In a natural return to the “status quo” that maintained the Jewish Nation for thousands of years, the Jewish People return to the heart of Jerusalem – the central repository of prayer from time immemorial. The fact that Jews have been barred from their basic right of prayer in the holiest place on earth for Jews is the deviation from tradition. Jerusalem has been the eternal unified capital of the Jewish Nation since the times of King David and the First and Second Holy Temples! It has also been the heart of the people since the times of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob!
Photo of Peaceful Jewish Prayer on Jerusalem’s Har HaBayit (Temple Mount). Photo Credit: OneJ.org Staff
As Jews pray on Temple Mount, status quo in Jerusalem’s holiest site begins to shift
Article Courtesy: Religion News
(RNS) — For the past few weeks, the area surrounding the Al-Aqsa Mosque, known to Muslims as the Al-Aqsa compound and to Jews as the Temple Mount, has been calm. The quiet is deceiving.
This 35-acre compound on the eastern edge of the Old City in Jerusalem, one of the most politically combustible places in the Middle East, has seen a rise in violations of an international agreement that bars Jews from praying on the plaza outside the mosque.
The third holiest site in Islam, the mosque marks the spot where Prophet Muhammad is said to have ascended to heaven. Jews, meanwhile, revere the mount as the site of the First and Second Temples.
Although the police refused to provide Religion News Service with precise numbers, a spokesperson acknowledged in an email that “during the past few years, there has been a constant increase in the number of Jews ascending the Temple Mount.”
In late November, United for Israel, a self-defined “pro-Israel” group that advocates for Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount, reported that more than 10,000 Jewish worshippers had visited the Temple Mount between September and November, an increase of 80% compared with recent years.
Israel and Jordan share control of the compound in an arrangement that began after the Israeli army took Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Six-Day War. When the hostilities ended, Israel granted religious and administrative responsibility for the compound to the Jordanian Islamic Waqf, a religious trust, while Israel retained overall control, including policing.
Popularly known as the status quo, the agreement gives Muslims the sole right to pray in the compound; Jews and others are allowed to ascend the Temple Mount as individuals, but not in groups and not to pray. Jews, meanwhile, have the sole right to pray at the Western Wall (the “Wailing Wall”), a portion of the ancient retaining wall of the Temple Mount below the Al-Aqsa plaza.
In Islamic tradition, the Western Wall is the site where Muhammad tied his winged horse, al-Buraq.
Jews are increasingly seen on the plaza performing their morning and evening prayers, which require a quorum of at least 10 men. Morning prayers are followed by religious study sessions. At least a dozen organizations have been established to further their cause.
Any time the status quo has been broken, violence has erupted. In 1990, deadly riots exploded after a group of Jews tried to lay a cornerstone for a new temple. In 2000, a visit led by Israeli politician Ariel Sharon triggered the Palestinian uprising known as the Second Intifada, which led to some 1,000 Israeli deaths and between 3,000 and 5,000 Palestinian casualties.
In May 2021, Israeli police clashed with Palestinian rioters, entering the mosque to fire tear gas; Hamas responded by firing rockets at Israel, including Jerusalem, initiating the latest round of conflict between Israel and Gaza.
For years, those who called for Jewish prayer on the mount were regarded as marginal, even crackpot, extremists, and leading Orthodox rabbis discouraged visits on the grounds of religious purity. In the past decade, however, nationalist religious activists have insisted that prayer on the Temple Mount is an issue of freedom of religion and human rights.
Lately, a few rabbis have offered their support. In September, Rabbi Meir Y. Soloveichik, a leader in mainstream American Orthodoxy, published a call for “freedom of worship.”
In the summer of 2021, newly appointed Prime Minister Naftali Bennett released a statement calling for “allowing freedom of worship for Jews on the Mount.” Though he subsequently said he had “no intention of changing the status quo,” he did not backtrack on the question of Jewish worship. His office did not respond to requests for clarification.
The prayer sessions take place in full view of Israeli police, who in the past would not allow Jews to even hold a prayer book on the mount. Rabbi Eliyahu Weber, head of the Temple Mount Yeshiva, whose students visit the site daily, told The Times of Israel recently that Jewish groups coordinate their activities with the police.
A police spokesperson, responding to RNS inquiries, wrote in an email, “The police act in accordance with the conditions for visits (by non-Muslims) which are intended to allow for maintaining the public order and security. We will continue to allow visits to the Temple Mount, subject to the conditions for visiting.”
Women have been particularly active, with nearly a dozen women’s organizations encouraging prayer and study on the mount. Rina Ariel, a leader of Women for the Holy Temple, organizes bat mitzvah programs for mothers and daughters in memory of her daughter, Hallel, who was 13 when she was murdered in her bed by a Palestinian terrorist in 2016.
“Women’s lives (are) deeply entwined with issues of purity and impurity, and it is right that we women should have a special presence here. Women’s lives have an extra layer of holiness and spirituality; we represent the meaning of life,” said Ariel in a 2021 film that is part of a series titled “Conversations on the Mount.”
Ofira Levy, director of the film series and a journalist for the daily Maariv newspaper, said she said she hopes that Muslims “will come to realize” that their “true holy place is in Mecca.” If not, she says, “there is room for everyone to build their holy place, and Muslims, too, will be welcome.”