Temple Mount Uprisings

From: Aaron

Dear Rabbi,

I can’t understand why Jews are going up to the Temple Mount. First of all, isn’t it strictly forbidden for a Jew to be anywhere on the Mount in our current state of impurity? Furthermore, don’t these people see they are stirring up the wrath of the Arabs and causing Jewish blood to be spilled? What’s more, I understand that these Temple Mount goers are supposed to be religious! How can they be doing this?  

Dear Aaron,

I do not intend to advocate going up to the Temple Mount in practice. This is a decision which is complex not only from the perspective of Jewish Law, but also involves serious security, civil and political ramifications which must be considered and decided upon only by the greatest rabbis and relevant experts. Nevertheless it is important to clarify that from a strictly halachic point of view, there is certainly strong basis for permitting being on the Mount under specific circumstances. (For a more detailed discussion of this topic, see Mourning on the Mount).

The misconception that a Jew may go nowhere on the Mount because of our current state of impurity associated with contact with the dead, tumat met, is simply incorrect. Even in Temple times, a person with this form of impurity was able to go anywhere on the Mount except for the Temple, it precincts and its courtyards. This permitted area, which is the majority of the Mount, is referred to as har habayit. In fact, it is even permitted to bring a dead body in this outer area. (See Rambam, Beit HaBachira 7:15 and Beit HaMikdash 3:4; Kelim 1:8 and Bartanuro.)

Therefore, even if there’s doubt where exactly on the Mount the Temple was, it can certainly be ascertained where it wasn’t. And tumat met would not prevent us from going to those places where the Temple certainly was not located.

If there is a problem with impurity, it would be that caused by seminal emission called keri, or by menstruation, called nida. These forms of impurity are actually in a way more stringent as they do prevent one from going anywhere on the Mount. However, unlike tumat met which currently may not be removed without the red heifer, these other forms of impurity may be removed and purified.

The result is that even nowadays when we have tumat met, it could be technically permitted to go onto the areas of the Mount where the Temple certainly was not, as long as a person takes the necessary precautions to be pure from keri or nidda, and takes other simple precautions of not wearing leather shoes, carrying money and acting with decorum befitting the holy place.

In fact there is a strong indication from Talmudic sources that even after the destruction of the Temple, Jews continued to visit the Temple Mount (Nedarim 23a, and Maharatz Chayot; Megilla 10a; Zevachim 62a).

You write that the Mount-goers “guilty” of causing bloodshed. While I would’t say they’re right for disturbing the status quo, the argument that they are the cause of Jewish blood being spilt is very problematic.

First of all, unfortunately there have been no lack of barbarous attacks against our people for being anywhere in our land. This is just the latest attempt to “justify” the murder of Jews by people who would attempt to kill us even without some Jews going on the Mount. What’s more, according to this logic, Jews shouldn’t be anywhere in the Land of Israel!

Secondly, does a Jew’s going on the Mount justify murder? In Temple times, when the Mount that we built was the home of our Temple, non-Jews were allowed on the Mount and even brought sacrifices. But now that the Mount we built is occupied by Muslims, they should slaughter and sacrifice Jews for being there?

Thirdly, the argument you present undermines our right to the place G‑d designated from Creation for the Temple, which was built more than 1500 years before the Judeo-inspired Islam was a religion. It thereby admits guilt for the “crime” of Jews who refuse to relinquish that right, and consequently justifies our enemies’ murderous reaction. Furthermore, erroneously promulgating the Jewish death penalty for Jewish Mount-goers actually incites such murderers who would only be too eager to execute “Jewish Law” in this instance.

Ultimately, the Temple Mount is ours. And although the Arabs want to bar us from it, as well as barring all non-Muslims from this holy site, it is not my understanding that the Mount-goers call for, or intend to, damage the mosques or expel Muslims from the Mount. Rather they would like the Mount to be shared, as is the case with other holy sites in Israel, in a way that would allow Jews and non-Jews access in accordance with Torah Law to visit and pray at the holiest place in the world.

This would fulfill the purpose for which the Jewish Temple was built in the first place, as in the verse, “for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples” (Is. 56:7).

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