A Channel 13 news report released on Monday revealed that Jews were disguising themselves as Arabs in order to enter the Temple Mount and pray unabated. The report went viral on social media throughout Israel. But is it a real phenomenon or was the entire expose state-backed propaganda?
Looking like Arabs, praying like Muslims
The report claimed that in order to pass as Arabs, the young Jewish men had to dress as Arabs and even learn to speak Arabic. They dye their hair and beards and learn to present the appearance of Muslim prayer. As the young men are religiously observant, many of them have peyot (sidelocks of hair) that must be pinned up under their Muslim head-coverings. These tactics are taught in secret classes in which the young Jewish men learn how not to arouse the suspicion of the Arabs that surround them.
Ironically, this activity goes undetected by the Israeli police. The participants in the scheme enter the Old City of Jerusalem in disguise before approaching the Temple Mount. Jews who ascend to the Temple Mount undergo rigorous security and background checks and are only permitted to enter the compound via one tightly controlled gate. Arabs, on the other hand, enter the Temple Mount compound via eleven gates entirely unhindered. In 2017, metal detectors were set up at these entrances after armed terrorists exited the compound, indicating that weapons were being stored at the site. Massive riots by the Arabs compelled the Israeli government to remove the metal detectors.
“If you enter as an Arab, they don’t even look at you, not the Arabs, not the police, not the Waqf,” one of the participants said in the video. “You can pray freely.”
“There is a fear that they may suddenly reveal who you are and lynch you,” another interviewee admits.
“Is it worth it, risking your life?” the reporter asked.
“It is worth it to establish here our nation,” the young man answers. “The ultimate goal is to build the Temple here. For the Temple, I am willing to risk my life.”
Learning to pray as Muslims
In order to carry out this mission, the young men must learn to pray as Muslims which presents several Halachic (Torah law) difficulties. Jews are forbidden from fully prostrating in prayer. The only place this is permitted is on the Temple Mount.
Despite their efforts, the police claim they have managed to arrest several of these men. The Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service also known as the Shabak, has a division specifically focused on right-wing and religious activities like these that are deemed extremist. The Shin Bet recently reported to the Knesset that they had intelligence indicating a possible organized attempt by Jews to enter the Temple Mount and pray.
It should be noted that the High Court in Israel has ruled that Jews are legally allowed to pray at the site as Israel mandates freedom and equality of religion. The court also permitted the security forces to limit these rights in order to ensure safety and security at the site.
In its report, the Shin Bet claimed that Jews praying on the Temple Mount could “ignite the region.”
The head of the Jewish effort responded that he was not concerned about a possible violent Arab response since he was “working from a place of vision and not of fear.” The head of the police overseeing security on the Temple Mount told the reporter that they were aware of these activities and were prepared for any eventualities including them being revealed and attacked by Arabs at the site.
The members of the group claim that the Shin Bet monitors their phones. A recent attempt to enter the Temple Mount at night was stopped while the Jewish men were still in the Old City but they claimed to have succeeded two weeks ago. A video shows a man reciting the “Shema Yisrael” prayer at night in front of the Dome of the Rock while the Muezzin (Muslim call to prayer) is being broadcast from the loudspeakers.
“Should not be publicized”
Assaf Fried, the spokesman for the Temple Organizations, was “horrified” at the report.
“I am reluctant to discuss it because it is not something that should be publicized,” Fried told Israel365 News. “I am not sure if the report was entirely accurate and it was presenting a phenomenon that is exceedingly rare, involving less than a handful of people. The fact that it was reported on television is proof that it is not a serious ‘underground movement.’ Underground operatives do not appear on television.’”
Fried emphasized that the strategy was horrible.
“It comes from an era when Jews had to practice our religion in secret,” Fried said. “This comes at a time when any Jew who wants to pray on the Temple Mount can do so, albeit with certain restrictions.”
Fried, who frequently prays on the Temple Mount, was critical of the tactic.
“As a Jew, I certainly would not sink to the level of disguising myself as an Arab in order to pray. And praying like a Muslim??!! I pray to God as a Jew and would never hide it. I have nothing to be ashamed about.”
“This was clearly a public relations effort by political elements that want to make it seem that there is an extremist element that threatens to incite the Arabs on the Temple Mount. The vast majority of the Jews who go to the Temple Mount are normal, calm people who simply want to pray without provoking anyone. The police who accompany us on the Temple Mount know this. Maybe there are a few extremists but we all know who they are and we don’t pay them any mind. They are not part of the effort to bring Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount. But the media loves to focus on these one or two extremists in order to create a story that doesn’t really exist. If you look at the news reports on this over the years, you will see the same one or two people over and over.”
Below is the channel 13 video:
“We pray like thieves in the night”
Yaakov Hayman, the chairman of the Temple Movement, said that he understood the frustration that would lead to the men dressing as Arabs in order to pray on the Temple Mount.
“The fact of the matter is that Jews are not free to pray on the Temple Mount,” Hayman said. “We can pray off to the side, without a tallit or tefillin, scurrying away when we are done. We are very limited in when we can pray. We cannot pray at dawn, which is a powerful aspect of prayer, or the special prayers said after sundown. We cannot pray on Shabbat. We cannot read from a Torah scroll or blow the shofar. I can’t even sit down and meditate for more than a few seconds. What we do up there is like a thief in the night.”
“The fact is that we have been denied basic human rights and dignity for so long that we are grateful even when we are still getting second or third best. And we are not really praying as Jews should.”
Hayman has proposed the construction of a synagogue on the Temple Mount.
“Having a set place for prayer is our way. Praying out of the sun and rain is sometimes the only option.”
“There are some people who are willing to live with the situation and others are not. Some people are willing to dress up as Arabs to pray on the Temple Mount. It is a curiosity but it is not going to bring redemption or the Temple. I am not. I do not want to pray at my holiest site at the behest of the Waqf. The real work is from the nation; when there are hundreds of thousands of Jews who are ascending to the Temple Mount. That is what will bring full and free Jewish prayer to the Temple Mount.”
“I hope that when that happens, the anti-Jewish discrimination being pushed by the government will stop.”
Not permitted by Halacha
Rabbi Hillel Weiss, the spokesman for the Sanhedrin, stated unequivocally that the actions of the Jewish men were not permitted by Halacha (Torah law).
“There are three sins that a Jew must die rather than transgress; spilling blood, sexual perversity, or idolatry,” Rabbi Hillel said. “These Jewish men are not being required to transgress so they should not endanger their lives. But their intentions are for the good of Israel so they should not be condemned.”
“The question is whether they are sanctifying God’s name,” Rabbi Weiss said. “There is no question that the powers in the government that are preventing Jews from praying at our holiest site are serving the same powers that destroyed the Temples. The Tobiads were Jews who convinced Antiochus to desecrate the Temple in the time of the Maccabees. After Cyrus enabled the Jews to return and rebuild the Temple, Jews who did not want to return came up against him.”
“I understand their intentions but, unfortunately, the actions of these Jewish men will not change this evil decree. What will change the evil decree is if thousands of Jews show up at the Temple Mount every day and demand our right to serve God.”