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A few years ago, Rabbi Yaakov Ariel, the chief rabbi of Ramat Gan and one of the leading candidates for chief rabbi of Israel, ruled in a halakhic article (dealing with religious law) that the laws regarding a moser (someone who informs against or hands over another Jew) and a rodef (someone who pursues a person with the intent of killing him) do not apply to the present-day Israeli government. According to religious law, these crimes are punishable by death.

Last week, his brother, Rabbi Israel Ariel, head of the Temple Institute in Jerusalem, was arrested and held for questioning by the Jerusalem District police. Along with four of his colleagues, Ariel, 68, the head of the Sanhedrin beit din (rabbinical court) on matters of religion and state, sent a letter to the head of the Israel Defense Forces Central Command, Major General Yair Naveh, in which he accused Naveh of being a moser for signing eviction notices for 20 outpost residents.

In the letter, the Sanhedrin beit din referred the general to the law of damages in Maimonides, which states, "if he is determined to be a moser, he must be killed for fear that he will hand over others" and "it is permitted to kill the moser anywhere, even at present when we do not rule on matters of capital punishment, and whoever kills him first is praiseworthy."

"Your successful actions at present in Judea and Samaria in defense of the country should not be forgotten," stated the letter. "But these things cannot make up for even one outcry of a child whose father has been expelled from his home, and the tears of a woman who cries out over her husband's expulsion."

Ariel's rabbinical court has already passed several controversial rulings in the past year, such as prohibiting a member of the military prosecution, who participated in a legal proceeding against outpost residents, from being summoned to the Torah. But there is no question that the focus of Ariel's activity for years has been the Temple and awareness of the Temple.

To date, over a million people have visited the Temple Institute in Jerusalem: students, soldiers and even members of the Shin Bet security services and police, who came to learn about the philosophy of revolution to gain a better understanding of the ideology driving members of Temple Mount movements.

The late Prof. Ehud Sprinzak, an expert on extremist movements, once described Ariel as one of the three "undercover revolutionaries" in Israel. Ariel may be a revolutionary, but he is also a phenomenon.

According to any criteria, the extent of his knowledge and expertise on the history, structure, rituals and vessels of the Temple is tremendous, and few share his expertise on the practical aspects of Temple worship. Ariel also managed to bring together a team of innovative rabbis and researchers. Only recently, they finished a 10-year project that involved producing precise reconstructions of the High Priest's garments: breastplate, vest, gold headband and blue coat with bells and pomegranates.

Rabbis, scholars, researchers, artists and other experts were all involved in the restoration work, which was based on Jewish sources: the Torah, midrashim, the Mishna, the Talmud et al. Over the years, the institute has reconstructed around 70 Temple ritual objects, including a gold candelabrum, a gold altar, a showbread table, shovels, the mizrak for collecting and pouring blood and incense. They plan to recreate another 150 such items.

Linking past and present

Temple mahzorim (holiday prayer books), Temple siddurim (daily prayer books) and books about the Temple, which are published by the Temple Institute, have become must-have items in many Religious Zionist homes, and are some of the most popular bar and bat mitzvah gifts in this sector. This literature is rich in information, illustrations, diagrams and drawings, which bring the Temple ritual to life, and turn it into something concrete. This literature is the essence of Ariel's work and ideology: the link between the ancient Temple and the present. For Ariel, the Temple is relevant, and the goal of the Temple Institute is to create the infrastructure and foundation to facilitate building the Third Temple.

According to Temple Institute regulations, "it is a positive commandment written in the Torah: 'And they will make me a Temple and I will dwell among them.' On this assumption, according to halakha, this mitzvah (commandment) applies every day, and the association will work to have this mitzvah observed as soon as possible. The Israeli government, in a statesmanlike and dignified manner, will take on this difficult assignment by itself, or through the residents of Israel."

Rabbi Shlomo Aviner is one of Ariel's most bitter ideological rivals. Aviner believes that the Temple's importance supercedes everyday reality. He preaches gradual redemption, "little by little," and strictly forbids his students from going up to the Temple Mount. Aviner makes do with the monthly "round of gates" around the walls of the Temple Mount, as an act to foster awareness and closeness to the Temple culture. He relies on the approach of Rabbi Abraham Hacohen Kook, who determined "it is a Torah commandment that until the day of the resurrection, we are not permitted to even enter the courtyard of the Temple."

Ariel, however, relies on other works by Kook. Take, for example, "Mishpat Kohen," in which the rabbi wrote that sacrifices can be renewed even without a king and a prophet. The Sanhedrin beit din decision last week to purchase a flock of sheep, in the hope that conditions will be ripe by Pesach to sacrifice a Paschal Lamb on the Temple Mount, is a faithful reflection of how Ariel has behaved for many years: "We have to prepare and behave as though the Temple will be built tomorrow." His endless search all over the world for the "red heifer," whose ashes were used in Temple times for purification after contact with the dead, is part and parcel of this approach.

Still waiting for sappers

Ariel has never concealed from the world his cool attitude toward democracy: "When the democracy created here does what is written in the Torah, it is a good democracy, but when it does things opposed to the words of Torah, it is a bad democracy."

However, he emphasized that the Temple that he is working so hard to build can be built only with the consent of the people and the government - not through subversion. "There will be no shortcuts and skipping stages. It will not be possible to jump three steps at once. For every step, we will break our heads eight times in a difficult process. We will fulfill our role as though we were artillery softening up a target that is fortified and hard to capture, before the infantry goes into action. At a certain stage, the other arm, sent by the state, will arrive and use the tools that we have built and the path that we have prepared for it."

Ariel, No. 2 on the Kach Knesset slate in the mid-1970s, served as the head of the yeshiva in Yamit during the evacuation, and was the first rabbi in Israel who called on soldiers to refuse orders. A military court sentenced him to six months of conditional arrest, and in 1983, a year after the evacuation of Yamit, he was arrested together with a group of yeshiva students from Kiryat Arba, on suspicion that they had formulated a plan to take control of the Temple Mount and entrench themselves there. Although the Jerusalem District Court exonerated them of all blame, this arrest gave rise to the Temple Institute.

Ariel told the yeshiva students, with whom he was arrested, about the Jew whom Russian authorities arrested for the crime of observing mitzvot and putting on tefillin: "'Until now,' said the Jew to his guards, 'I didn't know what a Jew was, but now that I know, I will circumcise myself.' The man took a teaspoon, sharpened it into a knife, and circumcised himself."

"Until now," Ariel said to his students, "we didn't deal seriously with issues concerning the Temple Mount, but after they accused us of conspiracy, let us ... begin to study the subject of the Temple thoroughly."

But Ariel's special connection to the Temple Mount began much earlier. During the Six-Day War, Ariel, then a young Israel Defense Forces chaplain, was sent to guard the entrance of the Dome of the Rock, assumed to be the site of the Temple. "I was convinced," he said later, "that the Muslim prayer hall would remain empty of people until the state sent sappers with explosives on their backs to remove the mosque." But the sappers did not come, and Ariel is still praying for the situation on the mount to change.