Half of Jewish Israelis support Jewish prayer on Jerusalem's Temple Mount according to a report released on Tuesday by the Israel Democracy Institute.
The two main reasons given by those in support are because it provides "proof of Israel’s sovereignty over the Temple Mount" (38 percent), and because it is a religious commandment (12 percent).
In contrast, 40 percent of Jewish Israelis oppose Jewish prayer at the site with 23 percent saying it might "invoke a severe negative reaction from the Muslim world." An additional 17 percent said that they believe doing so is forbidden by halakha, or Jewish religious law.
Religious Israelis have shown increasing levels of interest in visiting the Temple Mount, which, as the location of the first and second temples in antiquity, is the holiest site in Judaism.
But while the holiness of the site is undisputed by orthodox Jews, the propriety of visiting very much is, with the issue of how to approach the sanctity of the site a matter of fierce debate between ultra-Orthodox and religious-Zionist Jews.
This divide among the religious community was clear in the IDI’s numbers showing that 86.5 percent of ultra-Orthodox Jews opposed prayer for reasons of halakha, while national religious (51 percent), traditional religious (54.5 percent) and traditional non-religious respondents (49 percent) supported worship on the mount for nationalist reasons.
Many rabbis, and almost all ultra-Orthodox ones, prohibit their followers from ascending the Temple Mount due to concerns over ritual purity. Meanwhile, a growing number of modern Orthodox rabbis encourage pilgrimages so long as visitors go with a guide who know which parts of the site are permitted.
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Prayer on the Temple Mount has long been a contentious issue, with conflicts over the site repeatedly sparking violent clashes between Israelis and Palestinians, but a growing number of Israeli Jews now appear to support public worship at what many see as the most volatile religious flash point in Jerusalem – and in the entire Middle East.
Since 2019, the Israeli police have grown increasingly tolerant of Jewish prayer, which, while technically legal, has long been barred due to law enforcement officials’ concern that allowing such religious expression could lead to violence.
Violent clashes between Palestinians and police erupted last Friday at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, in what had become a weekly occurrence ahead of midday prayers for the entire month of Ramadan.
Muslims see the mount, which is home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, as their third-holiest site after Mecca and Medina and Palestinians have long complained of Jewish worshipers “storming” the site.
Last summer, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett was forced to backtrack after promising that Israel would preserve freedom of worship for Jews on the Temple Mount, releasing a statement in which he reassured the public that “there is no change in the status quo.”
Last May, Hamas launched a wave of rockets against Israeli cities following their ultimatum calling on Jerusalem to withdraw its security forces from Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa mosque compound and the city's Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.
Rabbi Yehuda Levi, a member of The Temple Mount Yeshiva, a group which ascends the mount twice a day for Torah lectures, told Haaretz last year that as long as the Temple Mount is open to non-Muslims, there should be a significant Jewish presence too, including prayer and Torah study and “everything that’s important to Judaism in terms of the Temple Mount and the eventual [third] Temple.”
“We’re not stupid. We realize that it might take many years to effectuate our long term goal to have a yeshiva and a Jewish presence with a Temple, or even [just] a yeshiva or regular synagogue. It should be like the Western Wall. But we start with what we’re able to do.”