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Inheriting the Land of Israel on the Temple Mount

Rabbi Melamed writes what late Religious Zionist leader Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook would have decided about the halakhic question of ascending the Temple Mount had he seen the political situation today.


Rabbi Eliezer Melamed


The Reasons for the Mitzvah of Going Up to the Temple Mount

As I wrote last week, for three main reasons it is permitted and correct to go up to Har Habayit (the Temple Mount) in purity (after immersion in a mikveh): 1) the numerous testimonies that for over a thousand years after the destruction of the Holy Temple, Gedolei Yisrael (eminent rabbis) used to pray on the Temple Mount. 2) For three hundred years, Jews were not allowed to enter the Temple Mount, which lead to doubts in regards to the exact location of the Temple (whose area is less than ten percent of the Temple Mount compound). However, following the liberation of the Temple Mount, it was possible to return and re-measure the area, and determine with certainty where the site of the Temple was, and as a result, know which areas are permitted to enter in purity. 3) The threat to Jewish sovereignty on the Temple Mount.

The Opinion of Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah HaKohen Kook

In last week’s column I wrote: "In my humble opinion, it seems that had he known that the over-cautiousness of ascending Har Habayit would result in the loss of sovereignty and turning the Temple Mount into a focal point of hatred against Israel – he would have agreed with Rabbi Goren that it is permitted and a mitzvah to go up. In addition, in my humble opinion, he would have relied on Rabbi Goren’s halakhic inquiries with regards to areas permitted to enter."

Some readers asked: On what basis can you say this? After all, it is well-known that Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah approved the warning of the Chief Rabbinate not to go up to the Temple Mount out of fear that people would enter the holy place without immersion in a mikveh.

Answer: What I wrote is based on study of his words. Here is what he wrote about the Temple Mount in a pronouncement from the 27th of Shvat 5737 (Feb.15, 1977):

"A clarification regarding Har Habayit – the enormous halakhic prohibition of entering [Har Habayit] because we are still, according to halakha, in a state of impurity, does not pertain, harm, or detract even in the slightest, the importance of our proprietary ownership over that area of the glorious, holy place. Our Chief of Staff, Mr. Mordechai Gur, together and in assistance with our honorable teacher and guide, Rabbi Shlomo Goren, foremost of Israel’s rabbis, merited liberating this holy place from non-Jewish authority, and it also, as all parts of our holy Land, is in our possession and ownership. Under our possession and ownership, they [the Muslims] organize for themselves prayer arrangements on Fridays. Groups of our soldiers stationed there, guard and supervise them by order of our government. Even if we are careful not to enter there, according to the attributes of Jewish law, in spite of this, and for this reason, our ownership over the entire area remains unequivocally permanent and binding, and the existence of non-Jews there is only with our permission, and under no circumstances are they owners of this place."(Le’Netivot Yisrael, chap.2, Beit El Edition, pg. 282).

From this we see that for him, sovereignty was the most important point, for indeed, the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz (settling the Land of Israel) requires that Eretz Yisrael be in our possession and not abandoned to other nations – how much more so is this true concerning the Temple Mount, which is the holiest place in all the Land of Israel. All the comments of Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah were said during a time when Israeli sovereignty was clear and regulated, as is evident from the extent he went to specify the symbols of sovereignty and rule.

Had he heard that in the wake of Arab rioting and various pressures – from home and abroad – that the Israeli flag no longer flew over the Temple Mount, and that the regular police station was removed, and there is no longer a permanent military presence on the Mount, and that police and soldiers are not allowed to enter the mosque, and the Arabs are no longer just "organizing for themselves prayer arrangements on Fridays", but rather from that very place, incitement against Israel spreads to the entire world, that Arab youths have the audacity to mock and curse policemen and soldiers, that the Arabs hold parties and soccer games there and bury their dead in a show of contempt for the State of Israel, and that all the Jews who go up to Har Habayit must enter with the permission of the Waqf and with their close escort, while Arab gangs curse and swear at them. If Rabbi Kook had heard all this, he would have fainted from distress, and supported all legitimate means within the framework of Jewish law to strengthen the sovereignty over the Temple Mount.

It can be further observed from the wording of the pronouncement Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah’s attitude towards Rav Goren and his halakhic authority, and from this I was able to draw the conclusion that he would rely on his inquiries of Jewish law concerning the Temple Mount.

The Words of Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook

Some people base their argument against going up to Har Habayit on the words of Maran Rav Kook ztz"l, who, with regards to this issue, wrote: "One nick in the sanctity of our Holy Temple costs us more than all the millions of practical communities".

To fully understand the story, it must first be said that it relates to a letter (#677) that Rav Kook wrote on the 26thof Adar 5674 (March 24, 1914) to Rabbi Jonathan Benjamin Halevi ish Horowitz, one of the organizers of the rabbis’ journey to the moshavot (colonies) in Eretz Yisrael, and afterwards, edited the booklet ‘Eleh Masa’ay‘ ("These are the Journeys") to describe the journey of the rabbis. Rabbi Kook wrote the introduction to the booklet, accompanied by a letter requesting that if the author added certain details, that he not let his lament over the religious breaches of the early pioneers obscure the outstanding friendly atmosphere of the meeting with them, "because for sure, only in this way of holiness, in which the light of God’s kindness shines, is the path of truth, a Torah of life and the love of kindness, which God implanted within us."

Rabbi Kook also expressed support for the proposal to add to the booklet the story of the journey of Baron Rothschild, "the famous philanthropist," and his great support of the new settlements after his visit to the country in 1914, but expressed regret that the Baron had entered the place of the Temple. It should be noted that the Baron was a traditional Jew.

This is what Maran HaRav Kook wrote: "It is a very good idea to add anecdotes about the journey of the Baron. Although I am greatly disheartened because of the chilul Hashem (desecration of God) of his entering the place of the holy Temple, and moreover, that no one told him that it was forbidden. One nick in the sanctity of our Holy Temple costs us more than all the millions of practical communities." In view of that, apparently one might have thought that the honor due the Baron would be null and void, and consequently, there was no point in telling the praises of his journey.

However, Rabbi Kook wrote further: "And although after all of this, nevertheless, he has not lost his great importance as the founder of the settlements, for perhaps it happened accidently, or he’s someone for whom everything happens inadvertently – the good Lord will atone, and take the good." According to this, it is understandable why he agreed that "it was very good to add anecdotes about the Baron’s journey."

A Prohibition Cannot be Learned from his Words

However, the prohibition of going up to Har Habayit after immersion in a mikveh cannot be learned from his words, for the Baron ascended the Temple Mount to the site of the Temple itself, without immersing in a mikveh, while those who go up to Har Habayit in purity are careful to first immerse in a mikveh, and following this, only enter themachaneh leviah, and not the site of the Temple, which is forbidden to enter even after immersion. We find, therefore, that their ascending Har Habayit carries no fear of transgressing a prohibition, and they are not rendering themselves defective at all, rather, the opposite is true.

Moreover, it is important to know that in the Torah we have both positive and negative commandments. There are some people who are fearful (in Hebrew, haredim) to keep the Torah because of the issurim (prohibitions), but are not so fearful about being inactive in fulfilling the positive mitzvoth. Therefore, in their opinion, as long as there is a distant fear that a Jew might ascend Har Habayit in contradiction to halakha, it is forbidden for all religious Jews to go up there. And even though they are told that secular Jews enter the site of the Temple in impurity in any case, and precisely upon seeing religious people who are careful about these matters, some of them join-up and are also cautious – still, their hearts remain full of fears and anxiety.

But the main problem is that they have no fear of cancelling the positive mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz (settling the Land), whose primary point is that Eretz Yisrael be in our possession, and not abandoned to other nations. And it all depends on the site of the Temple, from which the holiness and sovereignty spreads to all parts of the Land of Israel. Not unlike our Sages criticism of King David, who conquered Syria before he conquered the Temple Mount, and therefore its occupation is considered an individual occupation, and Syria was not sanctified with the holiness of the mitzvoth ha’teluyot b’aretz (the commandments dependent on the Land).

Concerning this type of position, our Sages said: "Through the scrupulousness of Rabbi Zechariah ben Avkulas, our House has been destroyed, our Temple burnt, and we ourselves exiled from our land" (Gittin, 56a). Because he had numerous fears of prohibitions, but failed to fear about the destruction of the Temple.

And today, when we see how avoiding going up to Har Habayit seriously damages Israeli sovereignty over the Temple Mount, anyone to whom the mitzvoth of the Torah are dear, must fight for the right of Jews to ascend Har Habayit.

The Rabbis who are Mistaken in the Issue of Kareth

And concerning the rabbis who condemn Jews that go up to the Temple Mount in purity of transgressing the prohibition of kareth (excision), there is one of two possibilities: either they forgot the halakha concerning Har Habayit and failed to see the difference between machaneh shechina and machaneh leviah, and also forgot that there are poskim (Jewish law arbiters) who permit entering the site of the Temple itself, so that even someone who enters it is a safek kareth (doubtful kareth).

Or, they ignore the mitzvoth of yishuv ha’aretz, which obliges all of Israel to fight for the country, so that it is under our sovereignty. And this mitzvah is obligatory in all generations, let alone our generation, who possesses the power to fulfill the mitzvah. And as the Ramban wrote concerning the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz, whose primary point is that it "be in our possession and not abandoned to other nations for all generations…" He further added that it is "a positive commandment for generations that obligates each individual, and even during the exile." Thus, it is incumbent upon us to work towards realizing our sovereignty over the Temple Mount, not to abandon it to any foreign nation, let alone our enemies and seekers of our doom.

The Solution to the Problem of Security and Sovereignty

This week, in which we accompanied with terrible pain the holy Jews who were murdered as they were praying, we must realize that there is one solution to the problem of security and sovereignty – the return of the rule of law to the Temple Mount. To do this, we must restore the police station on Har Habayit, increase the military presence there, and stand firmly on maintaining all applicable laws.

Each building that was built without a permit should be destroyed. Any activity that deviates from prayer, its’ members should be arrested. Anyone who curses, riots, or incites against the State of Israel, Jews, or members of other religions – should be removed permanently from the Temple Mount. And this includes, of course, the preachers who arouse the hatred of Israel in their sermons.

As in the past, hopes that concessions made to appease our enemies would bring us peace and quiet were proven wrong. On the contrary, every concession invites even more brutal and murderous violence. In contrast, the more resolutely we demonstrate our sovereignty over the Temple Mount by maintaining the law strictly and opening Har Habayit to Jews, thus we will warrant more respect, tranquility and peace.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew.
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