Mismatch, Israel quietly allows Jewish prayer on Temple Mount
JERUSALEM – The Israeli government has long banned Jews from praying on the Temple Mount, a sacred site for Jews and Muslims, but Rabbi Yehudah Glick has made little effort to hide his prayers. In fact, he was broadcasting them live.
“Oh Lord!” Rabbi Glick prayed, as he filmed himself on his phone one recent morning. “Save my soul from false lips and deceptive tongues!” “
Since Israel captured the Old City of Jerusalem from Jordan in 1967, it has maintained a fragile religious balance on the Temple Mount, Jerusalem’s most controversial site: only Muslims can worship there, while Jews can. pray at the western wall below.
But recently, the government quietly allowed growing numbers of Jews to pray there, a change that could exacerbate instability in East Jerusalem and potentially lead to religious conflict.
âIt’s a sensitive place,â said Ehud Olmert, a former Israeli prime minister. “And sensitive places like this, which have enormous explosion potential, must be treated with care.”
Rabbi Glick, a former right-wing American lawmaker, has led efforts to change the status quo for decades. He characterizes his effort as a matter of religious freedom: if Muslims can pray there, why not Jews?
âGod is the master of all mankind,â he said. “And he wants each of us to be here to worship, each in our own style.”
But the ban on Jewish prayer on the 37-acre plateau that once housed two ancient Jewish temples was part of a long-standing compromise to avoid conflict at a site that has been a frequent flashpoint in the Israeli conflict. -Palestinian.
Under the agreement, the Jordanian government retained administrative oversight of the Temple Mount, known to the Arabs as the Noble Sanctuary or the Aqsa Compound. The Aqsa Mosque and the Golden Dome of the Rock, a shrine that Muslim tradition considers the place where the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven, are located in its limestone plaza.
Israel has the overall security authority and maintains a small police station there.
The government officially allows non-Muslims to visit the site for several hours each morning provided they do not pray there. Although no Israeli law explicitly prohibits Jewish prayer there, Jewish visitors who attempt to pray there have historically been expelled or reprimanded by police.
When this balance of power seemed to falter, it often led to violence.
When Ariel Sharon, a former Israeli prime minister, visited the mount in 2000, surrounded by hundreds of police, the provocation led to the Second Palestinian Intifada, or uprising.
When Israel briefly set up metal detectors at the gates of the mount in 2017, it sparked unrest that left several people dead and briefly threatened to spark another major uprising.
And when Israeli police raided the compound several times last spring, it contributed to tensions that led to an 11-day war with Hamas, the militant Islamist group in the Gaza Strip, as well as days of unrest in Israel.
Politics began to change during the tenure of Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, who led coalitions of right-wing and religious parties. Rabbi Glick said police began allowing him and his allies to pray more openly on the mountain five years ago.
The numbers have quietly risen, but to avoid a backlash, the policy has not been widely publicized. That changed last month, after Mr. Netanyahu was replaced by Naftali Bennett. Suddenly, the Israeli media published footage and footage of dozens of Jews openly praying on the mount, including an MP from Mr. Bennett’s party, forcing Mr. Bennett to raise the issue publicly.
Mr Bennett initially appeared to confirm a formal policy change, claiming that all religions would have “freedom of worship” on the Temple Mount, much to the delight of some members of his own far-right party.
A day later, after criticism from Jordan and left-wing and Arab members of his ruling coalition, he backed down, issuing a statement that the status quo ante remained in place. His office repeated this claim after a recent New York Times investigation, providing a six-word comment: âNo change in the status quo. “
But in reality, dozens of Jews now pray openly every day in an isolated part of the eastern flank of the site, and their Israeli police escorts no longer attempt to stop them.
Two recent mornings Times reporters saw Israeli officers stand between Jewish worshipers and officials of the Waqf, the Jordanian-led body that manages the mount, preventing the latter from intervening.
For many Palestinians, the change is provocative and unfair. They believe that Muslims have already made a big concession to the Western Wall, which is now mainly used by Jewish worshipers although it is also important to Muslims. In 1967, Israel even razed an Arab quarter next to the wall to create more space for Jewish prayer.
Sheikh Omar al-Kiswani, the director of the mosque, said the Aqsa compound should be reserved for Muslim prayer, in recognition of its importance to Muslims. Many Palestinians see Aqsa as the embodiment of Palestinian identity, the driving force behind the aspiration for a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem.
âHe has been named Al Aqsa since the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven there,â Sheikh Omar said.
The de facto policy change is only part of a larger pattern of affronts against Palestinian dignity in the occupied territories, he said.
“This is the reality that prevails, not only at the Aqsa Mosque, but also at checkpoints and other places in Palestine,” he said. âWe are constantly faced with racist discrimination and violations of our human rights. “
For many Orthodox Jews, change is also problematic.
The mount was once the site of two Jewish temples where tradition has it that the presence of God was revealed. Jews climbing the mount risk stepping on a site too sacred for human passage, they say, as the exact locations of the temples are unknown. For this reason, many rabbis, including senior rabbinical authorities in the State of Israel, prohibit Jews from entering.
But for some Jews, like Rabbi Glick, there is a great virtue in praying as close as possible to the location of ruined temples.
Rabbi Glick says he’s not here to provoke. But as he crossed the mountain, guarded by six armed policemen, mosque officials and passers-by filmed him. The videos quickly circulated on Twitter, captioned with angry comments.
“Extremists were never used to going this far inside,” said Azzam Khatib, deputy chairman of the Waqf board. âNow they are taking control of the whole place, with the protection of the police. “
Part of the resistance to allowing Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount comes from the fact that some activists like Rabbi Glick want to do more than just pray there.
Ultimately, they seek to build a third Jewish temple on the site of the Dome of the Rock, the third holiest place in Islam. Rabbi Glick said that this temple would be open to all religions and would be made possible through dialogue with Muslims.
But for Muslims, it’s a non-starter offensive.
“It will lead to a religious war,” Khatib said. “But if everyone stays in their own places of worship, we will have peace.”
Some Jewish activists have even prepared a stone altar nearby, ready to be installed on the mount as soon as it becomes politically possible to move it there. Their group, the Temple Institute, also worked with architects to design the floor plan for a new Jewish temple there.
While many see the group as marginal, the organization says its ideas are gradually gaining momentum.
“Twenty or thirty years ago there was no public talk about it,” said Rabbi Israel Arieli, chairman of the institute’s board of directors, who, as a young parachutist, helped capture the mount in 1967. âThe Temple Mount has been forgotten.
But controversy over the prime minister’s recent comments on âfreedom of worshipâ has raised awareness of the issue, he said.
âIt was a very beneficial debate,â said Rabbi Arieli. âIt brings a lot more people to the Temple Mount. “