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Israel's chief rabbi urges building Jewish temple on Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif

The turnaround by Israel’s rabbinical leadership, which in the past has acted as a sane counterweight to messianic Third Temple activists, is a worrying sign. Netanyahu has regularly dismissed suggestions that Israel wants to alter the status quo on the Temple Mount as ‘incitement.’

Al-Aqsa Mosque atop the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount in Jerusalem. (Faiz Abu Rmeleh/Activestills.org)

Muslim worshipers walk and gather on the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount with Al-Aqsa Mosque in the background, Jerusalem. (Faiz Abu Rmeleh/Activestills.org)

One of the biggest drivers of violence in Jerusalem in recent years has been Palestinian and Muslim fears that Israel is altering, or at least that it intends to, the status quo on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif — the holy esplanade which once housed the Jewish temple and today is the site of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the years has taken to describing the articulation of such fears as incitement. Indeed, rumors and fears surrounding Al-Aqsa Mosque have been behind numerous outbreaks of violence, including the 1929 Hebron Massacre, but that doesn’t mean those fears are baseless. At the very least, they are constantly stroked by Israeli officials and organizations with close ties to the government expressing messianic views.

(I published an extensive list of such provocations here late last year. They range from the acting foreign minister advocating raising an Israeli flag on the Temple Mount to government ministers publicly advocating for the construction of a Third Temple.)

This week saw yet another provocative statement from an unexpected source: Israel’s chief rabbi.

Israel’s Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi David Lau told the Knesset Channel (Israel’s equivalent to CSPAN) earlier this week that he would like to see a Third Temple built, and expressed his belief that the Muslim holy sites located on Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount need not be demolished in order to make room for it.

Asked directly by journalist Nehama Douek whether he would want to see the Jewish Temple rebuilt in the same spot where it was previously located, Rabbi Lau answered, “yes.”

“In that place, by the way, in the same place where it was, there’s room for Jews, there’s room for Christians, there’s room for Muslims, there’s room for everybody,” Rabbi Lau continued. “It won’t take up the entire Temple Mount — take a look at its measurements.”

Rabbi Lau’s argument that there’s room for all three monotheistic religions on the Temple Mount will hardly assuage the fear that messianic Jews plan to destroy one of Islam’s holiest sites. For those who fear such a disaster, any minor change that Israel makes in the Western Wall Plaza below is enough to stoke paranoia, and the extensive archeological tunneling Israeli groups are performing in the area add another layer of fear regarding a monopolistic view of history and religious attachment.

A poll from March 2016 found that over half of Palestinians believe Israel intends to destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock and replace them with a Jewish temple. The same poll found that one in five Palestinians believe Israel plans to divide the esplanade, a situation similar to what Rabbi Lau laid out.

One reason that Rabbi Lau’s public declaration was so surprising, however, is the role that Israel’s chief rabbinate has always played as a sane counter-weight to religious nationalist groups that advocate visiting and praying on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, in addition to making preparations for a Third Temple. Chief rabbis have always argued that it is forbidden for Jews to enter the Temple Mount complex for religious reasons, specifically in order to inadvertently walk over areas that laypeople were forbidden from entering.

What his statement does indicate, however, is that the views of groups like the Temple Mount Movement and Temple Mount Faithful are becoming more and more mainstream in Israeli society.

Another poll late last year found that 38.5 percent of Jewish Israelis think the status quo forbidding Jewish prayer in the complex should be canceled. One of the most prominent Temple Mount activists in Israel was just made a member of Knesset for Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party, government ministers publicly associate themselves with messianic Third Temple movements, and those movements hold public rehearsals for sacrifices to be performed when the Temple is built.

“The dangerous coalescence of the rise in temple movements, along with growing mainstream support, threatens a delicate administration of the holy sites in Jerusalem,” Betty Herschman wrote in these pages, adding that, “their growing success effectively relies on our own nurturing of such visions. Failure to recognize and challenge this deception could lead to the enflaming of one of the world’s most combustible hotspots.”

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    1. brightdarkness

      Instead of the Temple, which should only be built by the Messiah, build a synagogue instead. The muslims will have to learn to share.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Ben

      More evidence that the state of Israel and its Jewish majority is becoming a kind of hypernationalist-religious cult. With even the so-called “center” drinking the Kool Aid. This kind of thing did not end well in Waco, Texas.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Leo

      Cannot judge from a 1:30min interview excerpt. What does he really mean ? He talks about nostalgia, inspiration, hardly any concrete action plan.

      Anyway, the future of Torah Judaism does not lie in this. The essence of politics is to capture and reuse religion. This was true from the time of Pharaoh, it is still true today. True religion will always oppose politics (representation of people, at best) and choose people, one by one. Any other religion is another name for politics. Learn from Genesis, parashah Miqets.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Mark

      And what exactly are they going to do in a rebuilt temple? Sacrifice animals and birds? Many would feel that quite sickening. It would drive another wedge through the Jewish people.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Average American

      Ok so do you guys know what’s supposed to happen if you build the Third Temple? The Council of the Pharisees comes to power again, which is un-elected theocratic government by rabbis. Animal sacrifices start again, which is just barbaric. On those two, whatever, just go back 2,000 years if you want and be as Jewish as you want in your little walled-in and barb-wired sanctuary, but don’t pretend to me you are a democracy. But on the third one, it affects the whole world, because one of YOU guys is going to rise as the Antichrist and sit in the third temple proclaiming you are God. So no thanks to the Third Temple for me.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Samantha Miller

      I don’t support the building of a third temple nor would it settle problems with the three main religions trying to coexist with each other. Besides that, the Temple had already been replaced by God and so trying to build something that has already been replaced would be displeasing. The Temple of our bodies is for the Holy Spirit to dwell in. The jews are still under the old law and the animal sacrifices are now insufficient since Christ had already poured his blood for us all to be saved.

      Reply to Comment
    7. i_like_ike52

      Belief in the restoration of the Beit HaMikdash (Holy Temple in Jerusalem) is a basic belief of Judaism and provided the spiritual base for the return to Zion which was hoped for during the 2000 years of Exile and which we have been privileged to see in the last century. OF course, as the Bible shows, the rebuilding of the Temple can only occur in a condition of peace and international agreement, but to deny the Jewish aspiration for the its rebuilding is a denial of a basic fundamental of Judaism that millions of Jews hold to even today.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Daniel Moshe Johnson

      Shalom Aleichem

      Contrary to the world and the time in which we live in, I don’t see the Temple having a significant impact on world affairs or even Jewish affairs after it is constructed. Building a giant synagogue without a mission of changing public opinion will not erase the hatred. However, a giant Mosque surely will! I’ll tell you why?

      In my opinion, and the opinion of my counsel, the biggest Mosque in the world will be erected at the site, or a cultural entity which will cater to an interdenominational facility. I will go with the first scenario, that a Mosque may tweek the horizon, as the Amalek seem to be better organized when it comes to a cause, Hashem forbid.


      Reply to Comment