Freedom of worship — for Jews in Israel

The Temple Mount

The Temple Mount

News item:

A first-of-its-kind debate over the right of non-Muslims to enter, and pray at, the Temple Mount compound in Jerusalem was held at the Knesset on Tuesday, with over 30 MKs from both right wing and left wing parties requesting to voice their opinion on the divisive topic. Almost all of the parliament’s Arab members chose not to attend the discussion in protest over the decision to hold it. …

“The Israeli leadership is shirking its calling,” [MK Moshe Feiglin (Likud)] said at the opening of the session, during which he called for Jewish freedom of worship at the site where the first and second Jewish temples once stood.

“Behind the back of our people we gave up on any vestige of Israeli sovereignty at the Mount. Every terrorist organization can wave their flag there, but the flag of Israel? It must not be mentioned. Reciting a psalm is grounds for arrest. Even wearing a skullcap [at the site] is inadvisable by police standards.”

There is no question that the Temple Mount itself is the holiest site in Judaism, far exceeding the Western Wall. But when the Old City was captured in 1967, the decision was made by Defense Minister Moshe Dayan to place the responsibility to administer it in the hands of the Muslim Wakf of Jerusalem, although Israel claims national sovereignty over all of Jerusalem. Jews are not permitted to pray on the Mount “for fear that they will provoke a violent reaction from Muslims.”

Rabbi Shlomo Goren, IDF Chief Rabbi at the time, opposed the decision and wanted to construct a synagogue on the Mount. Although it is commonly thought that Goren also wanted to blow up the Muslim holy places, it is almost certain that this is a politically-motivated lie (see Shalom Freedman, Rabbi Shlomo Goren: Torah Sage and General, ch. 37).

This was once-in-a-millennium opportunity. The Muslims understood that they were defeated, and would have had to deal with Jewish religious rights on the Mount, especially when they it became clear to them that they too would be able to pray there and that their structures would not be destroyed (I’m sure in the first days, they fully expected it — it’s what they would do, after all).

But Dayan prevailed, and the chance was lost.

Freedman wrote,

…by leaving the total religious control of the Temple Mount in the hands of the Wakf, Moshe Dayan in effect taught them that they need not recognize any Jewish rights on the Mount. This … appears to be obviously linked with the failure of the Muslim world to recognize Jewish rights to any part of the Land of Israel. [p. 125]

Since then, the Wakf — as anyone could have predicted — has exercised its authority in ways intended to weaken Israeli sovereignty. For example it has ignored Israeli laws regarding safeguarding antiquities, digging in the area and discarding material of great archaeological significance, especially when it might suggest a historical Jewish presence there.

On a regular basis, riots and other violence are incited by the Islamic Movement, Hamas or PLO officials on the pretext that Jews are ‘storming’ the Mount, preparing to destroy the mosques, or even merely praying there. The Arabs claim that the Second Intifada began because Ariel Sharon dared to visit it (in fact, the Intifada was carefully planned in advance; but the fact that Sharon’s visit can be used to justify a murderous uprising is significant).

Anyone who understands Arab attitudes knows that an enemy that shows fear or even consideration is seen as weak and invites further aggression. So, naturally,

MK Zahava Gal-on of the left-wing Meretz party stated that though she believes Jews have a right to pray at the Temple Mount, such a right must be expressed only after consulting with Palestinian and Arab representatives. Feiglin’s proposal, Gal-on said, was “a match that could ignite the powder keg on which the Middle East rests,” and implementing it “would harm the peace process.”

What a combination of cowardice and ignorance! But that’s the Israeli Left.

There is really no good reason that Jews should not be allowed to share this holy place with Muslims, especially since many Jews died in order to secure the city (even though Dayan, like Gal-on, might have preferred to see it remain in Arab hands). It’s ironic that Israel, the Jewish state, takes pains to provide freedom of worship for Muslims while denying it to Jews.

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3 Responses to “Freedom of worship — for Jews in Israel”

  1. Shalom Freedman says:

    Israel promises freedom of worship to all faiths and protection of religious rights of all yet it denies Jews the right to pray at their holiest site. This seems absurd and it is absurd. It seems unjust and it is unjust.
    But to really understand why the fault is not only that ,or perhaps not even primarily that of the Israeli government one must understand the religious reality within the Jewish world, and especially within the Orthodox Jewish world today. Were the Jewish world united in its demand for such prayer the Government could be said to be at fault. But in fact the great majority of religious Jews are not interested in praying, and even believe it forbidden to pray on the Temple Mount.
    Thus the demand of many religious Zionist Jews for prayer there is not a demand for which they receive support from other religious Jews.
    It is even more complicated than this. Rabbi Goren made a very detailed mapping of the Temple Mount in order to show where he believed Jews could or could not go. He too who so much wanted to build a place of prayer there also believed certain areas of the Temple Mount off- limits.
    Rabbi Goren spoke most openly about a place of prayer, but he did not ever openly advocate rebuilding the Temple as some do today.
    The Jewish situation is then that we are not at all united in religious purpose.
    On the other side the Islamic world is totally intolerant, extremist, and given to paranoid fantasies about Jewish plans for takeover. ‘Sharing’ is not in their vocabulary.
    There was in 67′ a risk of some kind of pan- Islamic ‘jihad’ against Israel, but the fanaticism of Islamic extremism today is even greater and more extensive than it was then.
    What should Israel do then? Again the present situation is absurd and unfair.
    We have military control over the Temple Mount but we discriminate against our own people as we allow the Muslims to dictate who will and who will not pray there.
    I do not know the answer. If we ever do come to real negotiations on the issue I hope the Israeli negotiators would insist on a Jewish presence and right to pray on the Temple Mount. To insist on our praying there now, or rather allowing the minority of Jews who want to pray there now seems to me also , questionable. It is not that it is not our right. It is. It is not that the present situation is absurd and unfair. It is. It is that the consequences of pushing for this may be for instance, a sudden Shiite-Sunnite ceasefire and total united Islamic jihad against it. Perhaps it is cowardly of me to be on the cautious side here, and the injustice still angers and I might add humiliates me as a Jew, but still I think, given the situation within the Jewish world itself, it might be wiser to not insist on this now.

  2. Olgordo says:

    ​ “It’s ironic that Israel, the Jewish state, takes pains to provide freedom of worship for Muslims while denying it to Jews”

    What a terrible mistake Moshe Dayan made – and the government of the day permitted him to make it! I guess that it was an Israeli lapse into that inclination that exists among some diaspora Jews (e.g. in the UK) to try to show the gentile world what jolly good chaps we Jews really are. What a waste of time!

  3. Vic Rosenthal says:


    Thanks for your comment. I left out the part about those rabbis who objected to Goren’s project because they were afraid that Jews might step on the place where the beit hamikdash was, to not over-complicate my post. But it is true that Goren’s synagogue might have been built if the religious establishment had supported him.

    I think that it is wrong to worry about what the Arabs/Muslims would do if… Aren’t they doing their best to kill us now? They are trying to get nuclear weapons! When Israel tried to fix the Mughrabi gate, they claimed it was destroying the al-Aqsa mosque. They will accuse us of the worst no matter what we do. We should do what’s right and defend ourselves.