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Haredi Taboo on Visiting Temple Mount Holds, Despite Pressure

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Copies of magazine supplements for the weekly newspaper 'Mishpacha' are spread over a table at the Mishpacha office in Jerusalem.Credit: AP

Readers of the ultra-Orthodox weekly Mishpacha were probably startled at first by the lines of Arabic script with which Aryeh Ehrlich’s popular column began last week. Ehrlich, a deputy editor at the Israeli magazine, explained that it was an appeal to terrorists and potential terrorists to “Please stop murdering us.”

“We, the Haredi public, have no interest in ascending the Temple Mount in this era,” Ehrlich writes below, by way of translation. “We vehemently oppose this. Moreover, halakha [Jewish religious law] sees this as a severe prohibition that carries the [divine] punishment of kareit [literally “excision,” explained as untimely death or eternal excommunication]. That’s why you will never see Haredim on the mount, other than members of a single family that acts on its own and is castigated for its actions,” Ehrlich wrote.

“So even if you have solid information about an Israeli desire to change the status quo at the Dome of the Rock — which is not true as far as we know — the Haredi public has nothing to do with it. So please, stop murdering us.”

Further down, Ehrlich recounts a recent conversation in a supermarket with a Palestinian cashier, to whom he explained what’s wrong with killing Haredi Jews now, or at any time.

“’We are not a party to the conflict,’ I tried to explain to Ismail. ‘First of all, we aren’t exactly Zionists. Most of us don’t even serve in the Israel Defense Forces. Not to mention that no Haredi goes to the Temple Mount, and all your anger is directed at the issue of the Temple Mount.’”

The use of Arabic was a gimmick, of course. (“No Islamic hacker has as yet seized control of the newspaper’s computers,” he assured his audience). Moreover, both Ehrlich and his publication were later forced to issue clarifications for angry readers who thought the column implied that other types of Jews were acceptable targets. But Ehrlich’s column was an extreme expression of a message being reiterated by Haredi rabbis and spokesmen — to stay away from the Temple Mount, the focal point of certain circles of the religious right.

While Ehrlich seemed most concerned with Haredim being harmed, there have been Haredi rabbis who have said visiting the Temple Mount puts the entire community at risk. Rabbi Shimon Ba’adani of the Shas Council of Torah Sages, for example, told the Kol Barama radio station that the current wave of terror was sparked, in part, by the visits of Jews to the Temple Mount.

“It could be that there are other reasons, but this definitely provokes them, they go crazy over this,” he said. “The world makes an issue of it. Don’t provoke the nations; even if we are sovereign here, there’s still halakha. Don’t provoke the nations. I don’t know on what basis they permit themselves these provocations that lead to an armed struggle of the type that’s happening now ... it’s forbidden. To save a life we annul the commandments. Why try to enter the Temple Mount?”

One might think that these calls in Haredi media outlets are the result of concern that Haredim, or at least those who listen to Ba’adani or read Ehrlich, will follow the trend in certain religious-Zionist circles in recent years of visiting the Temple Mount.

But despite many attempts over the years, Temple Mount activists have failed to pierce the Haredi taboo on this issue. It is more likely that some Haredim saw this as yet another opportunity to distinguish themselves from the religious-Zionist community, and in particular to express distaste for the nationalist ideology that characterizes the Temple activists and the inclination of an increasing number of religious-Zionist rabbis to visit the site and to support rabbinic rulings permitting such visits.

Erlich’s column was titled “The Eternal Jew,” and its intent was presumably to praise the eternally authentic Jew — the Haredi Jew — who, in contrast to others, is not swayed by fleeting nationalist and spiritual trends. Another example of this also occurred two weeks ago, when Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, at a memorial event for his father, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, came out against Jews who visit the Temple Mount.

“Unfortunately, we see today that there are those who think nationalism precedes halakha,” Yosef said. “The ones who establish the halakha are the greats of the generations, those who are truly great, and they have said that this carries a punishment of kareit.”

He continued, “This must be repeatedly stressed; this is the halakha of the great sages of all the generations ... dozens and dozens of Torah sages have all written that it is forbidden to visit the Temple Mount. Did they not have a love for the Land of Israel? Every day we say in our prayers, ‘May our eyes behold your return to Zion in compassion.’ ... The Temple will be rebuilt by God!

“But their nationalism has confused them and look what’s happening. Already last year, at the funeral of one of the victims, may his blood be avenged, the grandson of Rabbi Ba’adani, already then I declared that we must observe halakha and be stringent about the halakha that forbids visiting the Temple Mount. Our enemies have no lack of reasons [to harm us], it is a halakha that Esau hates Jacob. But why give them reasons? Why violate halakha?”

Late last month dozens of Haredi rabbis reissued a halakhic ruling against visiting the Mount. The opposition to visiting the Temple Mount constitutes a rare Haredi consensus that transcends political, ethnic and communal affiliations.

A group of anti-Zionist extremists that is generally shunned by mainstream Haredi society received favorable coverage by Haredi news sites last week after members attacked a Haredi family that visited the Temple Mount. The target is that same “single family” mentioned in Ehrlich’s column, the Elbaum family, who, although they are Belz Hasidim, maintain close ties with Temple Mount activists and have visited the site several times in recent years, including last week.

This time, the visit led to a particularly stormy demonstration by the Jerusalem zealots, who attacked Rabbi Yosef Elbaum outside his home, calling him a murderer. The Belz rabbinical court issued a statement and hung wall posters that read, “God forbid shall we make light of a Torah prohibition and all the more so of a prohibition that carries a punishment of kareit ... it is prohibited to visit the area of the Temple Mount under any circumstances.”

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