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Temple Mount activists 'practice' sacrifice in East Jerusalem

The practice run, ahead of what some groups believe will be the construction of a Third Temple, was co-ordinated by dozens of groups from the Temple Mount Movement — including those who call for the destruction of Muslim holy sites.

Warning: This article contains a graphic image of animal slaughter.

Text by Tali Janner-Klausner
Photos by Tali Mayer

‘Cohenim’ stand on a stage performing a ‘practice run’ of a sacrifice ritual in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of at-Tur, with the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount seen in the background, April 18, 2016. (Tali Janner-Klausner/Activestills.org)

‘Cohenim’ stand on a stage performing a ‘practice run’ of a sacrifice ritual in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of at-Tur, with the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount visible in the background, April 18, 2016. (Tali MayerActivestills.org)

A crowd of hundreds came to watch the fifth and largest tirgul korban pesach – an annual re-enactment, or “practice run” of the paschal lamb sacrifice that was the central ritual of the harvest festival of Passover during ancient times. The ceremony took place on Mt Scopus overlooking the Old City, in a Dati Leumi (religious Zionist) Yeshiva in Beit Orot, which is a Jewish settlement in the Palestinian neighborhood of at-Tur.

In the afternoon there was a panel discussion with several high-profile rabbis, as well as lectures covering in detail the practical aspects of recreating the ritual life of the Temple – for example, the challenge of sourcing the correct dyes for priestly robes. Outside children stroked the sheep and goats and teenage boys built an oven by the stage. A young man played the harp opposite a stand selling popcorn, hotdogs and candy-floss and some children ran around with a Lehava stickers on their clothing.

An attendee at the sacrifice ceremony wears a T-shirt that reads, ‘Why did we stop,’ suggesting that Israeli forces should have demolished Al-Aqsa Mosque when they conquered the Old City of Jerusalem and the Western Wall in 1967, at-Tur, East Jerusalem, April 18, 2016. (Tali Janner-Klausner/Activestills.org)

An attendee at the sacrifice ceremony wears a T-shirt that reads, ‘Why did we stop?’, suggesting that Israeli forces should have demolished Al-Aqsa Mosque when they conquered the Old City of Jerusalem and the Western Wall in 1967, at-Tur, East Jerusalem, April 18, 2016. (Tali Mayer/Activestills.org)

The ceremony was preceded by dramatic speeches and festive musical performances. Biblical passages describing each stage were read out as the Cohanim – men said to be descended from the priestly tribe – washed their feet and hands before pouring the blood of the animal onto the makeshift altar, accompanied by blasts of silver trumpets. Afterwards, the cooked meat was shared out among the attendees; the Passover offering of ancient times was unusual in being consumed by all of the people, not only by the priestly caste.

Read also: The fraud that is the Temple Mount movement

The practice run was co-ordinated by dozens of groups from the Temple Mount Movement, with a broad range of religious backgrounds and political strategies represented. There are those that call for the violent destruction of Muslim sites of worship; others work within the remit of Israeli law and deploy a civil and religious rights rhetoric to expand Jewish prayer access to the the Temple Mount (Haram al-Sharif). However the distinctions between these camps are not always clear cut.

The lambs that will be soon slaughtered in a ’practice run’ of pre-Passover sacrifice, at-Tur, East Jerusalem, April 18, 2016. (Tali Janner-Klausner/Activestills.org)

The lambs that will be soon slaughtered in a ’practice run’ of pre-Passover sacrifice, at-Tur, East Jerusalem, April 18, 2016. (Tali Mayer/Activestills.org)

Alongside Religious Zionists there were many Haredim or Hardalim (Haredi Dati Leumi) as well as less stringent masorti, ‘traditional’ Jews. Youth movements and student organizations were present, such as Students for Har Habayit; these play a significant role in spreading the culture of the Temple movement throughout the year. There were also many individuals and families who are not activists but curious supporters looking for an interactive and educational day out with their children.

Read also: How Likud became the Almighty’s contractor at the Temple Mount

This reflects the growth and broadened appeal of the Temple movement in recent years. What had been a fringe and mostly settler movement now attracts a younger generation, as well as Rabbis and politicians from the Israeli mainstream-right including Mickey Zohar of Likud. The movement is growing despite longstanding Rabbinic rulings prohibiting Jews to enter the Temple Mount or to attempt to bring about the building of a third Temple by secular means. Temple activists are defiant in the face of political opposition to increasing the conflict around the Haram al-Sharif/ Temple Mount; like Evangelical Christian Zionists, they see war as a necessary or even welcome precursor to the coming of the Messiah.

Attendees at the ‘practice run’ pre-Passover sacrifice watch the slaughter of a lamb on stage, at-Tur, East Jerusalem, April 18, 2016. (Tali Janner-Klausner/Activestills.org)

Attendees at the ‘practice run’ pre-Passover sacrifice watch the slaughter of a lamb on stage, at-Tur, East Jerusalem, April 18, 2016. (Tali Mayer/Activestills.org)

This vision understandably leaves many Jews cold, and for pragmatic and historical reasons as well. Judaism has for two thousand years been decentralized and focused on the study of texts; many feel that Jewish practice has come a long way since the Jerusalem Temple cult centered on animal sacrifices practiced by a hereditary caste of priests. However, for devotees of the movement, the symbols which recall the sacrifice – the shank bone on the seder plate and the eating of the afikoman, broken matzah, after the Passover meal – are insufficient replacements for the real thing.

Read also: The incitement Netanyahu doesn’t want to talk about

The more casual attendees could relate to both perspectives. Many who came with families or from mainstream yeshivot were equivocal, motivated by curiosity and a desire to reinvigorate Jewish life and educate their children about historical practices. Alongside the excitement and hype was a sense that many present did not know quite what to think of the spectacle taking place, let alone about how a Third Temple would be built or how to relate to the more violent parts of the movement. However, even if many of those attending the ceremony didn’t see it as such, this was as much a political demonstration for the Jewish-supremacist right wing as was the protest in Tel Aviv supporting the army’s murder of Palestinians in Hebron.

Cohanim, men said to be descended from the priestly tribe, perform a ritual during a ‘practice run’ of a pre-Passover Temple sacrifice, at-Tur, East Jerusalem, April 18, 2016. (Tali Janner-Klausner/Activestills.org)

Cohanim, men said to be descended from the priestly tribe, perform the ‘priestly blessing’ during a ‘practice run’ of a pre-Passover Temple sacrifice, at-Tur, East Jerusalem, April 18, 2016. (Tali Mayer/Activestills.org)

This tension between the sacred and the mundane was present amongst the organizers too. On the one hand, ecstatic speakers cried out that although this was just a practice, we could look forward to the real thing on the Temple Mount, “not next year, but next week,” and denounced the Israeli government as just the latest in the long list of the oppressors of the Jewish people who have prevented the actualization of the Temple.

On the other hand, another speaker, Arieh King, welcomed the financial support the event received from the Jerusalem municipality and hoped that next year the event could take place with a municipality logo on its publicity. Attendees were also reassured that the event was taking place according to strict health and safety regulations and with the supervision of relevant veterinary authorities. A mixed approach to the geulah (liberation), to say the least.

Perhaps what united all attendees was a longing for the imagined glory of Biblical past or Messianic future to relieve them from the weight of the present – of which news of the bus explosion, coming just after the throat of the sheep was cut, was a grim reminder.

The lamb that was slaughtered as part of a ‘practice run’ of a pre-Passover Temple sacrifice, at-Tur, East Jerusalem, April 18, 2016. (Tali Janner-Klausner/Activestills.org)

The lamb that was slaughtered as part of a ‘practice run’ of a pre-Passover Temple sacrifice, at-Tur, East Jerusalem, April 18, 2016. (Tali Mayer/Activestills.org)

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    COMMENTS

    1. Gearoid

      I’m interested in how they pick these Cohanim. To suggest any sort of accurate transmission of records from that time is frankly absurd. I suppose they’re already skirting religious issues by ignoring Rabbinical calls to avoid the Temple Mount, but it seems fairly weak.

      I can trace my own last name back a little bit over 1000 years, which is well outside the norm for most people. But that’s only the name. I can’t prove any blood relations going back more than a few generations. I highly highly doubt they can either.

      I think for the movement to become a truly powerful force in Israeli politics, they’re going to need to overcome that little historical problem.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ralph

        You are allucinating. The Romans wrote of the Temple. Have you seen the Ark of Titus? Did you hear the name ‘Jesus’? Was he a Jebusite?

        Reply to Comment
    2. T Megamoly

      Let me see you publish this one and not censor it, as you did before:
      There NEVER was a “temple” in Jerusalem! It is all a fantasy, mainly after the mythology invented by Isaac Newton. The Jewish so-called “religion” was a hodgepodge of stories stolen from ancient Sumer, Babylon, Egypt and other Near East myths and legends, plus a strong dose of tribal self-chosennes and self-glorification. There never was any Jewish control over Jerusalem or Palestine. Even the Jewish bible speaks of an earlier, religious presence in Jerusalem, when it relates how Abraham honoured the Jebusite Priest-King of Salem (Jerusalem), Melchizedek (the Truthful or Righteous King). The Jebusites and other people inhabited Palestine before there was any visit by Abraham, to say nothing of any alleged Hebrew invasion of the land, and they are the ancestors of the modern Palestinians. To date, despite all the Israeli excavations in the ”Old City” of Jerusalem, since the zionists occupied it in 1967, there never was found any archaelogical evidence of any Jewish or Hebrew “temple” or presence in the area. Let us stick to the facts.

      Reply to Comment
    3. DCJ

      It’s getting harder and harder for me to tell the difference between extremist Jewish and Muslim fundamentalists.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Ben

      There are other grim and strangely determined practices going on inside Israel this year at Passover in which one has to ask, is this what should be happening at Passover in 2016?:

      On eve of Passover, Israel sends 20 children with their families from freedom into slavery
      After six years of legal limbo, Interior Minister Arye Dery chooses callousness over Jewish compassion and decides to expel 20 migrant-worker families.

      Haaretz Editorial
      http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/1.715822

      Reply to Comment
    5. Average American

      So why not just jump back three centuries and stay there! Why not bring back the Council of the Pharisees too? Oh wait, they’re already talking about doing that. There are already Rabbis in the government deciding civil matters with halacha law. It’s a short step to becoming the Council. Imagine a fervently religious cult with it’s finger on the largest stockpile of un-regulated un-inspected nuclear weapons in the region. It sounds like Israel’s arguments against Iran, doesn’t it?

      Reply to Comment
    6. i_like_ike52

      For those of you who are “appalled” at the sacrifice of a lamb, it should be pointed out that Muslim families, for the Id al-Adha festival of the sacrifice, take home a lamb and slaughter it as well. If you don’t have a problem with that, I don’t see why one should be shocked at Jews preparing sacrifices as well.

      Reply to Comment