Tolerance at the Temple Mount

The Temple Mount in Jerusalem has become the focus of much debate both between religions (Islam and Judaism) and between different segments within a religion (Judaism). At its core, the debate is whether the most fervent believers continue to dictate the religious practices of everyone at the Temple Mount, or whether there is a place for a pluralistic approach to prayer.

 The Temple Mount

The Temple Mount is a 35 acre platform built by the Jewish King Herod over 2000 years ago. The platform held the second Temple, built around 515BCE until it was destroyed by the Romans in 70CE. The site of the two Temples (the first one lasted from around 954BCE to 586BCE), is considered Judaism’s holiest spot. It is now occupied by the Dome of the Rock, a gilded shrine built by Caliph Abd al-Malik in 691, and later richly adorned in 1561 by Suleiman I into the building we recognize now.

Al Aqsa is the only mosque on the Temple Mount. It is considered the third most holy site in Islam. It was built in its current configuration in 754CE, and sits on the far southern edge of the platform, in an area that did not exist until Herod expanded the platform southward 800 years earlier.

 Jews and the Temple Mount

In 1948, five Arab armies invaded Israel in an attempt to destroy the nascent Jewish State. Jordan seized Judea and Samaria and much of eastern Jerusalem including the Old City which contained the Temple Mount. The Jordanians then expelled all Jews from the territory it conquered (including the Old City) and the area later became known as the “West Bank”.

In 1967, the Jordanians and Palestinians attacked Israel again and lost all of the West Bank including the eastern part of Jerusalem. Rather than take full control of the Temple Mount, the Israelis handed religious control of the Temple Mount compound to the Waqf- the Islamic religious order run from Jordan, and assumed security control. The Jordanians continued to prohibit Jews from worshiping anywhere on the Temple Mount, even in areas far removed from the Al Aqsa Mosque, such as areas Muslim families used for picnics and football.

Many Jews are unhappy about the ban on Jews worshiping at their holiest spot on earth. People such as Rabbi Yehuda Glick made many arguments to Israeli authorities to loosen the anti-Jewish restrictions. For those efforts, he was shot in October 2014 by Palestinian Arabs after acting-President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas, incited his followers to “defend Al Alqsa by whatever means possible”, even though Jews who visited the Temple Mount never entered, nor attempted to enter, the mosque.

Liberal media outfits branded the Jews who sought the right to pray “right-wing extremists”. The New York Times referred to Glick and others as “agitators”. The “agitators” calls for equal prayer rights were considered outlandish. The opening paragraphs of a 10/30/14 New York Times article:

An Israeli-American agitator who has pushed for more Jewish access and rights
at a hotly contested religious site in Jerusalem was shot and seriously wounded Wednesday night by an unidentified assailant in an apparent assassination attempt.

The shooting of the activist, Yehuda Glick, compounded fears of further violence
in the increasingly polarized holy city, where tensions are already high over fears
of a new Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation.”

Glick was not alone in seeking greater religious rights for people in Jerusalem.

 Women of the Wall

The “Western Wall” or the “Kotel” is part of the western retaining wall that Herod built to increase the size of Temple Mount. For many centuries, the Kotel was one of the areas closest to Judaism’s holiest site, which Jews could access. While several other spots on the retaining wall were closer to the site of the Jewish Temples, they were either very small, hard to access or considered unsafe. As such, the Western Wall achieved the status of Judaism’s holiest site because Jews could practically use the site for prayers.

After Israel reunited Jerusalem in 1967, it demolished the buildings in front of the Kotel and made a large plaza where thousands of Jews could pray. It gave religious control of the plaza to the Orthodox rabbinate to oversee religious activities. Those rabbis have restricted prayers to only be in the orthodox tradition.

In 1988, a group of feminist Jewish women who objected to the restrictions of the Orthodox rabbinate, formed a group seeking the right to pray at the Kotel in a manner of their own choosing. The Women of the Wall (WOW) were predominantly “progressive” orthodox women that believed that women wearing a tallit, tefillin and using a Torah were “kosher” actions under orthodoxy, if they prayed only with other women. However, the Orthodox rabbis use a more traditional approach to prayer and have established laws which prohibit those women from praying in their desired fashion at the Kotel.

In October 2014, WOW brought a miniature Torah to the Kotel and held a bat mitzvah on the women’s side of the plaza. The rabbis did not attack the women but stated that they will seek to prevent women from holding such services in the future.

Liberal media such as the New York Times did not refer to these women who broke the law and challenged the religious status quo as “right-wing extremists” or “agitators” but “advocates”. The opening paragraphs of the 10/25/14 article stated:

Members of a group advocating equal prayer rights for women at the Western Wall,
one of Judaism’s holiest sites, held its first full bat mitzvah there Friday,
fooling the strict male Orthodox overseers by sneaking in a miniature Torah scroll
that was read with a magnifying glass for the ceremony.

The action by the group, Women of the Wall, signaled a new phase of activity
after years of legal and religious struggles that have reverberated
among progressive Jews around the world.


The battles for pluralism at Jerusalem’s holy sites by the activists were the same. The actions of both Glick and WOW were non-violent. However the reactions to their activities were polar opposites:

  • the Palestinian authorities incited violence on the Temple Mount; the rabbinate called for stricter law enforcement at the Kotel
  • the world demanded that Israel maintain the status quo of barring all Jewish prayer at their holiest site; the world was silent on how Jewish denominations pray at the Kotel
  • Liberal media described the Temple Mount religious activists as “right wing extremists”; the media lauded the “activity” of “progressive Jews” seeking “equality”
  • Rabbi Glick was shot four times at point blank range and the acting Palestinian leader called the shooter a martyr destined for heaven; the Women of the Wall celebrated the bat mitzvah peacefully and decorum at the Kotel was maintained
  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu repeatedly told the Muslim world that he would maintain the anti-Jewish “status quo” edicts on the Temple Mount; the Jewish State is examining enacting new laws and new spaces along the Kotel for other religious denominations

Does liberal support of activism end when it elicits violence? Should Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani woman who defied Taliban law to not attend school, be described as an “agitator”? The world embraced Malala and awarded her the Nobel Peace Prize in the same month as the Glick shooting and WOW bat mitzvah. Will “progressives” and “liberals” rally to Rabbi Glick and advance the cause for Jewish rights on the Temple Mount? What do you think?


Sources:

Abbas call to defend al aqsa mosque: http://palwatch.org/main.aspx?fi=157&doc_id=12915

CAMERA on the Temple Mount: http://www.camera.org/index.asp?x_context=7&x_issue=4&x_article=1404

Women of the Wall: http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/WOW.html

Women of the wall use torah for bat mitzvah: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/25/world/middleeast/women-hold-western-wall-bat-mitzvah-in-jerusalem.html?_r=0

Shooting of Rabbi Glick: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/30/world/middleeast/right-wing-israeli-activist-shot-jerusalem.html

Malala Nobel prize: http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/2014/yousafzai-facts.html

Related First One Through articles:

“Extremist” or “Courageous”

The United Nations and Holy Sites in the Holy Land

The Arguments over Jerusalem

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