Jerusalem’s Temple Mount: A launching pad for holy wars?

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(RNS) Vicious cycles of violence often begin here. It is the holiest site in the world for Jews, the third holiest for Muslims — a place where millions of people have prayed for a millennia. Yet, often, it is a launching pad for deadly attacks and counterattacks.

There’s actually no temple at the Temple Mount?

Right. There is a remnant of a retaining wall that helped support the Jewish temple. What is known as the Western Wall buttressed the Second Temple, destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D. There are no remains of the First Temple, which was built by Solomon, the king of ancient Israel and Judea, and destroyed in the sixth century B.C. by the Babylonians.

Pope John Paul II places a prayer expressing remorse for past treatment of Jews in the Western Wall in Jerusalem during a trip to Israel in 2000. Religion News Service file photo

Pope John Paul II places a prayer expressing remorse for past treatment of Jews in the Western Wall in Jerusalem during a trip to Israel in 2000. Religion News Service file photo

Why was the First Temple built?

King David wanted to build a permanent resting place for the ark containing the Ten Commandments, a task that fell to his son, Solomon. In ancient times, the Jewish high priest would enter the temple once a year on Yom Kippur to pray to God on Israel’s behalf. Orthodox Jews still pray three times a day for its restoration.

“It is the place the high priest went into once a year to see the face of the Lord, in the Scriptures, and to get his blessing for the people,” said Rabbi Tzvi Graetz, executive director of the World Council of Conservative/Masorti Synagogues. When it was destroyed, “it wasn’t just a building that was destroyed, an entire nation went into exile,” Graetz said.

Is the Temple Mount holy to Muslims in the same way?

Not exactly. The top of this mount was, according to the Quran, the holy landing place in about 620 A.D. for the Prophet Muhammad. After his “Night Journey” on a winged beast to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, Muhammad prayed, and the angel Gabriel offered him water, wine or milk. The prophet chose milk, and Gabriel told him that it meant his followers would follow the true path, Islam.

Temple Mount/Dome of the Rock.

Photo courtesy of James Emery, via Wikimedia Commons

Temple Mount/Dome of the Rock.

It was also the place from which Muhammad ascended to heaven. Before this ascent, said Imam Abu Nahidian of Virginia’s Manassas Mosque, Muhammad did not know the particulars of prayer. “In order to see all that he had to ascend to heaven to see the words,” Nahidian said. When Mohammad returned, he was able to tell his followers how to pray (five times a day).

Can’t Muslims pray at the top and Jews pray at the bottom without bothering each other?

On peaceful days, that’s what happens. Muslims pray at the two mosques at the “top” of the Temple Mount  — which they call the Noble Sanctuary — and can look over the edge to see Jews praying at the Western Wall below. But both Israelis and Palestinians have intentionally upset the peace at the Temple Mount, knowing that any disturbance there is likely to send violent shock waves far beyond.

In 2000, Ariel Sharon, then the leader of Israel’s opposition party, took a delegation to the top of the Temple Mount, inciting rioting from Muslims and sparking the Second Intifida, which resulted in the deaths of more than 4,000 Israelis and Palestinians.

On Oct. 29, a Palestinian shot Rabbi Yehuda Glick near the Temple Mount. Glick wants Jews to pray freely at the top of the Temple Mount, which Israel, for fear of inciting violence, does not allow. Since his assailant was killed by Israeli security forces, Palestinians have mounted several attacks on Israelis. Israeli police have killed rioters and terror suspects.

So who is actually in charge of the Temple Mount?

Jordan pays the salaries of the employees of an Islamic Waqf, or trust, which oversees the Noble Sanctuary. But Israel, which has soldiers stationed around the Temple Mount, effectively controls access to it. After the attempted assassination of Glick, for example, Israel closed the Temple Mount to men under 50.

What’s this I hear about a Third Temple?

In Judaism, there is a belief that a new temple should be built on the ruins of the First and Second. But most Jews consider it an unrealistic and dangerous goal given that it would entail the destruction of the Noble Sanctuary. As Graetz puts it: “Some extremists have the terrible fantasy of blowing up the mosque and building a temple. That’s not the kind of temple I would ever want to visit.”

YS/MG END MARKOE

  • Timothy Scott

    The number of Jews interested in worshipping on the “Temple Mount” is minute. Most Orthodox Jews would not set foot on the Temple Mount for fear of walking unintentionally on the Holy of Holies. The Status quo with Moslems worshipping in the Haram el Sharif and Jews at the Western Wall is completely satisfactory.

  • a) this (“There are no remains of the First Temple”) should be clarified: there are no observable remains. The Waqf does not permit archaeological excavations.

    b) it seems obvious that to compare a “nigh journey”, unprovable, with the viewable remains of the 2nd Temple as well as the testimonies left by visiting Romans at Herod’s Jerusalem, should reduce the comparision between the two religions even more,

    c) This – “both Israelis and Palestinians have intentionally upset the peace at the Temple Mount” – is misleading. Over the past three decades, no Jew has intentionally upset the peace. I think the shooting by Alan Goodman, a certified schizoprenic in 1982 was the last time something of this nature occured. The right of free access and worship is guaranteed in Israeli law but government policy has it otherwise. In the past few years, the Muslims have deliberatly sought to provoke violence by blocking access, screaming epithets at visiting Jews, throwing items at them, etc. And they have thrown rocks over the wall at the Jews praying below at the Western Wall Plaza. And by the way, Christians can’t read from the Bible about the overturning of the tables, either.

    d) This – “Jordan has officially guarded the Noble Sanctuary since 1919” – is perhaps a typo. Jordan was established in 1946. Its territory was removed from that of the Jewish National Homeland in 1922 and it was then known as Transjordan until becoming independent.

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  • In 2000, Ariel Sharon, then the leader of Israel’s opposition party, took a delegation to the top of the Temple Mount, inciting rioting from Muslims and sparking the Second Intifida, which resulted in the deaths of more than 4,000 Israelis and Palestinians.

    Um, no. Ariel Sharon visited the Temple Mount. Arabs rioted. Al Fatah launched a campaign of political violence that ran on for several years until Israel successfully suppressed. The connection between these three events was not causal.

  • zeev

    Ironic that the Moslem source you quote Mr Nahidian, of Manassas, Virginia, was the representative of Ayatullah Khumayni 35 years in Washington DC. Google the murder of Iranian ex-diplomat Akbar Tabatabai in 1979-1980 news articles and you will find Nahidian’s name mentioned. A good summary of this man’s record is found at http://www.investigativeproject.org/2304/virginia-imam-long-radical-record#