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The real story behind the 11th "Temple Feast" held on Monday did not take place on the festive stage or in the symposium that preceded the banquet. Nor was it the model ceremony in which the mincha sacrifice was prepared - a blend of loaves and crackers customarily sacrificed in the Temple - by Rabbi Yehuda Kroizer of Mitzpeh Yericho, in front of the gathered diners.

Even the up-to-date models of the Temple and its environs, which were offered for sale in the corridors of the Jerusalem International Convention Center (Binyanei Hauma), or the speech on "World peace between the three religions" by Orly Benny Davis, the sponsor of the event, were of secondary importance compared to a single fact that hid between the pages of the pamphlet, "A Voice from the Heichal: The Temple Mount at the present time." (Heichal is the term for the central sanctuary that was in the Holy Temple of the Jews.)

The pages in question are a collection of letters exchanged by rabbis on the question of entry to the Temple Mount in our times. Among the many letters, which interpret the Halakhic (religious-legal) viewpoint on the issue, is a letter written by former minister Tzachi Hanegbi. Hanegbi reports that in the first 14 months since the Temple Mount was reopened, up to October 2004, some 70,000 Jews had visited the site, an average of 5,000 per month.

Assuming that this average continued in the past three months, this means that in the space of a year and a half or so, 85,000 Jews have visited the Temple Mount. These are dramatic numbers, as compared to the few thousand Jews who would visit the Temple Mount each year prior to its closure and reopening.

Hanegbi, a former minister of internal security, wrote that these visits, which necessitate the presence of a permanent police force on the Mount, "are getting the Palestinians accustomed to accepting the deep connection of the Jewish people to the place where the Temple stood. This, of course, will bolster our claim to sovereignty over the Mount, in the event that practical negotiations are held in the future on a diplomatic settlement."

War of dreams

Rabbi Yosef Elbaum, head of the Movement for the Preparation of the Temple and one of the main speakers at the mass event held on Sunday by the Temple Mount movements, spoke - along with many of his colleagues - of a different culture: "The Third Temple culture is penetrating increasingly larger segments of the Israeli public."

This culture, or to be more precise, the aspiration toward such a culture, was referred to repeatedly in the remarks made at Sunday's session, moderated by Professor Hillel Weiss, at which the participants almost explicitly identified themselves as revolutionaries heralding the imminent arrival of the redemption and the Temple.

Moshe Feiglin, head of the Jewish Leadership division of the Likud, whose involvement with the Temple Mount and Temple movements grows more intense with every passing year, stated that Moshe Dayan removed the flag from the Temple Mount "because our dream was his nightmare." Feiglin spoke of a war of dreams: "Our dream, the realistic one, versus their dream."

In Feiglin's analysis, "Moshe Dayan, that rootless Zionist, said to himself, `If I leave the flag on the Mount, tomorrow they'll come up and pray here, and in the future there will be a synagogue here, and in the more distant future maybe they'll offer sacrifices here, and in the even more distant future maybe they'll want to build the Temple, heaven forbid.'"

Feiglin said he wants to see to it that "the next Moshe Dayan will have a different dream." He told the crowd a story about his little son, who at the last Passover Seder vanished from the table.

"We found him in his room, building the Temple from blocks," Feiglin related with emotion, before segueing into current events: "Our most fundamental weapon in the present struggles, in the struggle for Gush Katif - justice - is up there on Mount Moriah, and until we rearm ourselves with it, we will not be able to win."

Israel's Uganda

The next speaker, Yehuda Etzion, head of the Chai Vekayam (alive and existing) movement and a member of the Jewish underground of the 1980s that planned to blow up the Dome of the Rock, spoke of the desire for the Temple Mount as an "aspiration to a different culture and totality," and an "aspiration for a life of togetherness, a life of absolute mutuality between us and the Blessed Be He, while the State of Israel of today is characterized by an attempt to create a reality of division - a reality of the individual who is unshackled from holiness."

Etzion, who now devotes all his time to the publication of the writings of Shabtai Ben Dov, a Jewish revolutionary and an alumnus of the Lehi pre-state underground who sought to restore the kingdom of Israel, is now the most revered figure among patrons of the Temple Mount. Many devotees to the cause are internalizing his words and hoping to put them into practice.

"The Zionist reawakening did not overtly speak about the holy, and in that respect, the State of Israel is its legitimate daughter," said Etzion. "But under the surface, without it being aware, the holiness was ticking inside of it. Our revolution then is a revolution of the consciousness, raising the consciousness to the surface. To bring it up from the depths so that it will shape the image. If you are stuck only on existence and abandon the higher calling, if the state is merely a land of refuge and not a land of purpose, then you find yourself with "Zionist" solutions a la Uganda, which were put forward by Herzl and his friends. ... I know that not everyone will agree with me, but for me, secular democracy is the Uganda of the State of Israel, so what's the good of it?"

Moderator Weiss turned with irony to Rabbi Yisrael Ariel, head of The Temple Institute, seeking clarification. "So what is our hope tomorrow morning?" Weiss asked Ariel. "What is the hope of the fervent believers? Because you are our father."

Ariel, a veteran of the Temple movements, chose to preface his remarks with the final stanza of Hatikva, written by Naftali Hertz Imber, which does not appear in the national anthem: "`As long as the wall of our gladness [i.e. the Western Wall] to our eyes appears, and one eye still sheds a tear over the destruction of our Temple, our hope is not yet lost.' Who sings it today?" asked Ariel bitterly. "Even when the Children of Israel left Egypt and were singing the Song of the Sea, they were singing about the Temple."

According to Ariel, "The State of Israel can be only one thing - a state with a Temple at its center. Otherwise it is no different from any other state. All of today's troubles originate in the sin of abandoning the Temple Mount and the site of the Holy Temple. Not only Dayan, who forbade us from praying there and who took down the flag, is to blame. The ultra-Orthodox Torah sages, who insisted in 1967 that the government inform the UN that we had no interest in the Temple Mount, also bear responsibility. We lived in Warsaw, and we brought Warsaw here. We lived in Casablanca, and we brought Casablanca here. The Holy Temple is the solution to all of our problems. Diseases are a result of a sick heart. When the people of Israel worshiped the calf in the desert, and engaged in idol worship, they were given the Temple. That is the remedy. Idol worshipers are given a Temple because they are sick. Give them substance, and they will engage in that that is holy."

The lineup was somewhat "spoiled" by MK Aryeh Eldad of the National Union, himself the son of a noteworthy revolutionary, Israel Prize laureate Professor Israel Eldad. Eldad rejected the argument that if the battle were only focused on the Temple, "the Land of Israel would be saved. In my estimation, if we place the Temple at the center, we will be thought of as irrational. We now have the capacity to enlist hundreds of thousands of people to impede the withdrawal from Katif. We do not have the capacity to enlist those same hundreds of thousands in the struggle over the Temple. The public does not deal with the Temple at the present-day level, and what is achievable today is preservation, in the public consciousness, of the Jews' rights over the site."

Eldad was not happy about the title of the discussion: "The Temple Mount and the State of Israel - Contradictory Worlds?"

"The moment you speak about other worlds, it portrays the religious Jew who dreams of the Temple as a psycho, and me, the secular Jew who dreams of the Temple, as a mutation," said Eldad.

He read aloud a poem by Uri Zvi Greenberg about Israel's betrayal of the Mount and the Temple, and he, like his father in his time, lamented the glorification of the Western Wall and the playing down of the Temple Mount.

"The Paratroopers ran to the Western Wall, because they'd been raised on that idea, of crying at the foot of the Temple Mount," Eldad said. "They hadn't been raised to build the Temple. The Temple Mount and the state are not on a collision course, because as is its custom, the State of Israel builds bypass roads. The main thing is not to clash with the problem, with the role of the Temple Mount during the redemption era.

"My father used to say: Because the sons came to settle, there was no strength for the birth. Zionism brought us to the threshold of the redemption, but it didn't have strength to go beyond this threshold. Its roots were grounded in assimilationist Judaism. Herzl identified the problem as the exile. To him, the Land of Israel was a device for freeing the people of Israel from the exile, not a value in itself. Therefore, in many respects the exile continues to subsist here in the State of Israel, and the matter of the Holy Temple is of little concern to it."

Temple games

As reflected at Monday's "Temple Feast," the "Temple culture" of which Etzion, Feiglin, Ariel, Weiss, Elbaum and their colleagues spoke consists of Temple songs, Temple literature, Temple games for children, study of Jewish laws about the Temple, sacrifices and offerings, paintings and pictures of the Temple, models of the Temple and films about what is happening now on the Temple Mount, which drew sentimental tears from many visitors to the exposition.

It was no coincidence that heavy fog blanketed the various rabbis' positions on a key question that has concerned the Temple Mount movement for years: Is it permitted for Jews in our generation to visit the Temple Mount - as a growing minority of the rabbis believes - or are the halakhic constraints so real that entry of Jews to the Mount should be banned outright?

Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu , chief rabbi of Safed and the son of the former chief rabbi of Israel Mordechai Eliyahu, who forbids entry to the Mount, was named by the Temple movement as someone who does permit entry to the Temple Mount. Yet he made it clear, when asked, that he had never permitted it, and said that he would publicly announce his approval of entering the Temple Mount only in coordination with the Chief Rabbinate Council.

Rabbi Shear Yashuv Hacohen, chief rabbi of Haifa who chairs a committee set up by the Chief Rabbinate to determine which areas on the Temple Mount are permitted to Jews and which are forbidden, publicized a letter of protest he'd written about the fact that the chief rabbis had added their signatures to a new ban on the entry of Jews to the Mount, even before the committee he heads completed its work.

Rabbi Dov Lior and the Yesha council of rabbis openly permit and encourage the entry of Jews to the Temple Mount. This long-standing internal Halakhic dispute is heating up now and causing agitation in the ranks. This in itself serves the Temple Mount movements, which now speak of "mass visits of Jews to the Mount, and a rebuilding of the consciousness of the Mount and the Temple among the public at large."