Question: Should I ascend the Temple Mount?
Answer: One should look forward to fulfilling any of the commandments. You should know that there are many obligatory commandments that you can only perform if you were to ascend the mount. It is also the ideal place to pray. Therefore, all agree that you should strive to merit to be able to perform those commandments properly, and that involves ascending the mount. However, it is due to other, external, and, unfortunately, political, considerations that make ascending the mount impractical at most times, and lead others, including the Rabbinate and senior voices within the Rabbinic establishment, to outright prohibit ascension.
Question: What are the arguments for and against?
Answer: The arguments for ascension:
1. Performing the commandments that can only be performed there. 2. Improving understanding of the relevant facets of the Torah through practical experience. 3. Solidifying the Jewish claim to the mount. Leaving the mount devoid of Jews strengthens the claim of the evil ones, be they the adherents of false religions or adherents of political ideologies that ultimately mimic false religions, e.g., leftists, that the mount is not the domain of loyal Jews, while a strong and constant Jewish religious presence on the mount reinforces the claim. 4. Bringing positive attention to the issue, which hopefully leads to more Jews seeking to perform the commandments related to the Temple Mount.
The arguments against: 1. Risking violation of severe prohibitions. As we have written about before, this is an argument against eating meat and being married also, and even stepping outside on the Sabbath. God wants us to observe the commandments, and He gave us rules He knew we could follow. 2. Doubts as to the areas that are completely off limits even according to a strict reading of the permissive halachoth. These, however, are continually being removed thanks to expanded research. I am very happy with the latest Makbili edition of the Mishneh Torah in four volumes, which has many detailed appendices detailing this and other important points. 3. Harming the credibility and stature of the Chief Rabbinate. I personally believe that the Rabbinate should at least choose some course of action beyond staying out. More on that below. 4. Provoking the international community, the Arab world, etc. By this logic, we should not be leaving in Israel or observing any Judaism, or even breathing.
Question: Why make a big deal out of this now?
Answer: This has actually been a big deal for 52 years now. You’re just hearing about this because of the positive feedback. More people ascend the mount, leading to more discussions about the mount, leading to more looking into the matter and deciding to ascend. The same happened with immigration to Palestine a century ago, and the same happened with regard to construction of the Temple in the time of King David. More becoming interested, more becoming convinced, more actively and passively persuading others.
Question: What do you do?
Answer: My own practice should be irrelevant, and while you can tell that I want to take a part in trying to shift the public discussion and opinion, and to celebrate the day when we can begin to perform the commandments, I refuse to openly encourage others to go against the Chief Rabbinate’s ruling. Everyone should follow his LOR.
Question: What is the role of the Chief Rabbinate regarding the Temple Mount?
Answer: The Chief Rabbinate’s job is ideally to decide on matters of halacha for the entire Jewish people. Many know that in practice this is not the case, but they still see the Rabbinate as a body which, at least in Israel, should not be openly contradicted. Hence, R’ Schachter’s position. However, R’ Tendler has been very open about ignoring the Rabbinate’s insistent prohibition. I feel, and I have expressed this to the personal secretary of the Chief Rabbi, that it is hard for the community which looks to the Chief Rabbinate for guidance to accept a longterm order to sit and do nothing out of doubt. Such a policy may have been conceivable before the Jews had any real political and military power, for example, during the Ottoman and Mandatory periods, but now it is the Rabbinate’s job to lead. They’re supposed to publish guidelines as to how to prepare for entry to and to act on the Temple Mount, and explain in concrete terms how they are and we should be preparing for the day when the Temple Mount and its laws are the center of Jewish worship. Instead of those booklets re-iterating the ban against ascending the mount, they should be publishing practical guidebooks about the laws of ritual purity and impurity. It was in this spirit that I submitted copies of Haggadat Hapesah, my version of the Passover Haggada adjusted for the reality of the Passover sacrifice being a part of the seder, to the chief rabbis, as an example of the type of publications they should be preparing for public dissemination. The Rabbinate should start a public fund for the Heqdesh, the Temple treasury, and should be laying the groundwork for collecting silver half sheqels from all Jewish males. I will not go so far as to suggest that they begin planning for the building of the Temple, because that is for the King, i.e. the national government, but the halachic planning needs to happen.
Question: Who should be in charge of entry to the Temple mount?
Answer: The Levites, I believe. Some weeks ago, I was asked about the role ascribed to the Levites in the Temple: Upon reaching adulthood, they would train for five years in order to learn to sing and act as gatekeepers. Granted that most need professional musical training, but for gatekeeping? How much was there to learn? The answer, I believe, is that just like today, the Temple mount is secured by a large police force and the entrances are closely guarded, in the ideal state, the Temple Mount and temple precincts will be secured by the Levites, and they will not just act as ceremonial gatekeepers and watchmen at night, as described in the Mishna, but rather, they will actually vet entry to the various areas of the mount, and be in charge of making sure that only those who have purified themselves properly and have business on the mount be granted entry. So too, within the Temple courtyard, part of the priests’ role will be to prevent frivolous and unnecessary entry into the sanctuary edifice. History has shown that the Levites and Kohanim took on the role of securing, policing, and defending the Temple both from intruders and from ritual deviations, and sometimes even used lethal force.
Question: What is one supposed to do on the Temple Mount?
Answer: Bring sacrifice, pray, prostrate, and leave. One should not enter empty handed, but if he is prevented from bringing sacrifices, he may do without. There is also a whole list of things one should not do on the Temple Mount.
Question: What should be one’s thoughts on the Temple mount?
Answer: Dread of He who domiciled His name there, and joy for being able to serve Him.
Question: Is all of this worth fighting for? Fighting against the Arabs, against the government, against the vast majority of observant Jewry?
Answer: In the current situation, this is not worth a physical, violent struggle. However, a political struggle, a well-planned campaign to convince all of the relevant parties as to why the Temple Mount should be run according to the halacha, is worth the world. However, as I have cited before in the R’ Avigdor Miller’s name, it is advantageous that the Israeli authorities resign their authority to the Waqf, because if the mount were administered by Israel, they would lose control of the decorum on the mount. Can you imagine the Women of the Wall trying to pull their shenanigans on the Temple Mount? We are just not ready as a society.
Question: Has there been significant change for the better?
Answer: Certainly, at least for those who desire an increased Jewish presence with actual opportunities for prayer. The numbers of Jewish visitors to the mount has increased, and every available day groups of Jews ascend the mount. It is also an open secret that the border police have started to keep the Waqf’s hired goons far from Jewish pilgrims, allowing the Jews to at least utter a few silent prayers, and the border police only intervene if they start praying too loudly or if they bow or shuckle.
This has also pulled them into some uncharted halachic territory: those who wish to pray have been forced to do so while walking slowly, and they have thus taken to reciting the amida and the reader’s repetition while walking, which is certainly not to be done if possible. Further, in order to confuse their unknowing chaperones, they have taken to reciting the qaddish, for instance, in Hebrew, because they are already too familiar with the Aramaic version. I have seen two prayer books that already included the traditionally Aramaic prayer in Hebrew translation, and it is a matter of historical fact that in around Byzantine times Palestinian Jews recited the qaddish in Hebrew. They have also taken upon themselves to have a daily halachic lecture on the Temple Mount.
Question: What’s next?
Answer: They say in the name of the Vilna Gaon that if the Jewish people would rise up and offer the daily sacrifice, it would already be the Redemption.