending Jerusalem’s Temple Mount

CM 29/07/2021


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Back in 2012, this reporter went up to the Temple Mount for the very first time. It was a cold and damp morning in February, the skies were leaden and overcast, and the Old City of Jerusalem was shrouded in a fine mist of rain. 

This bleak atmosphere was compounded by the experience on the Temple Mount itself. 
From the outset, all visitors waiting at the entrance to the site were treated by the police with suspicion, especially those of a religious appearance whom the police knew to be activists. 
Indeed, the entire visit was a rather unpleasant experience, conducted with a sense of trepidation about committing the slightest infraction that might upset the police or officials from the Wakf Islamic religious trust which administers the site.
Indeed, those officials frequently objected to various actions by the visitors, and the police, who escort every group, would warn the visitors they might be removed from the site. 

This reporter forgot to put on non-leather shoes before ascending, a requirement of Jewish law for visiting the area, and so decided to tour the site barefoot. 
At one stage, standing on wet and freezing cold flagstones while listening to a tour guide, I did a little jig on the spot to give my poor toes some respite, but was immediately approached by a severe looking policeman. 
“Dance like that again and you’ll be chucked out of here,” I was told. 
The rest of the customary tour, beginning at the southwest entrance to the Mount and going in a counterclockwise direction around the Dome of the Rock Islamic shrine, was conducted in a similar atmosphere of apprehension and unease. 
This kind of experience was the norm ever since activists began agitating for greater Jewish access and rights on the Temple Mount, after it was reopened for non-Muslim visitation in 2003 following former prime minister Ariel Sharon’s visit there and the Second Intifada that followed.
The site is where the First and Second Temples of ancient times were located; where, according to the Bible, Abraham bound Isaac, and Jacob had his dream of a ladder reaching to Heaven; and where, according to the Talmud, the entire world was created from.
But it is also al-Haram al-Sharif, The Noble Sanctuary, in Islamic tradition, from where Muhammad prayed and ascended to heaven, at a site upon which al-Aqsa Mosque was built, which is now considered one of the holiest sites in Islam.
Tensions have long surrounded the site due to its importance for Muslims and as a national symbol and rallying point for Palestinians. 
Sharon’s visit generated severe riots which eventually morphed into the Second Intifada, while efforts to shore up the rickety Mugrabi Bridge, the only access point for non-Muslims, are frequently met with demonstrations and violence by Palestinians, encouraged by religious and political leaders. 
Just two months ago, tensions between Jews and Arabs surrounding Jerusalem boiled over when police clashed with Palestinian rioters on the Temple Mount, and even entered al-Aqsa Mosque, firing tear gas inside the building. 
Hamas used this incident as a proximate cause to fire rockets at Jerusalem, initiating the latest round of conflict between Israel and Gaza in May.
Although the terrorist group had ulterior motives for igniting a conflict, Israeli-Arabs took to the streets in protest against what happened in al-Aqsa Mosque, leading to the worst Jewish-Arab intercommunal violence in two decades. 
Because of the combustible nature of the holy site, the police for many years showed little sympathy or accommodation to Jewish visitors, seeing them as troublemakers who could easily spark conflict. 
Although the High Court of Justice ruled that Jews have the right to pray at the site, it gave the police the authority to deny that right if they believe Jewish prayer would damage the security situation. 
And the police used this ruling to impose a blanket ban on Jewish prayer, while doing little to make Jewish visitation a more comfortable experience. 
FAST-FORWARD NINE years from that bitterly cold February day, and things on the Temple Mount have changed immensely. 
For a start, the visit to the holy site this week was conducted not in freezing rain but, rather, under azure skies and a sweltering sun. 
More substantively, the police at the entrance to the Temple Mount were respectful and accommodating to all visitors, and efforts were made to ensure that all groups and individuals who arrived during visiting hours were able to gain access to the site. 
And up on the Mount itself, the visit was conducted without harassment. The Wakf officials did not involve themselves in the activities of the visitors, and the police were again respectful, while at the same time exerting their authority to move the group on when it tarried. 
Crucially, the Murabitat groups which were paid by the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement to harass Jewish visitors on the site are long gone. 
Some religious Jews deliberately walk backward after passing the eastern boundary of what is now the Dome of the Rock so as not to turn their backs on the former site of the Temple and the Holy of Holies, where Jewish tradition says God’s divine presence rested.
During this reporter’s visit, a group of around 20 men and a few women stopped to pray the afternoon service. 
The service was conducted in an unhurried manner, and in the calm atmosphere and still quiet created by the fierce heat of the day, with just a faint ripple of a breeze ruffling the leaves of some olive trees where the worshipers stood. 
And the service was conducted in full view of a Wakf official, of which there is always one trailing the non-Muslim groups, who stood some 10 meters away. 
For more than two years now, twice a day, for the morning and afternoon services, a group of Temple Mount activists gathers on the eastern side of the esplanade and stands facing the site of the former Temple, and prays. 
They do so in a discreet manner, in an area that is not visible from the main areas of visitation on the rest of the site, but in full sight of the police, who allow the groups to stop and pray for an extended period of time.
Some prayers that need to be recited aloud, such as kaddish, were said out loud, and ample time was given to the worshipers to complete their prayers. 
Use of prayer shawls and tefillin is banned, prostration and bowing of any kind are completely forbidden, as are almost all forms of demonstrative prayer.
The one exception to demonstrative prayer appears to be the penitential Tahanun prayers said at the end of the morning and afternoon services, where individuals rest their head on their arm and recite a confession, a practice that the police allowed during this visit. 
Given the extreme sensitivity of the site, and the long-held, vehement opposition of Muslim leaders and Palestinian and Jordanian officials to Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount, the fact that prayer services can now take place in this manner is without doubt a radical change from the status quo that held sway for many years since Israel captured the Old City of Jerusalem in 1967.
Many of the leading activists ascribe the change, at the most fundamental level, to the large rise in Jewish visitors to the holy site over the last five years. 
Activists have been working hard for the last 20 years to increase the number of visitors, and in 2016 their campaign got its biggest boost. 
Likud MK Gilad Erdan was appointed public security minister, the cabinet post with authority over the police, and he embarked on a series of measures to create a more accommodating atmosphere at the site. 
One of his first measures was to ban the Murabitat groups in 2015, whose screaming, yelling and harassment of Jewish visitors was one of the greatest causes of discomfort on the Mount and one of the primary factors that dissuaded many from visiting. 
Additionally, when the term of the Jerusalem District police commander ended in 2016, Erdan specifically sought a replacement who would be sympathetic to Jewish Temple Mount visitors, and replaced the police officer charged with control of the entrance to the site, to ensure a change in attitude at that sensitive gateway. 
Before these and other changes were made, Jewish visitors every year numbered a few thousand, reaching a peak of 13,800 in 2016, according to Elishama Sandman, chairman of the Yera’eh organization which encourages Jewish visitation to the site. 
But in 2017, that number rose to 25,000, and reached a peak of just over 30,000 in 2019, the last full year before the COVID-19 pandemic. 
Rabbi Eliyahu Weber, head of the Temple Mount Yeshiva, whose students visit the site on a daily basis to pray and study, says that he has “no doubt” that the increasing numbers of visitors drove the change in attitude to Jewish visitors at the site by the government and the police. 
“Presence defines a place,” says Weber. 
“If Jews are not present in a place, then it is not Jewish. That’s reality,” says the rabbi. 
“When only a few Jews used to go up, then Jews were defined as visitors, but the Jewish presence created a reality in which Jews are now defined as locals.”
Weber is certainly correct that visiting the Temple Mount is a much more pleasant experience than it used to be. But the rabbi and the rest of the Temple Mount activists movement seek further improvements still for those who go up to the holy place. 
Visiting hours are still severely limited, entry is prohibited on Shabbat, prayer shawls and tefillin cannot be used, and the prayer services themselves are still a noticeably guarded event, in which it feels as though something clandestine is being performed. 
Indeed, the entire experience is still one in which great caution must be exercised by visitors, and in which the police are still wary of visitors who break the rules. 
One senior activist who wished to remain anonymous stated that the movement seeks to “stretch the boundaries of what is possible all the time.”
He noted that only this year, the summertime visiting hours were extended by an extra half an hour. 
And in 2019, before the pandemic, the Temple Mount was opened to Jewish visitors for the first time during a Muslim holiday, Eid al-Adha.
The Wakf did everything it could to thwart the ascent of Jewish visitors on that day, with mosques closed in the rest of Jerusalem, the Muslim morning prayer service delayed to coincide with the non-Muslim visiting hours, and Palestinians told not to disperse after the prayer service. 
Nevertheless, the police decided to allow Jewish visitors to ascend, and despite a riot by Palestinian demonstrators, the police persisted in their policy and Jewish visitation occurred even on that tense day. 
BUT THE ULTIMATE aim of the Temple Mount activists is not merely increased visiting hours and greater prayer rights.
Many activists believe passionately that the ancient Temple will be and must be rebuilt, and the sacrificial services started once again. 
Yehudah Glick, a longtime Temple Mount activist and former Likud MK, argues that the site is the only real holy place in Judaism, and talks loftily of a redemptive era in which the Temple plays a critical role for humanity. 
“God chose the Jewish people, and He chose the Temple Mount as his one resting place in the world, and as a result we have a common destiny which is to declare God’s kingdom from the Temple, which will be a House of Prayer for all people, and where all nations will announce that God is one and His name is one.
“We can only do that from the Temple on the Temple Mount, which is where God chose to place his palace. We cannot choose anywhere else.”
Weber expresses similar sentiment. 
“I for sure want to build the Temple and offer sacrifices; that is part of my goal, ” he says. “Do I think it will happen tomorrow? With miracles anything can happen, but if things happen in the way of normal nature, it won’t happen tomorrow.”
Temple Mount activists do not intend to take drastic and reckless steps in an attempt to force some kind of radical new situation on the Temple Mount; it is not part of their thinking or expectations. 
But the expansion of rights and access is without doubt not the final goal. As the number of Jewish visitors increases, and their rights expand, it is reasonable to expect that the tensions that have always surrounded the combustible holy site will increase in tandem.•

Source: Jerusalem Post

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CM

The host of Coffee Mouth Scare Crow Show and CEO of 452 Impact, Inc. Here is food for thought. Romans 6:23 "For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." John 3:16 "For God so love ed the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him shall be saved."

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