By tradition, the binding of Isaac – the Akedah – which occurs in this week’s Torah portion, is held to have taken place on the site known today as the Temple Mount. During the last few days, as tensions in Jerusalem reached new heights over the Temple Mount, I have been reading the portion and thinking about the meaning the Temple Mount has for Jews – and about how sad it is that, rather than respecting it as a place of peace, sacred to both Muslims and Jews, extremists on both sides choose this site to fan the flames of holy war.
Rabbi Yehuda Glick, an American-born Jerusalem activist, who advocates for rebuilding the Jewish Temple on what is the third holiest site to Islam, is now the latest victim of this pyromaniacal game that zealots on both sides are playing. A Muslim zealot, member of the radical Palestinian Islamic Jihad, attempted to murder him not far from the Temple Mount last week. I condemn the attack and wish Glick full recovery. But I also wish that he and his ilk stop jeopardizing Israel’s security through provocations on the Temple Mount.
The struggle over the Temple Mount isn’t new. In 1967, Moshe Dayan ordered the removal of Israeli flags hoisted over the site reportedly saying, “We don’t need a holy war.” Since then, there has been an unending tug of war over the status of the site. On one side stand those who recognize the sensitivities involved in Israeli control of the site – including those in the Israeli security and intelligence communities who for more than 40 years have argued against changing the status quo there. On the other side are those who favor upending that status quo, at the risk of setting the site – and Jerusalem – aflame. Today, these Jewish extremists are pushing hard for Israel to unilaterally change that status quo, in place since 1967, to permit Jewish prayer (under Israeli law, Jews may visit the site, but not pray).
It is ironic that the Temple Mount is such a focus for destructive impulses. Most Orthodox religious authorities have long held that Jews are in fact not permitted to ascend the Temple Mount and walk on its plateau, lest they defile the Holy of Holies – the inner sanctuary, which could be entered only by the High Priest on Yom Kippur. Only recently a have handful of rabbis begun to advocate that Jews may ascend the Mount.
Today, what used to be a marginal group of extremists who were attempting to breed a red heifer and re-establish Temple rites, has gone a long way to going “mainstream” – selling a larger segment of the public on the idea that they merely want “equal access” for Jews (who could oppose that?), while they actively mobilize for what they hope will be the imminent building of the Third Temple. How mainstream? Last year Uri Ariel – Israel’s Housing Minister announced, “We need to build a real Temple on the Temple Mount.”
This is playing with fire.
As an observant Jew, I share the pain some Jews feel at the destruction of the Temple. As a rabbi, I hope that there will someday come a messianic era – one not characterized by Jewish domination over others, but an era in which all peoples freely work and pray together in peace, including at the Temple Mount. Hopefully, it will be an era evoked by the words of the prophet Isaiah: “I will bring them to My holy mount … for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” (Isaiah 56:7) I know that such an era will not be brought about by force. The fact that Israel has the force to do what it wants on the Temple Mount – and beyond – does not mean it should take actions repellent to Jewish values and tradition.
The Temple Mount/Har Habayit – known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary) – should be a place of peace. Extremists want to abuse this precious site to drag the rest of us into conflict. Some of them say they simply want equal rights; others speak openly about bringing about their version of the messianic age. But in practice they are using this holy site to spark a holy war, at the expense of Israel’s security, its stability and peace.
Rabbi Suskin is Americans for Peace Now’s Director of Strategic Communications