The drops of blood formed a long trail in one of the main plazas of Jerusalem’s Old City. This time it wasn’t a terror attack but it definitely was a sensitive event from a Middle Eastern perspective.
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It was a reenactment of the Paschal sacrifice, staged by activists seeking to expand the Jewish presence on the Temple Mount and attended by hundreds of right-wing Jewish men, women and children. The bloody trail marked the route from the place where the lamb was slaughtered to the altar put up in the middle of the plaza.
This is the sixth year in which Temple Mount activists have staged the reenactment, with barefoot priests in white garments resembling those worn by priests in the ancient Temples and gold-painted vessels modeled after those of the Temples strewn about the altar.
But Thursday’s event marked a real achievement. For the first time the group was allowed to hold the ceremony in the heart of the Jewish Quarter, outside the Hurva Synagogue, just a few hundred meters from the Temple Mount which is administered by a Muslim religious trust.
The activists had originally sought to hold the event at the Davidson Center in an archaeological park next to the Temple Mount. But the police scuttled that idea, and the High Court of Justice upheld the decision.
“When you ask for 100 percent, you get 70 percent,” said Raphael Morris, head of the group Hozrim Lahar, explaining how a fringe right-wing outfit had managed to snare such a prestigious location. It’s a big step up from just two years ago, when the ceremony was held almost in secret in a school courtyard in one of the capital’s religious neighborhoods.
Thursday’s reenactment was full of snags. The electricity went out for more than two hours; no famous rabbis attended, in contrast to last year’s ceremony; and the many liters of blood the priests had hoped to collect from the slaughtered lamb and splash on the altar ran out even before they reached the specially prepared vessels.
But given that all this was happening right outside a national landmark, the Hurva Synagogue, it’s easy to understand why the activists rejoiced.
During the long wait for the slaughterer to finish skinning the lamb, which was hung from one of the trees in the plaza, several people were invited to address the crowd. One was MK Yehudah Glick (Likud).
“Master of the Universe, Your nation has gathered here to say, ‘I want to enter into a covenant with You,’” Glick said. “We will sing to You of how much we long, how much we desire to feel Your presence among us.’”
Glick later admitted, however, that the turnout of only a few hundred people convinced him that “we evidently haven’t done enough to bring this wonderful event” to the notice of the masses.
To an outsider, the activists might have looked like extreme right-wingers, but there were slight differences among them that evidently loom large to insiders. When Glick was invited to speak, one of the white-clad priests hissed, “A representative of the left!”
Many of the speakers were well-known figures on the far right like activists Baruch Marzel and Bentzi Gopstein, and singer Ariel Zilber, who played the role of “a singer from the Second Temple era.”
Many people in the crowd wore T-shirts with slogans like “Kahane was right,” referring to the late extremist Rabbi Meir Kahane. Booths around the plaza sold booklets about the various organizations comprising the Temple Mount movement, along with T-shirts, rubber bracelets and silver chains with pendants in the shape of the Temple.
While the lamb was roasting in the brick oven that had been built in the middle of the plaza, Shimshon Elboim, one of the handful of Belz Hasidim active in the Temple Mount movement which is mainly comprised of religious Zionists offered his take on the event.
“We were privileged to get near the Temple Mount, the proper place. The authorities today are more open and the public is more open,” Elboim said.
“Ultimately the government wants to serve the people, and the people want the Temple; the people want to offer sacrifices. At this rate the day isn’t far off – just a few more years – when we’ll be privileged to do sacrifices on the Temple Mount itself.”