On Thursday morning, for the first time since the Temple stood in Jerusalem, a minyan (quorum) of ten Jews stood and prayed on the Temple Mount.
Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount was legally mandated in a 2015 Jerusalem magistrate court decision but a clause in the ruling permitted the police to enforce the law based on security considerations. For the last four years, the Israeli police have cited Palestinian Islamic violence as a reason to prevent Jews from praying at the site.
A hint that this might change was given by Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan last August in an interview with Israel’s Radio 90.
“I think there is an injustice in the status quo that has existed since ’67,” he told Israel’s Radio 90. “We need to work to change it so in the future Jews, with the help of God, can pray at the Temple Mount.”
Rabbi Yehudah Glick a former Likud Member of Knesset who has been advocating for universal prayer on the Temple Mount for many years was the complainant in that lawsuit. But his devotion to the cause was not limited to the courtroom. Six years ago Rabbi Glick was arrested and issued a court order distancing him from the Temple Mount after he recited the prayer עלינו לשבח (Aleinu l’shabeach; it is our duty to praise God). He carried out a hunger strike and was involved in a drawn-out legal process which finally resulted in him being allowed to return to the holy site he loves so much.
Rabbi Glick was motivated by a vision of the Temple Mount as a House of Prayer for All Nations. He did not object to Muslims praying on the site and was even filmed praying alongside Muslims at the site. His vision necessarily requires all nations.
Rabbi Glick was optimistic about the recent phenomenon of Jewish prayer.
“We’ve been working to have Jewish prayer n the Temple Mount for the last few months but we prefer to have it done quietly,” Rabbi Glick told Breaking Israel News. “But now it is time to come out with it. This is a major change.”
“I believe in evolution, not revolution. Healthy change happens slowly, organically. We need to get more people to come, Jews and non-Jews. It will be, God willing, a true House of Prayer for all nations. The change is happening in front of our eyes. It will happen when people come, when they show they want it. But we want to make a House of prayer and not a place of conflict. The change has to be slow and gradual for it to be permanent.”
Jews have been praying at the site for several months but the police do not allow Jews to stand in place or say the prayers out loud. Responsive prayer, a central aspect of communal prayer was expressly forbidden. Special rabbinic dispensation allowed Jews on the Temple to pray while walking.
One Temple Mount activist who regularly silently recites prayers when he ascends to the site noted the glaring deficit in the video.
“Though it is true that for some time the police have allowed Jews to pray silently, a Jew does not recite the morning prayers without a tallit (prayer shawl) and tefillin (phylacteries). We need to be able to read from a Torah scroll,” the activist stated. “The police do not officially have a policy that allows Jews to pray. It is as if we are going to our holiest site and praying like thieves in the middle of the night.”
But he preferred to see the cup half full.
“We have to keep moving forward as a nation. As soon as there are enough Jews who want it, it will happen. And in recent years we have seen wonders in this regard.”
The beginning of Jewish prayer at the site is clearly a result of increased Jewish visitation. Elishama Sanderman heads Yera’eh, an organization that tracks the number of Jews who ascend to the Temple Mount.
“Last (Hebrew) year, 29,420 Jews ascended to the Temple Mount,” Sanderman said. “In the first two months of this year, 7,700 Jews ascended. If the change which brought about Jewish prayer this year was the result of Jews coming to the Temple Mount last year, then we can expect even more changes next year.”
Sanderman explained that prayer had actually begun on the Rosh Hashanna when some Jews prayed a shortened version of the holiday prayer while walking on the Temple Mount. This practice gradually became more prevalent.
“There is now Shacharit (morning prayer) and Mincha (afternoon prayer) every day on the Temple Mount,” Sanderman reported. “Of course, this is carried out without tallit and tefillin and without a Torah reading. The prayers are very quiet and without fuss. As much as possible, it is done quietly.”
“As long as the prayers are not carried out in an intentionally confrontational or demonstrative manner, the police allow it to happen.”
There are certain elements of Jewish prayer that can only be performed in a quorum and these are in fact being carried out in these daily prayers on the Temple Mount.
The new development does have its dangers. In their report on the event, the Jerusalem Post cited a Wakf (Muslim authority) official who said he was “unaware of any change in the status quo on the Temple Mount, but warned that any change would lead to renewed protests and spark a strong response from Arabs and Muslims.”
Yaakov Hayman, chairman of the United Temple Movements, noted that this recent prayer session was the result of an ongoing trend.
“Jews have been praying more and more on the Temple Mount,” Hayman said. “As more Jews go up, the police will not be able to stop them from praying, and neither should they try to stop Jewish praying. It is the law establishing freedom and equality of religion that determined that we should be able to.”
Hayman noted that non-Muslims are currently prohibited from using the water fountains, in a manner reminiscent of the era of segregation in the U.S. when negroes were not permitted to use water fountains designated exclusively designated for use by whites.
“The next step is the Third Temple,” Hayman said “But there are a few steps before that.Jews need to have free access to the Temple Mount like the Muslims do, all day every day. Just like at the Kotel (Western Wall).”
Hayman noted that Jews are only permitted to enter the compound for a few hours in the morning and Jews pray three times a day. Jews are currently prohibited from entering on the Sabbath.
“There also needs to be a permanent place for Jewish prayer. This will also help to keep Jews and Muslims separated at prayer times and lower the tension.”
Hayman also noted the historic mistakes made that generated this dilemma. He referenced the paratrooper’s victory on the Temple Mount 52 years ago, an event that was commemorated earlier this month by a gathering of the original soldiers on the site. In an unprecedented move, the former paratroopers unfurled an Israeli flag.
“They were ordered to descend and conquer the Kotel,” Hayman said. “Why? The Kotel is only holy because of its proximity to the Temple Mount. If they had stayed on the Temple Mount, we would already have a Third Temple. But the Jewish people had been denied their national right to our holiest site for so long, we could only allow ourselves to see the periphery of holiness. When faced with the actual source of holiness, our eternal dream, we couldn’t even see it.”
Not everyone agrees that the Jews should be ascending to the Temple Mount and praying. Rabbi Dov Begon, the head of Machon Meir Yeshiva, was one of the soldiers that captured Jerusalem in 1967.
“For the sake of national unity, I prefer to adhere to the ruling of the Chief Rabbinate which does not permit Jews to ascend. That is the body responsible for religious matters in the State of Israel.”