Joseph Hyman is a second year engineering student from London, studying at the University of Leeds in England. Over the summer, aside from studying at Yeshiva, he signed up to attend UJS’s (Union of Jewish Students) Manhigut (Leadership) trip, running from June 13-22. On this trip, UK students tour throughout Israel meeting politicians, activists, etc. across the political spectrum, while also visiting Israeli sites of interest.
One of the sites that the tour visited was the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City. Along with most of the Manhigut participants and a tour guide, Joseph passed through Israeli security to enter the Rambam (Mughrabi) bridge (that connects the Temple Mount complex with the Kotel complex). Upon entering the Temple Mount complex, the group was met with four walkie-talkie wielding Wakf officials, two of which engaged the group. They explained that the Temple Mount is a holy site and that the group as a whole – many of whom were wearing shorts – were dressed inappropriately for such a holy site.
They ordered those with exposed legs to buy kefiahs (scarves) for thirteen shekalim in order to cover up. Subsequently, the two Wakf members turned their attention to Joseph, the only member of the group with an exposed kippah. They said: “Asur! (forbidden) Holy Place. Not this!” (while pointing to his kippah) repeatedly. The tour guide attempted to negotiate with the two Wakf offficials, but to no avail. They would not allow Joseph to enter the Temple Mount complex unless he voluntarily removed his kippah.
Instead of removing his kippah, Joseph chose to leave the group, and the Temple Mount complex. Most members of the Manhigut group felt terrible for Joseph. Nonetheless, they chose to remain on the Temple Mount for their tour, while he waited in the Old City Arab market for the group to finish their tour of the holiest site in Judaism.
In fact, Joseph’s experience is not an isolated case. Recently, religious freedom has been seriously curtailed on the Temple Mount. Ma’ariv (a daily Israeli newspaper) has reported that “non-Muslims are now not even permitted to close their eyes while on the Mount, or do anything that could be interpreted as praying” on the Temple Mount. When a Jewish group enters the complex as an identifiable Jewish group, a Wakf offical shadows the group (along with a Jerusalem police officer) to ensure that no one prays or does any overtly religious actions (like the Kohanic blessing, recite Psalms, or prostrations).
When I discuss this issue with most people, they do not know how to feel. Are the Wakf officials permitted to restrict access to the Temple Mount based on attire or creed? Should Joseph simply have bowed to the Wakf official’s whim and removed his kippah? Should Joseph have been there in the first place as the Israeli Chief Rabbinate informs Jews that it is forbidden to enter the site?
Instead of preaching, or explaining the different opinions about entering the Temple Mount complex and where it is permissible to walk, or explaining the Wakf’s duties, I want to focus upon Israeli law and the responsibilities that Israel has taken upon itself. Let us start in in the beginning.
In Israel’s Declaration of Independence it states:
It will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture. It will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions.
One can maintain that these two promises of the Declaration actually contradict one another, for, especially in our own turbulent world, it might be that the only way in which Israel can “safeguard” holy sites of all religions is to limit and not guarantee freedom of religion in those said sites. In fact, this exactly is Israel’s policy. By limiting access and religious freedoms throughout many holy sites in Israel, the government ensures the safety of its populations and minimizes actions that can be viewed as incitement by other religions. All civilized societies accept the principle that many of our liberties have to be curtailed in order to safeguard the welfare of the society as a whole. But is this what happened at the Temple Mount complex? For us to understand the core issues, we have to first turn to the Six Day War.
In 1967, amidst intense fighting, Israel liberated the Temple Mount from the Jordanians. Between 1948 and 1967, when Jordan controlled the whole West Bank, Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs were forbidden from ascending the Temple Mount. After its capture, Moshe Dayan – who oversaw the capture of East Jerusalem on June 5th through 7th – decided to leave administrative control of the Temple Mount with the Islamic Wakf. There were several political factors that led to this decision, but the key issue, in my view, was his own personality. As a secular and usually anti-religious Israeli, he did not deem the Temple Mount a religiously significant site; it was simply a historical site, like Masada or the ruins of Beit She’an to him. Accordingly, he did not care for the significance that the IDF’s rabbinic head and eventual Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Shlomo Goren, placed upon the Mount, nor the significance that most Jews attached to it.
On this point, we can simply say: DAYAN WAS WRONG! Obviously. He was unjustified. And according to Israel’s Declaration of Independence and the Preservation of the Holy Places Law of 19671, it was probably illegal to allow the Wakf to remain the administrators of the Temple Mount after its liberation. And, it was definitely illegal once Israel annexed all of East Jerusalem with the passing of the Jerusalem Law in 1980. Israel then had an obligation to grant full freedom of religion on the Temple Mount, as the Old City then become Israeli territory. That would mean either ensuring that the Wakf grants religious freedom to all (arguably, an impossibility), or taking administrative control from the Wakf and handing it to a more competent body (whoever that may be).
Many members of Knesset (Israel’s Parliament) have taken a similar stance. To name a few: Likud MK (Member of Knesset) Tzipi Hotovely has vehemently pushed for the Interior Ministry committee to discuss this very issue. She has said regarding the Wakf’s treatment of Jews on the Temple Mount that “this is a fatal blow to freedom of worship, and has no place in the state of Israel.” Upon his visit to the Temple Mount, MK National Union Uri Ariel recounted: “The officer said that closing eyes and rocking the body back and forth constitute prayer, and therefore anyone who does any of these things will be immediately removed from the Mount.” He has similarly pushed for a change in the status quo. MK National Union Aryeh Eldad has called bluntly for the end of Wakf control over visits to the Temple Mount. Also MK Likud Danny Danon, a deputy parliament speaker, said that “… it is more difficult for the Jew than the Muslim to go and pray on the Temple Mount. This is a distortion that must be corrected… If Jews want to go and pray on the Temple Mount then they should be allowed to do it.”2
For those who recognize the names of the aforementioned Israeli politicians, they will note that all four of the MKs are right-wingers. Sadly, this issue has become not one of religious freedom, but an expression of right vs left wing politics. All peoples in Israel: left, right, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, etc., ought to push for religious freedom upon the Temple Mount. But this must be accomplished without starting an intifada. Israeli police (along with the Wakf in this one instance) ought to work together to ensure that all peoples are able to practice their religion freely at the Temple Mount, the Kotel, the cave of the Patriarchs or anywhere in Israel. It is the (sometimes sad) reality of two peoples that certain geographical sites are regarded as holy to both of them. For them to live together, religious freedom must be extended to both parties. There will always be a tension and compromises are necessary, but for Israel to disregard its own laws on religious freedom is nothing short of a travesty.
Things you can do:
- visit the Temple Mount
- encourage others to visit the Temple Mount
- write to MKs, regardless of their faction, explaining how it is their job to ensure religious freedom throughout Israel, and especially at the Temple Mount
- educate others of the importance that the Temple Mount plays within Jewish law and the religion, and the ongoing issues present there today
- contact your local imams and/or moderate Muslim representatives to help push for religious freedom on the Temple Mount amongst their communities and religious groups
- pass this article on to your friends
And if we’re effective, Joseph may yet be able to visit the Temple Mount for the first time, and wear his kippah there with pride.
Articles (in alphabetic order) that detail Joseph’s experience
- The Holy Places shall be protected from desecration and any other violation and from anything likely to violate the freedom of access of the members of the different religions to the places sacred to them or their feelings with regard to those places.
- Whosoever desecrates or otherwise violates a Holy Place shall be liable to imprisonment for a term of seven years.
- Whosoever does anything likely to violate the freedom of access of the members of the different religions to the places sacred to them or their feelings with regard to those places shall be liable to imprisonment for a term of five years.
- This Law shall add to, and not derogate from, any other law.
- The Minister of Religious Affairs is charged with the implementation of this Law, and he may, after consultation with, or upon the proposal of, representatives of the religions concerned and with the consent of the Minister of Justice make regulations as to any matter relating to such implementation.
- This Law shall come into force on the date of its adoption by the Knesset.