Rabbi Ephraim Sprecher, Dean of Students and Senior Lecturer at Diaspora Yeshiva, is not only a popular speaker and teacher, but also a dynamic thinker and writer. A student of Harav Yaakov Kamenetsky and Harav Gedalia Schorr, Rabbi Sprecher was granted smicha (rabbinical ordination) by Torah Vodaath Yeshiva. Prior to his current position, Rabbi Sprecher was a professor of Judaic studies at Touro College in New York. In addition to his duties at Diaspora Yeshiva, Rabbi Sprecher writes a regular column on various Judaic topics in the Jewish Press, and lectures regularly at the OU Israel Center in Jerusalem.
Does The Halacha Permit Us To Ascend The Temple Mount
Published: Wednesday, August 29, 2007 11:04:54 AM
Number of views: 3955

Does Jewish law permit us to ascend the Temple Mount today?  This may seem only like a halachic question, but it has far reaching political consequences as well.

Shortly after the Six Day War in June 1967, the Chief Rabbinate posted a large sign at the entrance to the Temple Mount stating that it is forbidden to enter the Temple Mount according to halacha.  This prohibition was reiterated by Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar and Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger in January 2005.  As a result, many Jews have not entered the Temple Mount area for the past forty years.

But does Jewish law really forbid Jews to go up to the entire Temple Mount, our holiest site?  The most important source is found in the Mishna (Kelim 1:6-9): "There are 10 degrees of holiness.  The land of Israel is holier than any other land………. The Temple Mount..  The Rampart (an area of 10 cubits surrounding the Holy Temple itself)…….  The Court of the Women……… the Court of the Israelites is still more holy….."

Halachic authorities have tried to determine if these 10 degrees of holiness still exist today.  The reply, is dependent upon a disagreement in the Talmud (Shavuot 16a) and on a difference of opinion between the Rambam and the Raavad in Mishneh Toreh (Beit Habechirah 6:14).  According to the Rambam, the original holiness that King Solomon bestowed on the First Temple was holy for its time and for the future, but, according to the Raavad, the First Temple was holy for its time and not for the future.

Many authorities have ruled on the basis of the Talmud and the Rambam that it is still forbidden for a Jew to enter the Temple Mount today.  In the words of the Rambam, "lest he wander into the forbidden area of the Court of the Israelites which is punishable by Karet (premature death) even today." This is because we have all contracted ritual impurity by being in contact with a dead body.

However, we know from many sources that Jews continued to enter and even pray on the Temple Mount between the 7th and 11th centuries.  Ben-zion Dinaburg proved that there was a Jewish house of prayer and study on the Temple Mount between the 7th and 11th centuries.  Rambam himself visited the Temple Mount on the 14 of October 1165.  Rabbi Menachem Hameiri of Provence (1249-1315) testifies, "………..and the custom is to enter the Temple Mount."

Rambam has ruled that those who have contracted ritual impurity from a corpse are not forbidden to enter the entire Temple Mount area.  However, they are forbidden to enter the Rampart and the Court of Women, and the penalty of Karet applies only to those who enter the Court of Israelites and beyond.

If we can define the sanctified section of the Temple itself on what is today called the Temple Mount, we will perhaps be able to determine where it is permissible to enter.  Indeed, Rabbi David ben Zimra (1479-1573) and at least ten modern Rabbis, including Rabbis Hayyim Hirshinson, Rabbi Hayyim Dovid Halevi, Rabbi Shlomo Goren, Rabbi Yoseh Kafah, and Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, have ruled that it is permissible to enter some parts of the  Temple Mount today.

The main sources for the boundaries of the Temple Mount during the Second Temple period are the Mishnah, Tractate Middot and Josephus.  There are contradictions between these sources, but there is general agreement among rabbis and archeologists regarding two basic points.

  1. The Temple Mount today is much larger than the Temple Mount described by Josephus and the Mishnah. It is clear that the southern area, south of the Mughrabi Gate, and all of the northern area north of the raised platform around the Dome of the Rock, were added by King Herod.  Therefore, these areas are not included in the sanctified area of the Temple Mount mentioned in the Mishnah.
  2. The Huge Rock underneath the Dome of the Rock is the "Foundation Stone" which was located under the Holy of Holies, or it is the foundation of the Altar of the Temple.

In 1967 the Israeli Government gave the Muslim Wakaf control of the Temple Mount.  Since then the Wakaf has made a concerted effort to obliterate the remnants of Jewish antiquities on the Temple Mount.  Furthermore, when the Wakaf expanded the Aksa Mosque in 1999, they illegally removed 250 truckloads of dirt containing thousands of years of Jewish historical antiquities.  Bar Ilan University's Dr. Gabbi Barkai, a member of the Committee Against Destruction of Antiquities on the Temple Mount, is now sifting through this dirt and recovering thousands of ancient Jewish artifacts.  The Wakf was able to get away with this plunder, because Jews do not visit the Temple Mount, and they don't visit because of Rabbinic rulings, cited above.  

Also, former Chief Rabbis Abraham Shapiro and Mordechai Eliyahu agree that entering the Temple Mount is prohibited.  Rav Shapiro has ruled that anyone who ascends the Temple Mount is violating a prohibition whose punishment is Karet (a heavenly death sentence).  Thus, we are left with a major dispute among the Rabbis regarding the Temple Mount.

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