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It’s the House of God. For centuries, Jews have remembered the destruction of the holy Temple in Jerusalem by crushing a glass at weddings or leaving unpainted a patch of wall in their homes. The Temple Mount is the magnificent edifice that has served the faithful as a symbol of God’s glory for 4,000 years. It’s Mount Moriah mentioned in the Book of Genesis. It’s the site where humanity received the gift of monotheism. It’s where God’s “shechina,” or presence, dwelt. Even the secular imagination, Jewish or not, has been shaped by the “Holy of Holies,” the most sacred site of the Jewish people. It’s there that King David raised a sanctuary for the Ark of the Covenant and King Solomon and Herod built the Temples. The Roman emperor Hadrian covered those ruins with a pagan temple to Jupiter; the Crusaders used it as a garbage dump to defile its Jewish significance and turned the area into a stable for their horses; the Arabs later built their own Islamic holy sites on top of those of their defeated enemy.
Many devout Jews today don’t set foot on the Temple Mount, afraid that they may be stepping on the ground covering the ruins of the Holy of Holies, allowed only to the High Priest on Yom Kippur. That is enough to keep them away. But there are those who believe they have a right to pray on the grounds where the Temple stood, particularly on Tisha be’Av, the anniversary of its destruction (Maimonides too prayed there). Though many respected rabbis forbid praying on the Mount, other very important Jewish leaders permit it. And there is a growing and brave movement, led by Rabbi Yisrael Ariel and Professor Hillel Weiss, which is trying to build awareness among the Israeli public on the Temple Mount. They are leading a historic battle for the rights of the Jews in their most holy site.
In theory, Israel currently controls the Temple Mount. In reality, since 1967, when the Israeli army seized the “holy basin” from Jordanian forces, the Jewish State gave up religious freedom for the Jews. Immediately after the liberation of Jerusalem, then Minister of Defense Moshe Dayan handed over the keys of the Temple Mount to the Waqf, the Muslim religious trust that serves as custodian of the site, which includes four Muslim minarets.
Historically it should be noted that only under Israeli rule was the site open for everyone, Muslims, Christians and Jews. The Islamic Waqf is now attempting to deliberately destroy all evidence of Jewish claims to this site, while using terror and intimidation to impose its exclusive claim to the sacred mountain. The Waqf has proceeded on two fronts: de-Judaize the Mount by archeological destruction and to Islamize it by preventing the Jews from praying there.
Freedom of worship for all religions, including free access to the holy places of all faiths, has always been a cardinal principle of Israel. And by and large, Israel has honored this principle, even under extremely difficult circumstances. It is ironic that Judaism’s holiest site should be the only place in Israel where this principle is violated.
Nothing justifies the infringement of religious rights to the Temple Mount. That infringement undermines respect for the rule of law in Israel by making a mockery of the law that guarantees freedom for all faiths. The Islamic Waqf has removed every sign of ancient Jewish presence at the site. At the entrance, an Arab sign says: “The Al-Aqsa Mosque courtyard and everything in it is Islamic property.” Today, Jews are barred from praying on the Mount and are not even allowed to carry any holy articles with them. With Muslim clerics supervising visits, Israeli police have frequently arrested Jews for various violations, such as singing or reciting a prayer even in a whisper.
A few days ago Israeli police issued new draconian instructions for non-Muslims who ascend to the Mount. Non-Muslims are now not even permitted to close their eyes while on the Mount or do anything that could be interpreted as praying. Jewish women have been arrested following claims by police and Waqf officials that they were praying on Temple Mount.
Why is it a crime for a Jew to mention God’s name on Temple Mount? And why is the State of Israel complicit in enforcing this anti-Semitic rule?
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