A leading Israeli ultra-Orthodox rabbi declared that Jews should not visit the Temple Mount on Sunday, telling Emirati Ambassador Mohamed Al Khaja it was forbidden to Jews and that “the Arabs rule there.”
Speaking during a meeting in his home on Sunday, Rabbi Shalom Cohen, a member of the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party’s ruling Council of Torah Sages, decried recent violence at the holy site, which he called “crazy.”
"The matter of the Temple Mount is not for us,” he told Al Khaja, according to a report by the public broadcaster Kan. “We are forbidden from ascending there. The Arabs rule there," he added.
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Hundreds of Arabs have been wounded in clashes on and around the mount since April, following an Israeli decision to put up barriers preventing people from sitting in the Damascus Gate plaza, a popular public area during Ramadan. The violence further escalated after Israel imposed a 10,000-person limit on prayers at Al-Aqsa Mosque.
The Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism and, as the home of both the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock, the third holiest for Muslims.
While its religious significance is not disputed by Jews, how to approach the sanctity of the site is a matter of fierce debate between ultra-Orthodox and religious-Zionist Jews. Many rabbis, and almost all ultra-Orthodox ones, prohibit Jews from ascending the mount due to concerns over ritual purity, while 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.
Jewish prayer on the mount is prohibited by the Israel Police and Orthodox visitors are closely monitored by both the police and officials of the Waqf, the Islamic trust which controls the site.
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In 2014, Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, the son of Shas founder Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, accused visitors to the site of “adding fuel to the fire” of conflict and blaming them for inciting Arab violence against Jews. The following year, Rabbi Shimon Ba’adani, who serves with Cohen on the Council of Torah Sages, declared that Jewish visits had sparked a deterioration in the security situation sparked by rumors that the Israeli government aimed to change the status quo at the site.
On the other hand, former Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Rabbi Shlomo Goren joined a group of other rabbis in calling for the construction of a synagogue on the mount in 1986. More recently, then-IDF Chief Rabbi Brig. Gen. Rafi Peretz declared in 2014 that the Temple Mount has no religious significance to Muslims.
“Jerusalem isn’t mentioned in the Koran even once. Not even in a hint. The Arabs are imagining it,” Peretz said at a lecture.