Sunday, August 10, 2008

Tisha b'Av on Har HaBayet - The Temple Mount IS In Our Hands!

Today is Tisha b'Av (the 9th Day of the Hebrew Month of Av), a day of mourning and fasting during which we commemorate the destruction of the Holy Temple, which happened not once but twice on this day in history.
Other destructive events which occured on 9 Av include: the fall of Betar, the last fortress to hold out against the Romans during the Bar Kochba revolt in 132 CE, killing 100,000 Jews. In 1492, Spain ordered the expulsion of all Jews by the Ninth of Av. In 1914, Germany declared war on Russia on the Ninth of Av (August 1) which was the beginning of World War I, the event that led to WWII and the Holocaust.
So...why is this Tisha b'Av different from all others?
This Tisha b'Av was the first time that Rabbi Chaim Richman of The Temple Institute ( was allowed to enter the Temple Mount on this day, as usually it is closed to Jews because the Moslem authorities who hold dominion over the Holiest Place on Earth won't allow us to ascend...but this morning, at 7:30am, they did. Rabbi Richman led a small group of people (including myself) carefully around the perimeter of the Temple Mount, mindful of the strict halachic boundaries that forbid Jews from walking anywhere where the Temple itself might have stood, and G_d forbid, not to walk or step on any area that might be the location of the Holy of Holies.
Having spent all week preparing for this event (including a visit to the Mikvah as per halachic instruction) I could barely sleep at all last night. My friend Liba and I got up at 5am to make sure we would make it to the Kotel Plaza in time to daven Shachrit (morning services) before meeting Rabbi Richman at the ramp entrance to Har HaBayet.
The authorities confiscated all of our Teudat Zehuts (Israeli I.D. Cards) and held them for a short time to examine them, while tourists with passports of every country walked right through as we, Israeli Jews, were scrutinized, questioned, inspected and denuded of any visible means of prayer support (including prayer books, siddurim, tehillim or anything else that could be construed as a "prayer aid"). One of our group was told to remove or cover his talit katan (4-cornered fringed garment worn by observant Jewish men).
Finally we were allowed through the gates, and once we were inside, it was eerily quiet. The Temple Mount is a world unto itself and feels completely removed from the hustle and bustle of Jerusalem's Old City, within which it exists. It's like walking through a door into another dimension - which, of course, is exactly what it really is.
The holiness of the place itself is powerfully magnetic, and yet it is mournfully sad. There is a feeling of great yearning which permiates the atmosphere.
The worst part is that after the 6-day War in 1967, the Temple Mount was literally in our hands. Why did General Moshe Dayan give control of the Temple Mount back to the Moslem authorities? While there is plenty of controversy regarding that question, a more pressing question is why we don't just take it back, right here and right now.
In the words of the Temple Institute's Yitzhak Reuven:
In the aftermath of the capture and liberation of the Temple Mount, and in light of the lack of readiness with which the nation of Israel was caught, 2000 years of yearning soon turned into fear: the secular Zionist political leadership of Israel feared the responsibility of being sovereign over the Temple Mount. They feared Arab/Moslem reaction to Jewish mastery over the Mount, and they feared the growing calls by their fellow Jews for a renewed Jewish presence on the Mount. Many observant Jews also feared the Mount. Centuries of yearning and praying for the return of the Holy Temple had manifested intellectually and emotionally as a perception that the Holy Temple no longer remained attainable in the realm of history, through the labors of the Jewish nation, as it had been during the times of both the first and second temples, but that it had become consigned to the end of time, the messianic era. This particular school of thought captured the souls of many Jews. On a purely psychological, or perhaps, physiological level, another truth was making itself known: people do not like change, and building the Holy Temple means changing everything. Not the least of those changes is the spiritual focus of the Jewish people, and this was perhaps the most difficult thing for the religious Jew to contend with. So a type of "collaboration" was engaged between the secular political leaders of Israel, and many of the rabbinical leaders, the purpose of which was to render the Temple Mount, and naturally, the Holy Temple itself, off limits to the Jews. Remarkably, for a people which had so diligently recorded every aspect of the life of the nation when it was centered around the Holy Temple, these rabbis - men of knowledge - who at their fingertips had recourse to every strand of knowledge necessary to begin the renewal of the Divine service - pleaded ignorance. And with that ignorance they locked the gate and drew a curtain over the Temple Mount.

But there did exist Jews who did not, could not accept this decision. These Jews saw the liberation of the Temple Mount as a heavenly summons for the Jews to return to their history, to fulfill their destiny as had been decreed thousands of years earlier by the prophets of theG-d of Israel. For these Jews, their religion wasn't a convenience, or an immutable way of life - it was a calling to perform the commandments as G-d had commanded them - and to create a dwelling place for G-d, here - on earth. Squeezed out politically by their observant and non-observant brethren, these Jews have had to go it alone. Reviving and restoring an entire body of knowledge, they have succeeded in bringing the future of the Temple Mount and the Holy Temple to the forefront of the Jewish experience. An awareness of the historical inevitability and the spiritual necessity of the Third Temple has reentered the consciousness of the Jewish people: A growing understanding that the fate of the political state of Israel as well as the spiritual nation of Israel is intrinsically bound to what will be on the Temple Mount, in a way no less profound than was the binding of Isaac by his father Abraham on Mount Moriah, at the dawn of Jewish history some 3,800 years ago. As more Jews are opening their hearts to the Holy Temple, those who have yet to be swayed have grown that much more fearful. And as a result of that fear, the oppression has grown harsher. Access to the Temple Mount by individuals has grown more prohibitive and often demeaning. Any outward acts of prayer are forbidden. Any talk of a change in the status of the Mount to accommodate the free spiritual expression of Jews in their holiest of places on earth, is met with hostility. But the movement of Jews back into the history of their people is a growing tide that cannot be stemmed. A great responsibility has been returned to our hands. The keys that the priests returned to the safekeeping of heaven on that terrible 9th of Av 1,935 years ago have been thrust back into our hands. G-d has entrusted us with our our fate - and with His future - as it were - on this earth. We must understand that the fast days of our times are the very last fast days to be. We have been blessed with the ability to make this happen. We have been entrusted with the responsibility to see to it that it happens. The days of mourning the destruction of the second Temple have ended. The days of mourning our own lethargy regarding the Third Temple will soon be over. The time has arrived to effect the tikkun - the repair - and to establish the 9th of Av as a day of rejoicing forever. The choice is ours - if only we close ranks, and unite to make it happen.
AMEN V'AMEN. Let's make it happen. The Temple Mount IS in our hands, if we truly want it!

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