Leading Rabbis Rule Temple Mount Is Off-limits to Jews

Chief rabbis Yonah Metzger and Shlomo Moshe Amar, and a number of important rabbinical figures associated with the national religious world, have issued a halakhic ruling reiterating that it is forbidden for Jews to enter any part of the Temple Mount in our times. A similar halakhic ruling was issued a few months after the Six-Day War in 1967.

The current ruling was signed also by former chief rabbis Ovadia Yosef, Avraham Shapira, Eliahu Bakshi-Doron, the rabbi of the Western Wall, and heads of well-known national religious-oriented yeshivas.

It is seen as a blow to the members of the Temple Mount movements who have been trying for years to get a wider circle of rabbis to endorse the present-day entry of Jews to the holy site.

The ruling points out that Jews must avoid the entire site of the Temple Mount.

"Over the years," the rabbis state, "we have lost the exact location of the Temple, and anyone entering the Mount could unwittingly enter the area of the Temple and the Holy of Holies. With this in mind, we reiterate our warning ... that no man nor woman should set foot in the entire area of the Temple Mount, irrespective of which gate is used for this purpose."

The original halakhic ruling was issued by the two chief rabbis at the time, Isser Yehuda Unterman and Yitzhak Nissim, and they were joined by hundreds of other leading rabbinical figures. The current ruling was the initiative of the rabbi of the Western Wall, Shmuel Rabinowitz, and the head of the Ateret Cohanim yeshiva, Shlomo Aviner.

There are three basic prohibitions noted in the ruling: the lack of information about the location of the Holy of Holies; the fact that all the Jews of our times have been in the presence of the dead, or of others who have; and that so many leading rabbis have ruled that persons who are not pure must not touch holy ground.

During biblical times, the ashes of a flawless red heifer were required for ritual purification of any Jewish worshiper wishing to pray at the Temple. All attempts so far by Temple Mount enthusiasts to find the rare creature have failed.

The halakhic ruling comes at a time when the Temple Mount movements are gaining unprecedented momentum. Thousands of Jews, most of them religious, visit the site monthly. They regard the ruling as an attempt to relieve the rabbis' consciences and follow the teachings of their own rabbis, ignoring the sign at the entrance to the Mughrabi Gate that warns of possible death for those who disobey the ruling.

The turning point for these enthusiasts came when dozens of Yesha rabbis gave permission to go to the site a few years ago. Since then, many yeshiva students have gone, joined by their religious leaders. Their rabbis claim they have defined the area where it is possible to stand without touching holy soil. These include additions to the Temple built by Herod, such as Solomon's Stables, and the strip behind the Western Wall.