Before Jerusalem becomes the stage for the US-led peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority next Wednesday, an Israeli Knesset committee will meet on Sunday to tackle a question religious Jews have been asking since 1967, when Israel gained control of the Temple Mount and left authority over the religious hotspot in the hands of the Muslim Waqf Council.
The confounding issue of Israeli police not allowing Jews to pray on the Temple Mount is being taken up by Likud lawmaker Miri Regev’s Interior Committee, according to The Temple Institute’s Rabbi Chaim Richman, who led a prayer vigil at the Temple Mount as a peaceful protest this week.
“There has been a grass roots awakening of the plight of the beleaguered Temple Mount,” Rabbi Richman told The Algemeiner in an interview. “Recently, there has been a lot of clarification, an enlightenment to be more aware of the importance of visiting there, and a great upswing of numbers, with the whole subject becoming much more a part of the national and political discourse.”
In honor of Rosh Chodesh Elul, this past Wednesday, the first day of the final month of the Hebrew calendar, a time of repentance with a daily shofar blowing, before Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, and Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Repentance, ten days later, Rabbi Richman led a 7:30 AM minyan, or prayer quorum, of 200 men at the Mugrabi Gate, beyond the site where the Jewish Temple once stood, now occupied by the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosque.
The protest on Wednesday aimed to draw attention to the fact that Jews were denied access to what is considered the holiest site in Judaism for nearly the entire Muslim holy month of Ramadan, “in an unprecedented move to appease Islamist threats against Jewish visitors,” Rabbi Richman said.
What concerned the rabbi and his supporters more than the attitude of the Israeli police towards Ramadan, was their disrespect for Tisha B’Av, the 9th of the previous Hebrew month of Av, when Jews mourn the destruction of the First and Second Temples on that site.
“This was a big precedent, as its never happened before, even when the month of Av coincided with Ramadan; even during Roman rule Jews were allowed to pray here on Tisha B’Av,” the rabbi said. “After having received assurance from police that we would be able to ascend, we found, once we got here, fasting all day in the heat, and without any announcement that it would be closed to us.”
Zeev Elkin, Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister, was also denied access to the Temple Mount on Tisha B’ Av, his office said, although he was able to return for a brief, 20-minute visit the next day.
His press attache confirmed to The Algemeiner that police refused access by the political leader, adding, “The question of the Temple Mount has been an important issue for the Deputy Foreign Minister even before being the head of the coalition, and he’s been leading lots of discussion around the topic at the Knesset. He sees the Temple as very important for Jews, and he’s very interested in the question.”
But his office declined to comment on when they thought this divisive issue would be broached by US Secretary of State John Kerry, or his emissary, Ambassador Martin Indyk, or how it might be handled in the context of peace negotiations. The underlying theme of Tisha B’ Av, beyond commemorating the destruction, has been the lack of unity among Jews, with the conflict over even praying at the ruins being the example that proves the rule, Rabbi Richman said.
“Israel is the sole bastion of human rights in the Middle East, but expediency is denying Jews their due. We are well known here [in Israel] for protecting the rights of minorities through our High Court of Justice ever person has the rights to pray in all the holy places, but there is a police practice, that officially doesn’t exist; really, it’s a practice of discrimination.”
“An Orthodox man walks up to the gate, he has to identify himself as a Jew, his name is registered in a book. He’s told if he moves his lips, closes his eyes, shuffles, rip his shirt, or any other ‘sudden movement’ that might be interpreted as praying to his G-d, he could be forcibly removed, arrested, thrown in jail. Last time they let me in, I was accompanied by a a phalanx of guards, from both the Muslim Waqf and Israeli Police, who were standing there, next to me, just waiting for me to act like a Jew. It makes no sense,” he said.
Moshe Feiglin, a Knesset member who heads the Manhigut Yehudit faction of Israel’s governing Likud party, and a member of MK Regev’s Interior Committee, echoed Rabbi Richman’s sentiments, speaking to The Algemeiner while on a trip to meet supporters in New York this week. “Spirituality, politics, all of this comes together around today’s discussion of the Temple Mount; it is all one question we need to resolve,” he said.
Watch a video of the 200-man minyan at the gates of the Temple Mount, below: