A record number of Jews visited the Temple Mount during this year’s three-week fall holiday season, from October 3 to October 25, and overall the number of Jewish visitors to the Jerusalem site in 2016 is expected to set a record.
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During the week of Sukkot alone, more than 1,600 Jews visited the Temple Mount compound for religious purposes after undergoing ritual immersion. During the entire holiday period, over 3,000 Jews visited.
The Temple Mount was relatively quiet over the holiday period, which led the police to be more flexible about allowing Jewish worshipers into the compound. For example, in contrast to last year, the police allowed larger groups to enter and permitted more than one group of worshipers to be in the compound simultaneously. On October 18 there were more than 400 religious Jews on the Mount at the same time.
Jewish visitors also reported a certain relaxation of the restrictions on prayer and religious rituals in the compound. For example, police did not interrupt anyone who was praying quietly on their own, and in a number of instances Jews were even allowed to enter the compound carrying the four species central to the observance of Sukkot.
“The police have gone back to exercising restraint and stopped harassing non-public prayers,” the organization of Temple Mount advocate groups said in a statement. “As a result, many Jews were able to pray on the Temple Mount quietly, and some even inconspicuously carried a lulav and the [other] species,” they said, referring to the Jewish custom of shaking four plants on Sukkot.
More than 11,000 Jews have visited the compound for religious purposes since the beginning of 2016, similar to the number of Jews who visited during all of 2015. The current record for Jewish visitors was set in 2014, when 11,754 Jews visited. Last year, because of the security tensions in Jerusalem in general and in the areas around the Temple Mount in particular, there was a slight drop in the number of Jewish worshipers.
On Tuesday a group of Israeli soldiers in uniform visited the compound, the first such group in a long time. Palestinian social media have been heavily critical about the increasing number of Jews visiting the site, but there have been no confrontations in the compound as a result of the visits.
Nevertheless, most of those visiting the Mount seemed to be part of the core group of Temple Mount activists; there was no marked presence of new people joining them. According to assessments, of the 3,000 people who entered the compound over the holidays less than a tenth were visiting for the first time.
Naturally, the number of Jews visiting the mount is minuscule when compared to the number of Muslims who enter the compound as well as compared to the Jews who visited the Western Wall during the same period. According to the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, 1.2 million people came to the Western Wall plaza during the holidays, which is an increase over previous years. Tens of thousands crowded into the plaza last Wednesday for the semiannual priestly blessing.