Last week two leading haredi rabbis, Rabbi Shalom Elyashiv and Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, and former Sephardic chief rabbi Rav Ovadia Yosef, sent a letter to Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovich – who is in charge of the Western Wall area – asking him to reaffirm a 40-year-old ban on Jewish entry to the Temple Mount. The move came a month after Israel’s Haaretz newspaper published photographs of Rabbi Tendler atop the Temple Mount, which set off a storm in the haredi community. Rabbi Tendler, a Yeshiva University rosh yeshiva and biology professor, is the son-in-law of the late Rav Moshe Feinstein, the leading American halachic decisor of his time.
“As time passed,” the three rabbis wrote, “we have lost knowledge of the precise location of the Temple, and anyone entering the Temple Mount is liable to unwittingly enter the area of the Temple and the Holy of Holies.”
Rabbi Kanievsky added that “entrance to the Temple Mount, and the defilement of the Holy of Holies, is more severe than any of the violations in the Torah.”
Rabbi Tendler (foreground left) and Temple Institute founder Rabbi Yisrael Ariel (right) atop the Temple Mount.
However, Rabbi Tendler argues that “everybody, certainly every rosh yeshiva and every talmid chacham, knows exactly” where a Jew may walk on the Temple Mount thanks to the research of such rabbis as the late Rabbis Shlomo Goren (former Israeli chief rabbi) and Yechiel Michel Tikochinsky.
The letter’s expression, “We have lost knowledge,” Rabbi Tendler said, refers to the “99 percent of tourists” who walk in forbidden areas. “I wouldn’t accuse the rabbanim of talking halacha,” he said, “because then I’d have to accuse them of being am haratzim [ignoramuses]. The rabbanim, baruch Hashem, are talmidei chachamim and know exactly what I know I believe they’re just backing up a government position.”
In recent years an increasing number of rabbis have ascended the Temple Mount, including Kiryat Shmona Chief Rabbi Tzephania Drori, Ma’aleh Adumim rosh yeshiva Rabbi Nachum Rabinovich, and Rabbi Dov Kook, who is married to Rav Elyashiv’s granddaughter.
The Yesha Rabbinical Council, headed by Rav Dov Lior of Kiryat Arba, published a ruling several years ago calling for Jewish ascension to the Temple Mount. “By refraining from ascending,” the ruling read, “we are thereby declaring to the world as if we, God forbid, have no part in the Mountain of God – and we thus strengthen the Arabs’ feeling that the Temple Mount is theirs.”
Rabbi Tendler said he has been ascending the Temple Mount for close to a decade. As per Jewish law, he immerses in a mikveh the day before his visit and does not carry a wallet or wear leather shoes while on the Mount.