Halachic Musings

By Rabbi Yair Hoffman

Most major poskim forbid walking on Har HaBayit nowadays. Those rabbanim who permit it draw a distinction between the current area of the Temple Mount and the dimensions of Har HaBayit discussed in the mishnah in Midos (2:1). The mishnah tells us that Har HaBayit is 500 amos by 500 amos. The current area of Har HaBayit is 1,601 feet by 1,542 feet. On the north—south side, it is less (1,033 and 919 feet).

The first supposition that those who permit it make is therefore that the current state of Har HaBayit is that it is double the size of what is mentioned in the mishnah. There are two problems with this. First, Torah sources sometimes round off or approximate measurements. The number 500 by 500 is very likely an approximation. The second problem is that we do not know the exact dimensions of an amah. Some say it is 18 inches; others say 21.25 inches or 23 inches; and a good argument can be made that it is less than 18 inches as well.

The second supposition made by those who permit entry onto Har HaBayit is that Rashi’s p’shat in the Gemara in Yevamos (7b) is in error. We contend, however, that Rashi’s p’shat is the authoritative understanding of the underlying issue, and has been the normative halachah for many centuries.

But let’s give a brief background.

Yehoshafat, the king of Yehudah, was under intense pressure. The powerful armies of Ammon, Moav, and Seir had combined forces to attack Eretz Yisrael (see Divrei HaYamim II 20:5). Frightened, Yehoshafat turned to Hashem, declared a fast, and gathered the people to Yerushalayim to the Beis HaMikdash to daven fervently to Hashem. He davened in the “new courtyard.”

There are three interpretations to the term “new courtyard.” The RaDak and Metzudas Dovid both suggest that it is possible that some sort of improvement was made in the courtyard. The Gemara in several places, according to Rashi, tells us that there was a new enactment involving the Beis HaMikdash, promulgated at that very time, forbidding a t’vul yom from entering into the Camp of the Levi’im–the Temple Mount. This additional enactment endowed the entire Makom HaMikdash with a higher level of sanctity. The term “new courtyard” refers to this new enactment, and the courtyard that is referenced is the entire area. The third interpretation is that the “new courtyard” refers to the ezras nashim only.

The Kaftor Vaferach (a Rishon who tells us the minhagim of the Jews in Eretz Yisrael and the Makom HaMikdash) in chapter six tells us that Jews observe the second definition of “new courtyard” as being the exact walls of the then current Har HaBayit. Since he lived in the 1300s, the reference is to our contemporary wall dimensions. The Teshuvas Ramoh (#25) cites this ruling as authoritative and, until very recently, it has always been observed. The Sefer HaManhig (s.v. “Baal keri”), citing the rulings of the Geonim, explains that it was only during the Temple times that a t’vul yom could immerse and wait a day. However, nowadays, when it is impossible to rid ourselves of the impurity of the dead, removing the tumah of baal keri is impossible while we still retain the impurity of the dead.

So even though the mishnah in Keilim indicates that the impurity of the dead does not necessarily directly impinge upon going onto Har HaBayit itself, it does do so by not allowing our tumas keri to be completely removed. Those that advocate treading upon Har HaBayit either disagree with this Sefer HaManhig, with the Geonim he cites, or have figured some other reading of this Sefer HaManhig. This position fits the normative practice cited in Rav Ovadiah Bartenura’s letter to his father that Jews would not go up to Har HaBayit even if the Muslims would have allowed them (the letter is cited in the responsa by Dayan Weiss).

[It should be noted that Rav Moshe Feinstein I.M. O.C. vol. II #113 does seem to disagree with the Sefer HaManhig’s understanding of undoing impurity, but the other issues are still relevant. Also, most of the other poskim seem to abide by the Sefer HaManhig.]

Another supposition made by those who advocate going onto Har HaBayit is that their measurements are accurate based upon the idea that the current rock known as the al Sakara is one and the same as the Even Shesiya discussed in the mishnah in Yuma. Many Torah authorities as well as secular archaeologists question this identification.

While some of those who advocate going onto the Temple Mount cite the Radbaz (responsa #691), who does make this identification, there are some very serious discrepancies in the responsa of the Radbaz that have been pointed out by the leading poskim of the generation, including Rav Ovadiah Yoseph, Rav Waldenberg, zt’l (Tzitz Eliezer vol. X #1), and Dayan Weiss (vol. V #1).

When dealing with an issue of Kareis the custom in K’lal Yisrael has always been to be stringent. Here we have three leading poskim who tell us with very stern warnings, “Stay Away!” Why ignore them?

A fourth assumption made by those who advocate treading upon Har HaBayit is based upon a 19th-century photograph that was found of Har HaBayit. The assumption is that the raised platform in the photo is the actual Har HaBayit referred to in the mishnah.

There are further indications from various sources in the Acharonim that the walls extend past the areas pointed to in the picture (Pe’as HaShulchan by a student of the Vilna Gaon, Rav Yisroel of Shklov, Eretz Yisrael 3; addendum to Kaftor Vaferach).

Many of those whose opinions promote going onto Har HaBayit do rely to some degree on the opinion of the Raavad, who rules that the sanctity of the Temple Mount is not as in force as it was when the Temple stood. Rambam, of course, disagrees, and the Mishnah Berurah rules fully in accordance with the Rambam.

There is also the issue of whether everyone in contemporary times has the halachic status of a zav. Both Dayan Weiss and the Tzitz Eliezer rule that everyone does. Those who advocate for treading on Har HaBayit disagree with this contention.

Finally, Rav Kook (Mishpat HaKohein #96) himself writes that even according to the view of the Raavad, there is still a rabbinic prohibition of entering the Temple Mount. He explains that Chazal felt that the reverence and respect for the Makom HaMikdash is greater in not going there, than in visiting it. Modern advocates of treading on Har HaBayit indicate that Rav Kook would have changed his mind if he had been given their new evidence. But intellectual honesty would yield quite a different theory.

In short, the overwhelming view of poskim, chareidi and otherwise, simply do not agree that Jews may or should go up to Har HaBayit. While the sentiment is certainly understood, and one cannot fault those who genuinely believe that it is halachically permitted, it is still a very serious issue. v

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