Monday, April 11, 2005

Misrepresenting the Temple Mount

Whenever Jews show an interest in Har HaBayit (or, when it looks like the government will give it away), Haaretz can be relied upon to trot out some 'expert' who declares either that we don't need it, or that Jews shouldn't go there. The most recent example appeared today. One Meir Inbari, decribed as 'a doctoral student at the Institute for Contemporary Jewry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem,' holds forth and argues two points:

1) How is it that so many observant Jews behave in opposition and in contradiction to such a severe prohibition? How can it be that the religious law on such a central issue has been breached, and that Orthodox rabbis are openly permitting something that is prohibited?An answer to this issue can probably be found in the manner in which the religious leadership is attempting to deal theologically with the crisis that the peace processes are creating for them. In order to understand them, we need to understand the religious attitudes of many members of religious Zionism movements toward the State of Israel: Since the inception of the religious Zionist Mizrahi movement, there have been many Orthodox Jews who didn't consider the establishment of the state a goal in itself. The activist messianic faction of religious Zionism called the Zionist process at'halta degeula (the beginning of the Redemption); Zionist activity was interpreted as a secular move that in the final analysis would bring about, without the knowledge of the secularists, the fulfillment of the religious goal of the Return to Zion: namely, the establishment of the religious kingdom and a renewal of the rites on the Temple Mount.

2) The breach of the rabbinical decision that forbids entry to the Temple Mount demonstrates that the strict religious law - regarding which we have always been told that not even a single comma in it can be changed - can in fact be updated in accordance with the changing political circumstances.

Inbari is wrong on both counts. I addressed the first in a response on their wenbsite:

Moti Inbari has every right to offer his sociological analysis of the renewed Jewish interest in ascending the Temple Mount. He does not, however, have the right to misrepresent the facts. The prohibition against ascending the mount in a state of ritual impurity is confined to the area of the Temple. While the exact location of the Temple may be in some doubt, there is no doubt as to the large areas where the Temple was not. Entry to these is absolutely allowed by Halakha. Indeed, none other than Maimonides, who is one of the key authorities to restrict such visits, himself prayed on the Temple Mount. Moreover, there are indications that the Fatimids allowed a synagogue to function there until the 13th century.
If Jews stopped ascending the Temple Mount, it was because they were prevented from doing so by the Muslim authorities (from the mid-thirteenth century onwards). This was part of an overall trend to ban dhimmi from sites deemed holy by Islam (e.g. Me'arat Ha-Makhpelah). Dr. Inbari should check his facts befoere offering tendentious interpretations.

The second point is also mistaken. The rabbis who ruled after 1967 not to go the the Temple Mount did so as a matter of policy, not of pure Halakha. The wanted to prevent people from unknowingly wandering into the area of the Temple itself. Even the Mishneh Berurah rules that entering into the Maqom HaMiqdash is a safeq issur karet. However, since the routes taken by the pilgrims today is definitely outside of the MhM, there is no such safeq.

[In order to be fair, I must note that Shalom Yerushalmi writes in today's Maariv that Jews have more reason to fear for Har Haayit from the destruction of archaeological remains, than do the Arabs. It's refreshing to read a bit of sanity.]

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