by Christine Pasciuti
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu received a letter this week from a group of rabbis from the National Religious camp, advocating for the construction of a synagogue on Israel’s holiest site, the Temple Mount.
Represented were a wide ranging group; signers included rabbis of conservative, liberal and Religious Zionist persuasions, as well as professors, educators and professionals.
“The Temple Mount is a unique place for prayer,” the letter stated. “As Prime Minister, we ask you to do what is necessary to establish a place of prayer for Jews on the Temple Mount, in a respectable and peaceful manner, that will honor the holy place we all long for.”
The document was authored and delivered by the Amutat Yishai organization, which supports building a synagogue in a specific location on the Temple Mount that many rabbis agree Jews are permitted to ascend to. The letter advocates building a structure in that area where Jews can pray.
Jews who visit the site today may venture only into certain areas and must adhere to restrictions surrounding ritual impurity, so much of the Temple Mount is off-limits to Jews today. Yet a number of rabbis agree with historians who claim that some areas of the Mount were not included in the boundaries of the Holy Temple area and would permit such a visit – even in a state of ritual impurity – provided proper ritual immersion and other measures were followed.
Muslim groups, including the Islamic Waqf which oversees the Muslim shrines on the Temple Mount site, fiercely oppose any Jewish presence there. In order to prevent conflict, Israel has forbidden Jews to pray on the Mount altogether.
Most Jewish scholars share the belief that the third Jewish temple must be built upon the Temple Mount. Moses was instructed in the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy, chapter 12, verses 13 and 14, to “Take heed to thyself that thou offer not thy burnt offerings in every place that thou seest: But in the place which the Lord shall choose in one of thy tribes, there thou shalt offer thy burnt offerings, and there thou shalt do all that I command thee.”
Scriptural evidence points to Mount Moriah, also known as “the mountain of the Lord” or “Mount Zion,” as the Lord’s chosen location for His temple. (See Psalm 48.) Therefore, if the third temple is constructed, it will most likely be planned for the Temple Mount site. Several different positions have been put forward as to it’s exact location – one such view would allow it to be built beside the Dome of the Rock. Other views have the Dome of the Rock needing to be removed. Each of the perspectives however seems to be leading both sides to a countdown of confrontation.
Last October, the Tehran Times reported that an Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson denounced the Israeli plan to build a synagogue near the Al-Aqsa Mosque, calling on the international community to prevent any further “desecration” of the Temple Mount. During a televised speech at the time, Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas Prime Minister, condemned Israel’s efforts to “Judaize” Jerusalem, encouraging all Palestinians to act against Israel’s so-called expansionist measures.
In Israel one Jerusalem Post commentator wrote the following statement, “The state of affairs on the Temple Mount is intolerable and untenable. Basic freedoms, such as the right to worship and free speech, are being trampled, and Jews are subjected to discrimination unheard of anywhere else in the Western world,” at a place of such profound significance to Jewish history and destiny.
Michael Freund, author of the JP article, had taken a tour of the Temple Mount with a group of more than 50 Jews from Ra’anana’s Ohel Ari synagogue, noting, “…it was distressing to see the extent to which Israel’s government defers to threats of Arab unrest at the expense of its own citizens and their basic rights.”
Freund provides examples of clear historical precedent for when the rights of Jews were respected, particularly during periods when the Mount was under Muslim control.
One such case depicts a synagogue and Jewish house of study operating on the Temple Mount where Jews were able to pray freely for over four centuries after the Caliph Omar conquered the land of Israel in 633-4 CE.
This was confirmed by Rabbi Abraham bar Chiya HaNassi, a leading Spanish rabbinical authority of the 12th century, who wrote in his book “Megilat Megaleh” that, “at the beginning, after the Romans destroyed the Temple, Israel was not prevented from coming and praying there, and similarly the kings of Ishmael enacted a beneficent custom and allowed Israel to come to the Temple Mount and build a house of prayer and study.”
The rabbi further noted that, “all the exiles of Israel who lived near the Temple Mount would ascend on festivals and holidays and pray there.”
Despite the current deep religious divisions between Jews and Muslims that have stoked aggressive territorial guarding of existing rights of access to the Mount, we know from prophetic Scripture in the Bible that there will be a third temple built upon the sacred site.
Though the rebuilding of the temple is not a prerequisite for the start of the 7-year Tribulation Period, Biblical Scripture points to the construction of a temple and the inauguration of temple worship prior to the mid-point of that seven-year period.
When the disciples of Jesus asked about the “end of the age,” He warned future generations living in Jerusalem in His Olivet Discourse, to be aware of the approaching “abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place…” (Matthew 24:15).
In the book of Daniel (chapters 11 and 12) the prophet warns that the final years leading up to the establishment of God’s kingdom on earth will produce a political leader (the Antichrist) who will confirm a peace covenant with Israel for seven years. Halfway through this designated time frame, the Antichrist will cause the temple sacrifices to cease, will turn against Israel, and exalt himself as God, thereby sealing his ultimate fate – permanent and eternal separation from God in the Lake of Fire (Revelation 20:10).
In the meantime, would the building of a Jewish synagogue on the Temple Mount, and the re-establishment of the right of Jews to pray there, actually be a stepping stone to building some tolerance and mutual respect between Jews and Arabs? However reluctantly both parties approach this possibility, an attitude change would be necessary in preparation for the much bigger agreement that ultimately makes room for the construction of a third temple. Some speculate the current peace process may lead to an agreement that would permit for the rebuilding of the temple.
If diplomacy cannot be achieved, then perhaps war will bring the desired result. Could it be the great Gog/Magog war described in Ezekiel chapter 38? Many Bible prophecy experts suggest the stage seems to be set for just such a war, as Russia and Iran are now key players against Israel, with Arab nations forming alliances with the Muslim republics of the former Soviet Union.
In the meantime, preparations for the temple continue.