Posted on June 8th, 2008
When I worked for AIPAC, we spent a lot of time advocating the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital. As almost every senior politician makes platitudes about Jerusalem to the AIPAC annual meetings, you can see how successful the lobbying effort is. The strongest case has always been the fact that only under Israeli sovereignty is there complete freedom of worship in this historic, holy city. For anyone who has ever been called upon to defend Israel in a debate, this is a well known “talking point,” a staple of pro-Israel hasbara.
Unfortunately, it’s not true.
But the way Israel prohibits worship may surprise you.
The Har Ha-Bayit, the Temple Mount, is the holiest place in all of Judaism. Jewish tradition considers the hill on which the ancient temples stood to be of far greater significance than that tiny segment of the retaining wall that we know as the Kotel or Western Wall. Even though the Jewish temples were destroyed long ago, and today Islamic shrines and mosques have been built over them, the place is still considered the holiest spot in the world.
Jews from all over the world come to ascend to this special place. Most realize that the serious nature of the area requires special preparation and consultation with Rabbinic experts. There is study, immersion in a mikva, and serious thought that must go into a visit to the Temple Mount if one wishes to abide by Torah law.
Yet one thing you may not do, if you are Jewish, is pray. Before you are allowed up, a police officer explains in no uncertain terms that if you are caught praying, even by silently moving your lips or quietly swaying back and forth, you will be subject to arrest. While you are on the Temple Mount, Arab “minders” and Jewish police follow your every movement to make sure you do not attempt anything so violent as to whisper tehillim. You are not allowed any ritual objects such as a talit, tefillin, or even a prayer book. All these are subject to confiscation if a Jew attempts to bring them up to the Mount.
Muslims, or course, are allowed to pray at anytime anywhere on the Mount. Actually, I do not believe Muslims are banned from praying anywhere in the State of Israel. I could only imagine the headlines if Israel passed such a law. And I don’t begrudge them of that right at all. I had no problems when the guys who worked on my home stopped in the afternoon and got down on the ground to pray. I do not feel threatened by their prayers.
Yet what is it about Jewish prayer that is considered so dangerous that a Jewish State will arrest a Jew trying to utter a Jewish prayer? Why do we have Jewish policemen – responsible for our safety – confiscating prayer books as if they worked for the KGB? If I close my eyes and say a Mishabarach that Gilad Shalit should be freed, can I really be thrown in jail?
The tragic answer is yes. Any type of Jewish religious activity on the Temple Mount is considered a “disruption” of peace. So the result is that the State of Israel today denies Jews the ability to pray in our holiest site.
So why do we still go? Why do we place ourselves in the difficult position of standing where we so desperately want to beseech G-D only to be prevented from doing so by our Jewish brethren?
It is because we not only can change the “status quo,” but we must. We must politely and reverently show the world, and even more importantly the government of Israel, that we will never forget Jerusalem. We must sometimes stop talking about remembering the city while we are in our shuls and instead “pray” with our feet. We cannot insist that American politicians declare their love for an undivided Jerusalem while we are the ones who divide it.
Smile at the Arabs, smile at the police, say a prayer in your heart, and stand up for what is right. I can think of no better way today for a Jew to do this then to visit the Temple Mount.
For information on visiting the Temple Mount, start with http://templeinstitute.org/.
Chag Sameach from our sometimes “upside down” but always blessed nation.
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