Between The Dome of The Rock and a Hard Place

The Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem. (photo: Getty Images)

By J. J. Goldberg / The Forward
April 13, 2017

Permitting Jewish presence on the mount is actually a controversial question among Israel’s Orthodox rabbinical authorities. The traditionalist Haredi rabbinate still upholds the centuries-old rabbinic ban on Jews even entering the Temple compound, for fear that they will tread on the long-forgotten spot where the forbidden Holy of Holies once stood. Traditionalists believe the Temple cannot be rebuilt until the Messiah comes and restores the ancient Jewish kingdom.

Religious Zionists maintain that the survival of the Jewish state against all odds proves that the messianic era is already underway and that Jews today should be working to restore the Temple.

Passover came early to Jerusalem this year when a group of Jewish religious nationalists gathered in the Old City of Jerusalem April 6 for a live reenactment of the original, biblical holiday ritual: sacrificing a lamb.

Hundreds gathered in the Jewish Quarter to watch barefoot, white-robed priests slaughter, skin and roast a lamb on a makeshift altar and hear speeches by rabbis and a Likud Knesset member. It was held in a public square outside the Hurva Synagogue, a stone’s throw from the Temple Mount where priests conducted daily sacrifices in ancient times

The event was an awkward reminder of the tight spot Benjamin Netanyahu’s government is in as it tries to balance the competing religious claims over arguably the world’s most volatile shrine. The government and its defenders have long been trying to debunk Palestinian accusations — deliberate lies, Israel argues — that Israel intends to build a third Jewish Temple on the site where Al Aqsa mosque and the iconic Dome of the Rock now stand. Unfortunately, events like the Passover reenactment illustrate the growing influence within the government itself of Jewish activists who aim to do just what some Palestinians accuse them of.

The aspiration to rebuild the Holy Temple atop the sacred mount is a central tenet in Jewish religious tradition. As religious traditionalists grow in prominence and influence in Israeli society and government, so does enthusiasm for the Temple Mount. That puts them on a collision course with Muslims, for whom the mount and its mosque are their faith’s third holiest shrine.

Zionism’s largely secular founders had no intention of rebuilding the Temple or restoring animal sacrifice. But a minority of religious Zionists saw the rebirth of Israel as a step toward messianic restoration of the ancient kingdom, Temple sacrifice and all. The distinction between the two Zionisms wasn’t obvious to many Muslims, who suspected Zionism as an effort to restore the Temple atop their shrine. Extremists played on those suspicions to fuel nationalist fervor. But as secularism retreats in Israel, the suspicions surge.

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