Praying on the Temple Mount—by Peter Eisenstadt

A friend asked why I thought it was unreasonable for Jews to want to pray on the Temple Mount, which Muslims call the Noble Sanctuary. On the face of it, it sounds reasonable. Why shouldn’t Jews or anyone else, be able to pray where they want to, as long as they respect the sacred spaces of other religions? My answers are below:

First, Judaism became a world religion worthy of the name when it abandoned sacrifices and proclaimed that God could be found everywhere, not just on the top of one hill in one city in one country. And of course, until recently, orthodox Jews banned prayer on the Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary, primarily to rid the Jewish religion of itchy messianists, who alas have returned in great numbers. The renewed demand for Jewish prayer exists for only one real reason—to challenge the Waqf, which has controlled access to the TM/NS since the 12th century.

Second, why does the Waqf have the right to ban Jewish prayer from the TM/NS? In a one-word answer, because. Why does Israel have the right to ban Palestinians who were born in say Jaffa or Haifa or their descendants living outside the Green Line from returning to their ancestral homes? Or for that matter, why can’t Jews born in Iraq or Syria return to their ancestral homes? (not that many would right now) Because sovereignty has its prerogatives, and sovereignties usually take care of their own first, whether this is fair or wise or just or not. And Israel has granted, with extreme reluctance, a form of quasi-sovereignty to the Jerusalem Waqf, and many Israelis can’t accept this—“imagine, some Muslims enforcing an arbitrary rule against us, the powerful Israelis!”

Third, the Waqf is weak, and everyone knows that Israel could terminate its rights with a snap of its fingers, and would have done so long ago, save the terrible unrest and uproar this would cause, not merely in East Jerusalem, but around the Muslim world. The “right to prayer” on the TM/NS would have to be enforced by the heavy presence of Israeli military personnel. And then, when the inevitable incidents start occurring, from fanatics on one side or the other, there will be a curtailment of Muslim access to the TM/NS, under some sort of “sharing arrangement.” Allowing Jewish prayer on the TM/NS will lead to limitations on Muslim access, as sure as night follows day. And then of course, someone will produce a red heifer.

Fourth, one problem is that many/most Israelis agree with you, and they feel they are, once again, being the responsible modern adults, calling for equal rights for all, when it’s the medieval Muslims, still dreaming of Saladin, who are keeping Jewish prayer from the TM/NS. (Never mind that the Jews who want to pray their have no commitment to democracy or equal rights whatsoever.) I think that a lot of Israelis feel that if the campaign for Jewish prayer is maintained, given the asymmetry of power, and the likelihood of violent Palestinian reactions to the campaign, sooner rather than later, the Waqf will be obliged to update their calendars to June 1967 and concede the inevitable, and recognize that Jews can do what they want on the TM/NS as they can do everywhere else in Israel and the WB.

So the demand for Jewish prayer on the TM/NS is for me, is not a matter of equal rights. It is a belligerent aggressive act, which following Newton’s third law of the Middle East, is being met by an opposite and equal belligerent act. If, in the spirit of the Kohen Gadol of old, I am allowed to anathemize, I think that the movement for Jewish prayer on the TM/NS is abhorrent to the spirit and essence of Judaism, and if allowed to grow, will only lead to disaster. Israel must learn to live with its physical and spiritual borders and limitations, and not turn the country over to the zealots, who back in 70 CE, caused this problem in the first place.