Is it Permissible for Jews to Enter the Temple Mount in Our Day? In Honor of Jerusalem on the 40th Anniversary of Reunification.


Question: Shortly after the Six Day War in June 1967, the Chief Rabbinate posted a large sign at the Moghrabi Gate entrance to the Temple Mount stating that, according to Jewish Law, it is forbidden to enter the Temple Mount. This prohibition was reiterated by Chief Rabbis Shlomo Amar and Yonah Metzger in January 2005. (See Schepansky quoted below at the end of note 4 and Copans). As a result, many Jews, especially Orthodox Jews, have not entered the Temple Mount for the past forty years. Does Jewish law really forbid Jews from entering the Temple Mount, our holiest site?

Responsum:

  1. I) The Primary Sources

We have been taught in the Mishnah (Kelim 1:6-9):
There are ten degrees of holiness. The Land of Israel is holier than any other land…The Temple Mount is still more holy, for no man or woman who has gonorrhea, no menstruant and no woman after childbirth may enter therein. The Rampart [an area of ten cubits surrounding the Temple itself] is still more holy, for no gentiles and none that have contracted ritual impurity from a corpse may enter therein. The Court of Women is still more holy, for a person who has immersed himself that very day [but the sun has not yet set] may not enter therein, yet none who enter would thereby become liable to a sin-offering. The Court of Israelites is still more holy, for none whose atonement is yet incomplete [i.e. who have not yet brought a sacrifice] may enter therein, and a person who does enter would thereby become liable to a sin-offering…

In his code (Bet Habehirah 7:15), Maimonides quotes this Mishnah, but adds one important sentence on the basis of Pesahim 67a (and parallels):

The Temple Mount is holier than Jerusalem because a menstruant [and the like] may not enter it. But it? is permissible to bring a corpse itself onto the Temple Mount and there is no need to add that a person who has contracted ritual impurity from a corpse may enter it.

All of the halakhic authorities who have dealt with this issue have tried to determine if the ten degrees of holiness mentioned in the Mishnah still exist today. The reply, however, is dependent upon a difference of opinion in the Talmud (Shevuot 16a; Megillah 10a; Zevahim 107b; Yevamot 82b) and upon a difference of opinion between Maimonides and the Ra’avad of Posquieres (Bet Habehirah 6:14-16). According to Maimonides, the original holiness which King Solomon bestowed upon the First Temple was holy for its time and for the future, the reason being that the holiness of the Temple and Jerusalem derive from the Shekhinah [God’s presence] and the Shekhinah is not cancelled out, for behold it is written “and I shall destroy your Temples” (Leviticus 26:31) and our Sages said: “even though they be desolate, they are still called Temples” (Megillah 28a).

On the other hand, according to the Ra’avad, the First Temple “was holy for its time and not for the future…therefore, a person who enters there now is not liable to Karet”.  (“Karet” means literally “to be cut off”. According to the sages, it means to die prematurely. See Moed Katan 28a and Chanoch Albeck, S hishah Sidrei Mishnah, Vol. 5, Jerusalem – Tel Aviv, 1956, pp. 243-244).

Maimonides’ explanation that the Shekinah remains at the Temple Mount is not at all definite because the midrash which he quotes from Megillah is dealing with the synagogue, not the Temple. Furthermore, there are contradictory opinions regarding the location of the Shekhinah after the Destruction of the Temple (See Rosh Hashanah 31a; Exodus Rabbah 2:2, ed. Shinan, pp. 104-105; Sanhedrin 96b; Yoma 21b; and Rashi to Sukkah 53a catchword im ani kan). so it is preferable not to rely on this rationale.

In any case, many early and late authorities have ruled on the basis of Rabbi Joshua, Rabbi Yohanan, Rav Huna and Maimonides that it is still forbidden to enter the Temple Mount today “lest he wander into the forbidden area in the Rampart or in the Court [of the Israelites] which is punishable by Karet even today” “and today we have all contracted ritual impurity by having been in contact with a corpse.”  (

The following medieval authorities forbid entering “the site of the Temple” (see below regarding this phrase):

Rabbi Eliezer of Metz in Sefer Yerei’im Hashalem, par. 277, p. 314; Rabbi Barukh of Worms in Sefer Haterumah, ed. Warsaw, p. 124; Rabbi Ishtori Hafarhi in Sefer Kaftor Vaferah, Chapter 6, ed. Luncz, pp. 81-82; Rabbi Alexander Zusslin Hacohen in Sefer Ha’agudah to Shevuot, par. 4, ed. Cracow, fol. 55a; Minhagey Maharil, Laws of Yom Kippur, ed. Shpitzer, Jerusalem, 5749, p. 346; Rabbi Shimon bar Zemah Duran, Sefer Tashbatz , Part 3, No. 201; Magen Avraham to Shulhan Arukh, Orah Hayyim 561, subparagraph 2; Mishnah Berurah, ibid., subparagraph 5.

The modern authorities in this camp are: Rabbi Avraham Bornstein, Avney Nezer, Yoreh Deah , No. 450; Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, Responsa Mishpat Cohen , No. 96; Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, Responsa Yabia Omer, Vol. 5, Yoreh Deah , No. 26; Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg, Responsa Tzitz Eliezer, Part 10, No. 1, fol. 15ff.; Rabbi Bezalel Zolti, Torah Shebe’al Peh 10 (5728), pp. 39-45; Rabbi Hanokh Zundel Grossberg, Noam 11 (5728), p. 37 (the passage quoted is from there); Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, Shanah B’shanah, 5746, pp. 174-175; and see the proclamation signed by fifty rabbis and rabbinic judges in 1968 which is reproduced by I. Schepansky, Eretz Yisrael in the Responsa Literature , Vol. 3, Jerusalem, 5739, p. 264, note 10. [/note]

  1. II) Reasons to Permit Entry into Certain Parts of the Temple Mount

However, it appears that these halakhic authorities have been overly stringent and that there are many reasons to allow entry into parts of the Temple Mount as we shall see below:

1) As mentioned, there is a large degree of doubt in the Talmud if the Temple Mount “was holy for its time and for the future” or not. Similarly, there is also a doubt if the halakhah follows Maimonides or the Ra’avad, as many later authorities have emphasized. (See the material collected by Rabbi Shmuel Hacohen Weingarten, pp. 186-187). In addition, Nahmanides (to Avoda Zara 52b) and the Meiri (to Shevuot 15a) ruled according to the Ra’avad. Furthermore, even if the halakhah follows Maimonides, there are a number of reasons to allow entry into parts of the Temple Mount.

2) We know from many sources that Jews continued to enter and even pray on the Temple Mount from the 1st until the 15th centuries of the Common Era: (Sources a-e are quoted by Safrai. For additional sources and proofs, see Luria and Vilnay).

  1. a) We have learned in Sifrei Devarim (Piska 43, ed. Finkelstein, p. 95 and parallels):

On another occasion [Rabban Gamliel and his colleagues, ca. 100 c.e.] were going up to Jerusalem. When they reached Mt. Scopus, they rent their garments. When they reached the Temple Mount and saw a fox coming out of the Holy of Holies – they began to cry…

  1. b) We have learned in Seder Eliyahu Rabbah (Chapter 28, ed. Friedmann, p. 149):

Once Rabbi Tzadok (late first century) entered the Temple and saw it destroyed. He said: My Father who is in heaven, You destroyed Your city and burned Your Temple and yet you sat by tranquilly and remained silent…On another occasion, Rabbi Nathan (early second century c.e.) entered the Temple and found the Temple destroyed but for one wall still standing…

  1. c) We have learned in Tosefta Berakhot (6:2, ed. Lieberman, p. 33 and parallels):
    Ben Zoma (early second century c.e.), when he saw a large mass of Jews on the Temple Mount , used to say: Blessed is He who created all these people to serve me…”
  2. d) We have learned in the Palestinian Talmud (Pesahim 7:11, ed. Venice 35b):

Said Rabbi Yohanan bar Maryah (fourth century, Israel) in the name of Rabbi Pinhass (same): From the fact that we see the Sages removing their sandals under the portal of the [wall surrounding the] Temple Mount, we can derive that “under the portal” was never sanctified.

Rabbi Pinhass is saying that since the Sages take off their sandals under the portal according to the law that it is forbidden to enter the Temple Mount wearing shoes (Mishnah Berakhot 9:5), the portal is therefore not part of the Temple Mount. From here we can deduce that the Sages of that period did indeed enter the Temple Mount on a regular basis.

  1. e) The Christian Pilgrim of Bordeaux who was in Jerusalem in the year 333 c.e. relates that the Jews used to come to the Temple Mount every year on the Ninth of Av in order to recite lamentations over the Temple ruins and to rend their garments. He adds that next to two monuments of Hadrian there was a perforated stone upon which the Jews used to pour oil. (Regarding the Pilgrim of Bordeaux, see A. Stewart and C. W. Wilson, eds., Itinerary from Bordeaux to Jerusalem, London, 1896, pp. 21-22; Ben Zion Dinaburg, Zion 3 (5689), p. 78;  Shmuel Klein, Zion 6 (5694), p. 33; Simhah Assaf, Tekufat Hageonim V’sifrutah , Jerusalem, 1955, p. 73; Ora Limor, Mas’ot Eretz Hakodesh, Jerusalem, 1998, pp. 31-32).
  2. f) According to a liturgical poem by Rabbi Elazar son of R. Kilir and according to Sefer Zerubavel, (The poem was published by Ezra Fleischer, Tarbitz 54 (5745), p. 401. For Sefer Zerubavel, see Y. Even-Shmuel, Midrishei Geulah, Tel Aviv, 5703, p. 78). after the Persians captured Jerusalem in 614 c.e., they allowed the Jews to rebuild the Altar and to offer sacrifices. If so, it is clear that Jews entered the Temple Mount and apparently even into the more sacred areas.
  3. g) Ben-Zion Dinaburg proved through the testimonies of rabbis, Karaites and genizah fragments that there was a Jewish “house of prayer and study” on the Temple Mount in the early Moslem period between the 7th and 11th centuries.  (Dinaburg (above, note 7), pp. 54-87. For many other proofs for a Jewish presence on the Temple Mount in the early Moslem period, see Schwabe, Yehezkel, Sukenik and Dinur).
  4. h) Maimonides himself paid a visit to the Temple Mount on the 14th of October, 1165. Thus we are told by Rabbi Elazar Azkari in his Sefer Haredim which was written in Safed in 1588:

And thus I found at the end of a line which Rabbi Samuel bar Abraham Skail [of Sicily?] z”l copied in Acre from the handwriting of Rabbi Moses [Maimonides] the Light of the Exile. Thus it was written there: “On Tuesday, the fourth of Marheshvan, 4926 we left Acre to ascend to Jerusalem under dangerous conditions, and I entered the ‘Great and Holy House’ and prayed on Thursday, the sixth of Marheshvan …”  (Rabbi Elazar Azkari, Sefer Haredim, Sha’ar Hateshuvah, Chapter 65, Jerusalem, 5741, pp. 253-254. Cf. the annotated edition of this text by Rabbi Mordechai Yehudah Leib Sachs, Hidushey Harambam Latalmud, Jerusalem, 5723, pp. 58-60. It should be noted that Shmuel Klein, Toledot Hayishuv Hayehudi B’eretz Israel, Tel Aviv, 1950, pp. 285-286 thinks that this sentence is a forgery, since it contradicts Maimonides’ halakhic opinion described above).

  1. i) Rabbi Menahem Hameiri of Provence (1249-1315) testifies in his Beit Habehirah: “And the simple custom is to enter there [the Temple Mount], according to what we have heard”. (Beit Habehirah to Shevuot 16a, ed. Lange, Jerusalem, 5721, p. 29).
  2. j) In the years 1476- 1478, a quarrel erupted between the Jews and the Moslems regarding the Ramban synagogue in the Jewish Quarter. The Moslem judge who recorded the history of the quarrel relates that the Jewish leaders came to the El-Aksa mosque during the episode and El-Aksa is, of course, on the southern end of the Temple Mount. (Yitzhak Yehudah, Yerushalayim 3 (5649), pp. 75-76, but Luria p. 424, note 29 maintains that this episode took place outside of the Temple Mount. It should be noted that Rabbi Aviner’s article (note 4 above) needs to be corrected in light of all the evidence adduced here).

3) As Maimonides stressed (see above), those who have contracted ritual impurity from a corpse are not forbidden to enter the entire Temple Mount. They are only forbidden to enter the Rampart and the Court of Women and the serious penalty of Karet applies only to those who enter the Court of Israelites and beyond. This distinction is also implied by the language of the early authorities quoted above. (Note 4 above, first paragraph). They all speak of the prohibition of entering “in the place of the Temple”, “in the place of the House”, “in the place of the Temple and courtyards” and the like. None of them prohibit entering” the Temple Mount”, as opposed to many halakhic authorities in our day.

In other words, if we can define the sanctified section of the Temple itself on what is today called “the Temple Mount”, we will be able to determine where it is permissible to enter and where it is prohibited. Indeed, such a study was already undertaken by Rabbi David ibn Zimra (1479-1573) in Jerusalem in the sixteenth century and by a group of modern rabbis and scholars. (Responsa of the Radbaz, Part 2, no. 691. For a good summary and maps of the various approaches, see Rabbi Weingarten, pp. 149-211 and Menahem Ben-Yashar. Rabbi Weingarten is the only one who really understood the Radbaz – see ibid. pp. 169-171. Many of my conclusions are based on Rabbi Weingarten and Ben-Yashar and the maps ibid). As a result, at least ten modern rabbis have ruled that it is permissible to enter parts of the Temple Mount today. (For a lenient approach, see Rabbi Hayyim Hirschenson. Rabbi Hayyim David Halevi, says that entry to the Temple Mount will be permitted as soon as exact measurements are taken. Rabbi Shlomo Goren actually prayed on the permitted areas of the Temple Mount based on his own measurements. Rabbi Yosef Kafih, the leading Yemenite halakhic authority in Israel, signed a letter to the Chief Rabbinate along with six other rabbis, demanding that they publish a clear ruling as to where on the Temple Mount Jews may enter, so that a Jewish prayer area can be established there. Finally, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin visits the Temple Mount at least once a year).

The main sources for the boundaries of the Temple during the Second Temple period are the Mishnah, tractate Midot; Josephus, Wars 5, 5, 1-6, paragraphs 184-227; and Josephus, Antiquities 15, 11, 3-7, paragraph 391. There are many contradictions between these three sources, but there is almost unanimous agreement among rabbis and archaeologists regarding two basic points:

  1. A) The Temple Mount today is much larger than the Temple Mount described by Josephus or by the Mishnah. (A perimeter of 1,500 meters today vs. 800 or 1,200 meters in Josephus or 1,000 meters (500 X 500 cubits) in the Mishnah). This fact was already emphasized by Piskei Tosafot to Midot (paragraph 5): “And the Mount was much larger than 500 x 500 cubits, but only the 500 x 500 were holy”. It is clear that the entire southern area of the Temple Mount south of the Moghrabi Gate and all of the northern area north of the raised platform around the Dome of the Rock were added by King Herod (see Josephus, Wars, 1, 21, 1). These areas are, therefore, not included in the sanctified area of the Temple Mount mentioned in the Mishnah. (See Mikhael Avi-Yonah and Baruch Kana’el).
  2. B) The huge rock underneath the Dome of the Rock is the “Foundation Stone” which was located under the Holy of Holies (See the proofs quoted by Rabbi Weingarten, pp. 156-158 and by Shmuel Shefer, pp. 112-114). Or it’s the foundation of the Altar in the Temple. (See a summary in Ben-Yashar, pp. 28-29. Kaufman thinks that the Holy of Holies lies north of the Dome of the Rock, but his theory has not been accepted by most archaeologists). As a result, there are very few disagreements regarding the Temple boundaries in the north and in the south (see the maps attached in the PDF file). The main doubt concerns the area of the Temple on the East and West because that depends on the exact location of the “Foundation Stone”.

III) Conclusions

In conclusion, without entering into detailed measurements, (See Weingarten, Ben-Yashar and the maps in the attached PDF file). it is permissible to enter the southern Temple Mount near the El-Aksa Mosque and south of the Moghrabi Gate. Similarly, it is permitted to enter the northern Temple Mount north of the raised plaza surrounding the Dome of the Rock. On the other hand, all agree that it is forbidden to enter the Dome of the Rock itself or the middle of the Temple Mount because that is the area of the Court of the Israelites and/or of the Holy of Holies. Therefore, it is preferable not to enter the raised platform around the Dome of the Rock at all. There is considerable doubt regarding the eastern and we stern boundaries of the Temple itself. On the west, one should stay close to the We stern Wall in order to avoid the Holy of Holies, and on the east one should stay close to the eastern wall in order to avoid the Rampart and the Court of Women (see attached maps).

It is worth adding two important points. It is difficult for many modern Jews to accept the concept of ritual impurity through contact with a corpse and, as a result, they may scoff at this entire discussion. Therefore, it is worth emphasizing that there is another reason to avoid entering the area of the Temple itself – because of the commandment to “venerate the Temple”. It is written in the Torah “you shall keep My Sabbaths and venerate My sanctuary, I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:30) and we have learned in the Talmud (Yevamot 6a-b and cf. Sifra, Kedoshim, Chapter 7):
As we have been taught: we are told to keep the Sabbath and to venerate the Temple. Just as when we keep the Sabbath, we do not fear the Sabbath but He who warned us about the Sabbath, so too when we venerate the Temple we do not fear the Temple, but He who warned us about the Temple. And how does one venerate the Temple? A person should not enter the Temple Mount with his walking stick, his shoes, his money belt and the dust on his feet, and he should not use it as a short-cut and certainly not spit there. But this only applies to the time when the Temple stood. After the Destruction – how do we derive it? As it is written, “You shall keep My Sabbaths and venerate My sanctuary” (Leviticus ibid) – just as keeping the Sabbath is eternal, so venerating the Temple is eternal.

And thus Maimonides ruled in his code (Bet Habehirah 7:7). Therefore, every Jew should avoid entering the central area of the Temple Mount both because of the prohibition of entering the sanctified area of the Temple and because of the positive commandment of venerating the Temple.

Secondly, there is an urgent practical reason for Jews to enter the Temple Mount. In 1967, the Israeli government decided to give the Muslim Wakf de-facto control of the Temple Mount. As a result, the Wakf has made a concerted effort to obliterate the remnants of Jewish antiquities on the Temple Mount. Furthermore, when the Wakf expanded the El Aqsa mosque in 1999, they illegally removed 250 truckloads of dirt containing thousands of years of Jewish and non-Jewish antiquities. Dr. Gabi Barkay and thousands of volunteers are now sifting through this dirt and recovering thousands of ancient artifacts. (The Jerusalem Post , December 24, 1999, pp. A6 and B2; In Jerusalem, January 28, 2000, pp. 4-5; ibid. , January 26, 2001 p. 3; The Jerusalem Post , February 2, 2001, p. A7; ibid ., December 24, 2001, p. A5; Hershel Shanks, Moment, August 2001, pp. 10-14 and June 2002, pp. 50-55, 75-76; In Jerusalem, February 1, 2002, pp. 4-5; Ha’aretz, May 14, 2004, p. 4; The Jerusalem Post Magazine, October 8, 2004, pp. 8-9; Gavriel Barkay and Yitzhak Zweig, Ariel 175 (October 2006), pp. 6-53 (Hebrew)). The Wakf was able to get away with this plunder because Jews do not visit the Temple Mount, and they don’t visit the Temple Mount because of the strict rabbinic rulings cited above. (Sadly enough, this is exactly what Rabbi Yosef Kafih and his colleagues predicted years ago in their letter to the Chief Rabbinate). Thus in our day, it is permissible to enter part of the Temple Mount and I believe we should make a concerted effort to do so in order to emphasize that the Temple Mount is our Holiest site and cannot be plundered.

David Golinkin
Jerusalem
28 Iyar 5767

Bibliography

All of the articles and responsa cited are in Hebrew, unless otherwise stated.

Mikhael Avi-Yonah, Sefer Yerushalayim, Vol. 1, Jerusalem – Tel-Aviv, 5716, pp. 396-397, 414-415 (includes a map)

Menachem Ben-Yashar, Torah Umada 1 (5731), pp. 21-33 (which was reprinted as an appendix to Mordechai Ben-Yosef, Yerushalayim Vehamikdash Me’az Ve’ad Attah , Tel Aviv, 5734)

Laurie Copans, The Jerusalem Post, January 19, 2005, p. 4 (English)

Ben-Zion Dinur, Zion 21 (5716), pp. 50-63

David Golinkin, “A Responsum Regarding Entering the Temple Mount in Our Day”, Responsa of the Va’ad Halakhah of the Rabbinical Assembly of Israel 1 (5746), pp. 3-9

David Golinkin, “A Responsum Regarding Entering the Temple Mount in Our Day”, Conservative Judaism 48/3 (Spring 1996), pp. 3-9 (English)

Rabbi Shlomo Goren, In Jerusalem, Friday, January 4, 1986, pp. 1, 3 (English); Meishiv Milhamah, Vol. 4, Jerusalem, 1992; Ma’ariv , Sunday, October 30, 1994, p. 9.

Rabbi Hayyim David Halevi, Aseh Lekha Rav, Part I, No. 15

Rabbi Reuven Hammer, “A Responsum Regarding Entering the Temple Mount in Our Day”, Responsa of the Va’ad Halakhah of the Rabbinical Assembly of Israel 1 (5746), pp. 11-13

Rabbi Hayyim Hirschenson, Malki Bakodesh, Part I, St. Louis, 5679, pp. 10-13, 41-89 = second revised edition edited by David Zohar , Jerusalem, 2006, pp. 13-18, 68-139

Moti Inbari, Ha’aretz, April 11, 2005

Rabbi Yosef Kafih in: Zohar Amar and Hananel Seri, eds., Sefer Zikaron Larav Yosef ben David Kafih zt”l , Ramat Gan , 5761, p. 367

Rabbi Yitzhak Ze’ev Kahana, Mehkarim B’sifrut Hateshuvot, Jerusalem, 1973, pp. 195-200

Barukh Kana’el, Haumah 6 (5728), pp. 486-497 and especially p. 493

Asher Kaufman, The Temple Mount: Where is the Holy of Holies?, Jerusalem , 2004

Rabbi Zalman Korn, Tehumin 3 (5742), pp. 413-423

Ben-Zion Luria, Pirkey Yerushalayim, Jerusalem, 1980, pp. 106-120, 417-429

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, In Jerusalem, September 5, 2003, p. 11

Shmuel Safrai, Perakim Betoledot Yerushalayim B’yemei Bayit Sheni: Sefer Zikaron L’avraham Shalit, Jerusalem, 5741, pp. 376-393 = idem, Biyemey Habayit U’viyemey Hamishnah, Jerusalem, 5756, pp. 85-102

Moshe Schwab, Zion 2 (5687) pp. 99-107

Rabbi Yehudah Shaviv, Kumu V’na’aleh, Jerusalem, 5763

Shmuel Shefer, Har Habayit: Nezer Tifarteinu V’attar Tikvateinu , Jerusalem , 5741, pp. 112-114

Rabbi Yitzhak Shilat, Tehumin 7 (5746), pp. 489-512

Rabbi Daniel Stein, “Halachic Aspects of Visiting the Temple Mount”, Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society 44 (Fall 2002), pp. 87-93 (English)

  1. L. Sukenik, Zion 4 (5690), pp. 136-141

Ze’ev Vilnay, Sefer Shalom Sivan, Jerusalem, 1979, pp. 267-272

Rabbi Shmuel Hacohen Weingarten, “The Temple Mount and Its Holiness”, Torah Shebe’al Peh 11 (5729), pp. 149-211

Yehuda Yehezkel, Zion 3 (5689), pp. 107-120


Prof. David Golinkin is President of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem. Feel free to reprint this article in its entirety. If you wish to abbreviate it, please contact Rabbi Golinkin at golinkin@schechter.ac.il . The opinions expressed here are the author’s and in no way reflect an official policy of the Schechter Institute.

Photo Credit: Bantosh

 

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