A photo was posted to the Facebook page of B’Yadenu, an organization that advocates for Jewish rights on the Temple Mount, that just a few years ago would have been impossible. The photo showed a quorum of Jewish men praying on the Temple Mount. In itself, it is wonderful that Jews are praying at their holiest site. Prayer in a minyan (a quorum of ten) is considered to be a much higher spiritual level allowing certain prayers that a solitary worshipper does not recite. A group of men will delay praying in order to search for other men to complete the quorum. This is, unfortunately not possible for an incomplete minyan on the Temple Mount as the entrance for Jews is tightly controlled and limited to small groups. So when a group of nine men wanted to pray on Sunday morning, they had no choice but to turn to the Israeli policeman guarding them and ask if he would be willing to join them in prayer. The policeman agreed and the prayers commenced.
Equal rights for Jews to pray on the Temple Mount is, in fact, protected by Israeli law but the police have decided that security concerns require non-compliance with the law. The Waqf (the Muslim trust that was appointed by Jordan to play a custodial role at Judaism’s holiest site) insists on a Muslim monopoly, inciting Palestinian violence in response to religious equality.
Nonetheless, the situation is improving on the Temple Mount as more Jews ascend. Jews have recently been permitted to pray at the site with the tacit assent of the police. The post noted that Jewish prayer must still regrettably be said in a low voice.
The post also added a large red arrow, pointing to the policeman with the caption, “Be this cop!”
The caption underscored that even though there have been improvements, there are still occasional setbacks. Last month, attorney Nati Rom posted on his Twitter account a video of a police officer demanding from a man who ascended the Temple Mount not to bow his head, apparently for fear that he would pray on the premises.
Yaakov Hayman, the chairman of the Temple Movements, agreed that the situation on the Temple Mount has improved, most notably regarding the police, but there still remained basic unresolved issues.
“Yes the police mostly allow us to pray,” Hayman agreed, noting that he had prayed at the site on Monday with the special prayers for the new month. “But without a tallit (prayer shawl) or tefillin (phylacteries) and without the benefit of a prayer book. And it is forbidden to bring a Torah scroll onto the Temple Mount for the twice-weekly public reading. And we are not permitted in at night to say the evening prayers or on Shabbat.”
“Entrance to the Temple Mount for Jews used to mean entering with empty pockets; no wallet or phone. The Waqf guards would scream at us and the Israeli police would only intervene if they threatened us physically. That changed when Yoram HaLevi took charge. Now, the Waqf guards don’t come near us and the Israeli police are, for the most part, real mentschen (gentlemen).”
Hayman insisted that improving the plight of the Jews on the Temple Mount should be a national political imperative.
“The government does not understand that the source of all our national difficulties, economic, military, and social, are all focused on the Temple Mount,” Hayman explained. “If we fixed that, everything else would fall into line. Israel made an agreement to abide by the status quo which violates the Torah and even violates Israeli secular principles. Israel insists on adhering to the status quo which is an antiquated and racist Ottoman set of laws.”
Hayman explained that the status quo as it relates to the Temple Mount is based on a firman (decree) of Ottoman sultan Osman III in 1757 that preserved the division of ownership and responsibilities of various Christian holy places. This status quo was applied by the United Nations Conciliation Commission in 1948 to nine sites in Jerusalem and Bethlehem which did not include the Temple Mount. The status quo was not respected after Jordan took control of the Old City of Jerusalem in 1948 and Jews were prohibited from visiting any of their Holy Places in the city.
This creates a contradiction with Israeli law protecting universal rights to religious freedom which includes the right of worship at holy sites.
Hayman noted that permitting Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount could resolve a social crisis facing Israel today.
“The Reform movement wants to pray at the Kotel (Western Wall),” Hayman said. “The plaza is an Orthodox prayer site and, as such, mixed-gender prayer is forbidden. This is creating a huge problem for the government which, more often than not, chooses anti-Torah liberal values over Jewish rights. The Kotel is, after all, a retaining wall that was outside of the Temple. If the government were to allow Jews to pray on the Temple Mount, what Orthodox Jew would choose the kotel over prayer at our holiest site? That would be like refusing to enter the synagogue and insisting on praying outside in the parking lot.”