By Larry Gordon
With the season of our rejoicing arriving on the coattails of the seriousness of Rosh Hashanah and the solemnity of Yom Kippur, it may afford us the opportunity to explore the focal point of the seeming gravity and the giddiness of our communal mindset.
As the Hebrew months of Elul and Tishrei arrive on our calendar, our gaze and thought process turn upward and eastward. We look up to the heavens and beseech The One on high to look at us favorably and kindly because, as we all know in our hearts, after all is said and done that is all we have and can truly depend on.
But there is a serious conundrum in our lives that we are conflicted about dealing with. And that is the Jewish community’s attitude and position regarding the place where our prayers are directed, where our Beis HaMikdash stood in Jerusalem, and where our faith dictates it will stand again, this time permanently in the era of Mashiach.
Aharon Pulver of the Israel Independence Fund believes that this uncertain and dispassionate attitude about the Temple Mount, the Har HaBayit, is both unconscionable and unacceptable. He recently completed a visit to New York where he arranged the funding to organize a division of his group that will deliver hundreds of guests to visit Har HaBayit on a weekly basis.
“The Temple Mount is the central focus of all we do and pray for,” Pulver says but adds that only lip service is being paid and not enough action is being taken. He is seeking to change that over the short term. He says that he has spoken with members of Knesset, as well as cabinet ministers in the Netanyahu government, who are trying to downplay the issue and dissuade people from focusing on it.
One Knesset member rhetorically asked Pulver, “Because ten Jews want to visit Har HaBayit you want to start World War III?” And that is the key issue that the group plans to develop: the idea of incorporating Har HaBayit into the vernacular and dislodging it from being identified almost exclusively with what is characterized as extreme behavior.
To that end, the IIF commissioned an extensive and broad survey of Jewish attitudes toward Israel’s holy sites with some telling and remarkable findings. One of the most interesting findings in the survey conducted in the Spring was that 48% of Israelis identify themselves as non-religious with 25% saying that they are traditional Jews.
On the question as to what is the holiest site for the Jewish people, 60% answered “The Kotel,” while 26% answered “the Temple Mount.” 9% said they didn’t know, 2% said the Cave of the Patriarchs, and 1% said Kever Rachel. When surveying only Jews who identified themselves as religiously observant, the survey found that 54% believed that Har HaBayit is the most sacred Jewish site with 38% saying that it is The Western Wall.
Asked how often they visit the Kotel, 54% of the religious Jews surveyed said they visit a few times a year, while 33% said they visit once per year. As for how important Har HaBayit is in Jewish life, 78% of religious Jews said it was important while 45% of non-religious or traditional Jews also said that it was important.
Perhaps one of the most telling answers was in response to the query about whether there was interest in establishing a synagogue for people to pray in on Har HaBayit. According to the survey, 52% of religious nationalists were in favor of the move, 31% of the traditional Jews were also in favor, but only 6% of chareidi Jews were in favor of such a scenario developing.
If you read or peruse the news from Israel on any kind of regular basis, you know that one of the most sensitive issues between Israel and the Arabs is the status or the perceived change in the status quo of the management of activities on the Temple Mount. For the Muslims, control of the mount is their barometer on the level of the relationship between Gâ€‘d and the Jewish people. While the majority of Jews are uncertain about this being the way to measure our standing with the Divine, the Muslims are convinced that this is exactly the way it is. They understand that regardless of the political circumstances that once the Jews gain any kind of foothold on the Mount it means that Gâ€‘d is smiling down on us and that we are in His good graces and that is what they are afraid of.
The organized Jewish community both here and in Israel would like to think that we are in good with our Creator but it seems that we are reluctant to want to use our interfacing with Har HaBayit as just such a barometer.
And for Jews who are so actively involved in making certain that all people around the globe are entitled to their religious rights and freedoms, it seems that when it comes to the Jews and Har HaBayit, that all comes to a screeching halt. For example, did you know that Jews are so discriminated against by the Arabs who control the Temple Mount that the few hundred Jews who visit on somewhat of a regular basis are prohibited from using the bathroom facilities which are controlled by the Muslim Waqf?
According to Aharon Pulver, the problems began almost immediately after the Six Day War and Israel’s liberation of Eastern Jerusalem. Pulver calls it “an act that defies stupidity.” That was the day when the then Israel Defense Minister Moshe Dayan sat down on a prayer carpet in the Al Aksa Mosque with leaders of the Supreme Muslim Council, ordered the Israeli flag that was flying over Har HaBayit taken down, and handed over authority on the Temple Mount to the Waqf. Administrative responsibility on the Temple Mount was to be that of the Arabs and the Waqf.
The way Jews who want to visit Har HaBayit are treated today would turn the beliefs of every freedom-loving person upside down. Unlike any other people, Jews are barred from entry for weeks on end when the Muslim clerics demand it; Jews are not permitted to pray in any manner or form even in a murmur; Jews are not permitted to carry prayer books or books of any religious nature; and so on.
The fact of the matter is that the Temple Mount is located today inside of Israel sovereign territory, but the Jewish government in Israel is either very uncomfortable being in possession of this ultimate holy site or just plain doesn’t want it. Aharon Pulver says that it just may very well be that we are being tested by Hashem to see if we want the redemption and the rebuilding of the Beis HaMikdash to occur. “Surrendering Har HaBayit to the Arabs sends a strong message to the world at large that the Jews do not want and perhaps do not really belong in the land of Israel,” he says. “And this might be our last opportunity for the next 2,000 years,” he adds.
So Pulver is in the process of putting together a relatively simple and manageable $234,000 annual budget to increase Jewish interest in Har HaBayit. The budget includes buses that will shuttle Jews back and forth to the Old City throughout the day. He envisions creating a situation where 500 Jews visit the Temple Mount every week.
And if your rabbi advises against visiting the Har HaBayit, that is fine and good but that does not mean that you should not support the advancement and promotion of Jewish sovereignty up on the Mount. It is not about what you personally do or don’t do. There are many rabbis who permit their congregants to visit certain areas of Har HaBayit. There are large swatches of land up there that are part of what is called the Herodian Extension which refers to the widening of the area of King Herod in ancient times. Most rabbinical authorities concur it is certainly permissible to visit those areas.
I haven’t visited the site of where the Beis HaMikdash stood because my rabbis that I have consulted have advised against it. But I still support Pulver’s efforts if for none other than political reasons. We can bicker and debate back and forth about whether Jews should assert ourselves on the matter of the Temple Mount. But we also have to be mindful that it is true that the world is watching and we may not fully accept or understand what it means to be in possession of Har HaBayit and conducting ourselves responsibly about that reality.
In June 1967, as the IDF pushed the Jordanians out of the Old City commanders radioed historic words to command central. “Har HaBayit b’yadeinu,” “The Temple Mount is in our hands.” Soldiers who knew little or nothing of Jewish texts cried and danced with joy. What was that really all about? If we just ignore it and act as if it has nothing to do with us today, we may be making a colossal error and failing an important test. It might not even be one of those Israel-oriented issues that you ever think about. But be aware that out there they are thinking about it and they are watching. v
Comments for Larry Gordon are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Shofar And The Wall
By Rabbi Moshe Segal
Editor’s note: The Holy Temple in Jerusalem was twice destroyed–by the Romans in the year 69 CE, and by the Babylonians on the same date in 423 BCE. One wall remains standing as a living symbol of the Jewish people’s ownership over the land of Israel and the city of Jerusalem–the Kotel HaMaaravi or “Western Wall.”
What follows is an excerpt (translated from the Hebrew) from the memoir of Rabbi Moshe Segal (1904—1985), a Lubavitcher chassid who was active in the struggle to free the Holy Land from British rule.
In those years, the area in front of the Kotel did not look as it does today. Only a narrow alley separated the Kotel and the Arab houses on its other side. The British Government forbade us to place an Ark, tables, or benches in the alley; even a small stool could not be brought to the Kotel. The British also instituted the following ordinances, designed to humble the Jews at the holiest place of their faith: it was forbidden to pray out loud, lest one upset the Arab residents; it was forbidden to read from the Torah (those praying at the Kotel had to go to one of the synagogues in the Jewish quarter to conduct the Torah reading); it was forbidden to sound the shofar on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The British Government placed policemen at the Kotel to enforce these rules.
On Yom Kippur of that year  I was praying at the Kotel. During the brief intermission between the Mussaf and Minchah prayers, I overheard people whispering to each other: “Where will we go to hear the shofar? It’ll be impossible to blow here. There are as many policemen as people praying…” The Police Commander himself was there, to make sure that the Jews would not, G-d forbid, sound the single blast that closes the fast.
I listened to these whisperings, and thought to myself: Can we possibly forgo the sounding of the shofar that accompanies our proclamation of the sovereignty of G-d? Can we possibly forgo the sounding of the shofar, which symbolizes the redemption of Israel? True, the sounding of the shofar at the close of Yom Kippur is only a custom, but a Jewish custom is Torah! I approached Rabbi Yitzchak Horenstein, who served as the rabbi of our “congregation,” and said to him: “Give me a shofar.”
“What are you talking about? Don’t you see the police?”
The rabbi abruptly turned away from me, but not before he cast a glance at the prayer stand at the left end of the alley. I understood: the shofar was in the stand. When the hour of the blowing approached, I walked over to the stand and leaned against it.
I opened the drawer and slipped the shofar into my shirt. I had the shofar, but what if they saw me before I had a chance to blow it? I was still unmarried at the time, and following the Ashkenazic custom, did not wear a tallit. I turned to the person praying at my side, and asked him for his tallit. My request must have seemed strange to him, but the Jews are a kind people, especially at the holiest moments of the holiest day, and he handed me his tallit without a word.
I wrapped myself in the tallit. At that moment, I felt that I had created my own private domain. All around me, I thought, a foreign government prevails, ruling over the people of Israel even on their holiest day and at their holiest place, and we are not free to serve our G-d; but under this tallit is another domain. Here I am under no dominion save that of my Father in Heaven; here I shall do as He commands me, and no force on earth will stop me.
When the closing verses of the Neillah prayer–”Hear O Israel,” “Blessed be the name,” and “The L-rd is G-d”–were proclaimed, I took the shofar and blew a long, resounding blast. Everything happened very quickly. Many hands grabbed me. I removed the tallit from over my head, and before me stood the Police Commander, who ordered my arrest.
I was taken to the kishla, the prison in the Old City, and an Arab policeman was appointed to watch over me. Many hours passed; I was given no food or water to break my fast. At midnight, the policeman received an order to release me, and he let me out without a word.
I then learned that when the chief rabbi of the Holy Land, Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook, heard of my arrest, he immediately contacted the secretary of High Commissioner of Palestine, and asked that I be released. When his request was refused, he stated that he would not break his fast until I was freed. The High Commissioner resisted for many hours, but finally, out of respect for the rabbi, he had no choice but to set me free.
For the next 18 years, until the Arab conquest of the Old City in 1948, the shofar was sounded at the Kotel every Yom Kippur. The British well understood the significance of this blast; they knew that it would ultimately demolish their reign over our land as the walls of Jericho crumbled before the shofar of Joshua, and they did everything in their power to prevent it. But every Yom Kippur, the shofar was sounded by men who know they would be arrested for their part in staking our claim on the holiest of our possessions. (Chabad.org) v