The attempted assassination of Rabbi Yehuda Glick in Jerusalem on Oct. 29 has reignited debate over access to Har Habayit – the Temple Mount. Rabbi Glick, head of a coalition of groups aiming to win full rights for Jews at the Temple Mount, was shot four times by Mutaz Hijazi, a member of Islamic Jihad with a history of security crimes. (Hijazi was subsequently killed during a shootout with Israeli police.)
Rabbi Glick is recovering – miraculously, by some accounts – at a Jerusalem hospital. In the meantime, tension is mounting on Har Habayit: Israeli police and rioting Palestinians have clashed there in recent days, including inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Palestinians, and the government of Jordan, claim Israeli law enforcement officials entered further into the mosque than they have since 1967; Israeli police deny that, and claim they discovered in the entranceway to the mosque caches of rudimentary weapons.
The latest hostilities on the Temple Mount highlight two connected debates: should Jews be granted the right to pray at the Temple Mount? And if the answer is yes, how should Jews act upon it?
In the hours after the conquest of Jerusalem in 1967, Israeli leaders opted to leave control of the Temple Mount in the hands of Muslim leaders. Had they decided otherwise, they believed, the Six Day War might have turned into a bloodier and extended clash of religions. Ever since, the policy of the government of Israel has been clear: Jews are generally discouraged from visiting the Temple Mount. Those who do ascend to Har Habayit must be accompanied by police, and are not allowed to pray while there.
Last week, Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu argued unequivocally that the rules governing Temple Mount visitation must not be changed. But within his own Likud party and the governing coalition, not everyone agrees: Likud MK Moshe Feiglin entered the Temple Mount in the wake of the attempt on Rabbi Glick’s life, while Housing Minister Uri Ariel and Bayit Yehudi chief Naftali Bennett have openly challenged Netanyahu over Har Habayit policy.
And as the political stance regarding the Temple Mount wavers, so too does the religious approach. Many religious leaders continue to profess that Jews should avoid the Temple Mount – a position derived from the biblical laws regarding purity at Judaism’s holiest place. Without the requisite religious accoutrements (including a red heifer), the argument goes, Jews may not set foot there. Israel’s Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef reiterated that position last Friday, suggesting Jews who pray on Har Habayit might be punished with death.
But a growing cohort of rabbis disagree: Rabbi Glick is just one of many religious leaders who suggest Jews can – and should – pray on the Temple Mount. In the wake of his shooting, their ranks appear to be increasing.
Rabbi Glick’s opinion isn’t to everyone’s taste, no doubt, but he did not deserve to be targeted for it. If his actions have revived public debate about how Jews should manage Har Habayit, those questions have been swirling since 1967. All the while, Har Habayit remains effectively off-limits to Jews, so close but so far away. You can see why that’s a frustrating reality for so many. —YONI