The Scroll of Independence of the State of Israel guarantees freedom
of worship and access to all the holy places in Israel whether they be Jewish,
Christian or Muslim. Hand in hand with this commendable and tolerant standard
has been the government policy of maintaining the status quo at these sites
in the interest of preserving the fragile peace in a highly pluralistic
society. The Temple Mount in Jerusalem, location of the First and Second
Temples, the Dome of the Rock and El-Aqsa Mosque is a site also of great
importance for Christians historically and prophetically. For this reason
a discussion of the meaning of "holy places" for Christians, using
the Temple Mount as an example, is appropriate. Recent clashes there have
been between extreme Jewish groups (or individuals) and the Muslim tenants
of the site, but this does not imply Christians are neutral on the subject.
The Muslims took control of the Temple Mount in 635 C.E. finding it in a neglected state. Omar ordered the area cleared of rubbish and Abd el-Malik built the shrine known as the Dome of the Rock between 684 and 691 C.E. to protect the "holy rock" (See Miriam Rosen-Ayalon Jerusalem Revealed p93; and Guy le Strange, Jerusalem Under the Muslims, 1890). Omar apparently was led to the proper spot by Jews living in Jerusalem at the time. Incidentally, Arabic inscriptions in the interior of the shrine constitute an attack on Christian belief that Jesus is the Son of God, not especially upon Jewish thought. Muslim tradition later added the claim that Mohammed ascended to heaven from the Temple Mount and it is today consecrated as the "third most holy place in Islam," after Mecca and Medina.
Although the Crusaders converted both the Dome of the Rock and El-Aqsa to churches for a brief time, Muslim stewardship returned in less than a hundred years, and continues to the present. A number of people have commented that the "Muslim sanctity" of the site has greatly decreased in recent years and that important archaeological features there have been destroyed or covered over. Visiting hours are sharply limited, Muslim tour guides control what is said there and visitors are limited to a very restricted inspection of the area. Armed guards are now needed because of fears of violence there. To the Muslims El-Aqsa is the building of the mosque and they treat the entire Temple Mount as a mosque (though they pray with their backs towards the Dome of the Rock).
Muslim theology claims that land once owned by Islam is forever holy to Islam and must be repossessed if lost. This applies to lands other than Israel of course, but their claim that Islam has replaced both Judaism and Christianity as a later and better revelation from God makes the Temple Mount an extraordinarily important plot of ground to Muslims.
Jewish return to Eretz Yisrael from the diaspora, especially since the "first aliyah" in 1891, has raised their numbers to well over 4 million bringing into sharp focus the fact the Temple Mount was of enormous importance in the national life of ancient Israel and is the proper focal point for religious worship and prayer by the Jews in the future. However until now the only accessible place for Jewish prayer has been the Western Wall. Efforts by small numbers of devout Jews to pray on the Temple Mount have been frustrated by the police, the Muslim WAQF, and the government in spite of the legal (constitutional) guarantees. The dominant national spirit in Israel is secular and the present government is a basically secular body. Thus Jewish pressures for prayer on the Mount or the building of a Third Temple represent a minority point of view. For centuries observant Jews around the world have considered the eventual building of a third temple an obligation, or at least something that would be accomplished when the Messiah comes.
In spite of the secular zeitgeist in Israel today it should be noted that on the Day of Atonement the majority of the people fast the whole day and go to a synagogue. Other religious holidays are observed to an increasing degree. Interest in the Bible and its claims is increasing. Thus national Jewish consciousness and media attention concerning the Temple Mount is rising. Resulting fear in the minds of the Muslims has led in recent years to poor treatment of both Jewish and Christian visitors to the Temple Mount and to arbitrary restrictions of access as well as many incidents of harassment by Arab guards. This situation has been made more difficult by extremist attempts to shoot up or blow up the Dome of the Rock and El-Aqsa. On the other hand the Jordanian claim of sovereignty over the Temple Mount is hardly helpful either in the midst of an otherwise undivided city.
Another factor in the Temple Mount equation is that fact that archaeology is the well-known "national pastime" of the Israeli people. New Jewish settlements tend to be built at locations discovered from the Bible and numerous tells are excavated zealously year after year by thousands of eager students led by some of the world's most competent and renowned archaeologists. Archaeological discoveries are big items on the evening news in Israel. There can be little doubt that many Jews in the nation are motivated not only by a love of the land of the Bible but take a keen interest in the search for Jewish roots. Those sites that are visited by tourists are invariably restored and put in pristine condition by the Israelis (in contrast to the Arab neglect of earlier years) even though archaeological excavation may be impossible or inappropriate under a church, a mosque or a residential district. Israel's preoccupation with archaeology has paid handsome dividends in only a few decades and there is every reason to believe phenomenally great finds will be made in the years to come. Yet the most important archaeological site of all, the Temple Mount, was last "looked into" by a few foreign explorers such as Sir Charles Warren in the last century!
The Temple Mount is known to contain several dozen cisterns, underground passages and store-rooms associated with the First and Second Temples as well as beautiful, now-blocked access gates. All of these sub-surface features can be and should be thoroughly explored archaeologically and scientifically. None of these research activities need disturb the park-like upper surface of the Mount and existing buildings. Why should not the Golden Gate and the gates in the southern wall be opened and restored as the Damascus gate has been? Tunnels and rooms accessible from the sides could be cleared, explored and opened to tourists without any disturbance to the top of the Mount. Even opening Solomon's stables to the public would add an exciting new tourist attraction to the city. Of course the location of the First and Second Temples should be made known for historic reasons, completely apart from any religious considerations. It is characteristic of western civilization to resist the suppression of truth or legitimate scientific study. Likewise freedom of worship, prayer and peaceful access to a site is highly prized by both Christians and Jews as part of their Judeo-Christian heritage. While Muslims in Israel may lack interest in archaeological exploration and the study of holy places their rights have been overemphasized in my opinion, perhaps from Jewish fears of a "holy war with Islam". As a sovereign state, Israel should encourage, not repress the scientific and archaeological exploration of the Temple Mount now denied by the current policy of preserving the status quo at all costs.
For Christians the holiness of God is an important concept if not the supreme attribute of the God of Israel. Christians think of holiness as primarily a term referring to God and to people rather than to places and objects. Though Eretz Israel, "the holy land", and Jerusalem, "the holy city", attract reverence and devotion from Christian pilgrims, there is no emphasis in the New Testament on sacred territory. The idea that Eretz Israel is a plot of land set-aside by the God of Israel for His exclusive purposes is a tenet of orthodox Jewish belief derived from the Old Testament. Christians do not deny this value system but neither do they tend to affirm it as part of their own heritage and calling.
The Bible's actual overall claim is that God is building one new Adam out of an old fallen race drawn from Jew and Gentile alike. This new race of men like the first Adam, has body, soul and spirit. Israel's emphasis on the physical, outward expression of divine activity in the world (corresponding to the body) complements that of the true church whose calling is to reflect the emotional life and the realm of thoughts, ideas and of beauty, (that is, the soul). In this view, the God of Israel Himself corresponds to the spirit of the new man. One reason for the centuries' old difficulties in dialog between Christians and Jews surely has to do with misunderstandings about the different calling of the church and the nation Israel. Faulty theology by some who suppose the church has replaced Israel has compounded the difficulty.
In Israel one must also take into account that the land is tenanted by a number of "ancient" Christian churches such as the Armenians, Ethiopian Copts, Eastern Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, and Roman Catholics. These groups constitute bodies that are highly oriented to religious tradition that is not necessarily refreshed by current reference to the actual content of scripture. Unfortunately for many who grown up in such congregations it can no longer be said that they are true Christians in the New Testament sense, but only in a cultural or traditional sense. For many peoples in the Middle East the word "Christian" means "not Muslim" or "not Jewish." There may be little if any reference to the Lordship of Jesus, to spiritual regeneration and to a working knowledge of the Bible by great numbers of nominal Christians in Israel. Thus traditional ancient churches may not be very willing to adapt to changing times. They can be expected to side with those favoring preservation of the status quo, and may perhaps be found somewhat indifferent to changes being wrought by God in the land of Israel today. Since there are many "true" Christians within the ancient churches it is of course impossible to exclude their values and beliefs from discussion, or to stereotype their views. Perhaps it is enough to say that the New Testament speaks both of a true church and a counterfeit, apostate one. The ancient Christian bodies in Israel enjoy God's grace with everyone else, and can be expected to show their true colors as the time of Messiah's appearing draws near. In contrast the views of visiting foreign evangelical Christians may differ sharply from the values of the traditional eastern churches in the Middle East. Added to this weakness of expression by the true Christian church in Israel, great numbers of Christians are moving out of the area greatly diminishing even the influence of cultural Christianity.
If a survey were taken of American evangelical Christians touring Israel, few would say they consider either the church of the Holy Sepulcher or the Temple Mount to be "holy places," though most would consider them of great historic importance. Christian life among the gentile nations centers around the local assembly and community affairs. Evangelical Christian hope has tended to center on the next life and the age to come. Most of the New Testament promises to Christians are for peace of mind, provisions for guidance and daily needs, wholeness of persons, and eventual justice in the world. The fact that Christians are called by the Apostle Peter "strangers and pilgrims in this present age" contrasts with Jewish rootedness in the promised land. Observant Jews, on the other hand, still wait for a King to occupy the throne of his father David, and for the Third Temple, and for safe and secure boundaries of the land God gave to Abraham 4000 years ago. In the New Testament the church building is never called "the house of God" as the Jewish Temples were, instead the Apostle Paul speaks of the body of every believer as a temple of God and the corporate assembly of Christians as the dwelling place of the Spirit. These Christians beliefs do not deny the validity of the Jewish priorities nor negate their future restoration and consummation. Fortunately centuries of conflict between Christians and Jews have been eased in recent decades as both groups have come to see their common roots in the faith of Abraham and God's multi-faceted promises passed down to both groups through Abraham's son, Isaac.
Christians have a special interest in the life of Jesus (Yeshua) in light of their belief that he was and is the true Messiah. For this reason Christians venerate Bethlehem where he was born and Nazareth where he grew up. Galilee is especially appealing to many. In Jerusalem the possible site of his death, his tomb and the Mount of Olives where he ascended into heaven (40 days after the resurrection) are awe inspiring to most Christians. Were more Christians aware of the location of the First and Second Temples no doubt the majority of Christian visitors to Israel would spend more time on the Temple Mount and indeed hold services there if permitted, especially on Sundays. Jesus was tempted by the devil at the pinnacle of the temple and James his brother was martyred there yet Christians may not visit the area today (the southeast corner) because of harassment by the guards!
The Gospels which open the New Testament, record that Jesus was dedicated in the Second Temple in accordance with the Law of Moses with accompanying sacrifice (see Luke 2:22-28). His boyhood visit to the Temple where he talked with the teachers there is also recorded, (Luke 2:41-52). He was raised a devout, religious Jew and became thoroughly versed in the Scriptures from an early age. At the beginning of his three-year ministry about the age of 30, Jesus cleansed the temple (John 2:14) at Passover, and again during the last week of his life, (Matthew 21:12, Mark 11:15-19, Luke 19:45-48). He also taught there. The fact that Jesus referred to the Temple as "his Father's house" means that no Christian can take lightly the intended sanctity or holiness of that site. The problem is that every trace of historic occupation of the Temple Mount by either Jews or Christians has been eradicated by the Muslims-consistent with their theology that Islam has replaced both Judaism and Christianity as a later and more perfect revelation from God.
Sitting with his disciples on the Mount of Olives also during the last week of his life, Jesus spoke of the coming destruction of the Second Temple and the days to follow, stretching down the centuries beyond our present time. He also made reference in this "Olivet Discourse" to a Third Temple on the site which would be desecrated by a future Jewish false Messiah, "the man of sin". The fact that a Third Temple will be built can also be established from the writings of the Apostle Paul (2 Thessalonians 2) and the Apostle John (Revelation 11:1, 2). These three New Testament passages about a "Third Temple" cause many Christian Bible scholars to watch the Temple Mount keenly for the latest developments looking for clues and signs of the times. Though Christians have no reason to support the building of a Third Temple (since it is part of the religious "economy" of Israel rather than the church), many Christians can be expected to vigorously support greater freedom of access for the Jews on the site, and for an environment on the Temple Mount more favorable to Christian worship, prayer, meditation and study. Christian charity and respect for the Muslim peoples is certainly hindered by the present situation on the Temple Mount.
Since Christians consider Abraham their spiritual father, the fact that Mount Moriah was the place of offering Isaac as a sacrifice is historically important to us. The life of David and his purchase of the threshing floor there 1000 years later as well as the history of the kings and the two temples is of keen importance to Christians who consider the whole Bible to be inspired by God.
Following the departure of Jesus from the summit of the Mount of Olives, the early Christians (all Jews) gathered together in Jerusalem for prayer. Ten days later (at Shavuot, or Pentecost) the Spirit of God came upon them forming a new body or company of believers, "the church" (The Greek word ecclesia means the "called out ones", or the assembly, see Acts 1,2). This event and Peter's great outdoor sermon following took place (almost without a doubt) in the courts of the temple, in front of the eastern gate. A number of other highly significant events in the early history of the Christian church also occurred in the courts of the temple, as recorded in the book of Acts. Thus the Temple Mount is the birth-place of the church---a highly significant site for Christian pilgrims from around the world. Many are eager to visit the very spot where God's new work began---the calling out of the goyim (gentiles) a people for Himself. Denial of freedom of prayer or worship there to the Christian community is inconsistent with both the Jewish Scroll of Independence and the actual historic significance of the place.
The last book in the New Testament, the Revelation, or the Apocalypse, speaks mostly of events yet to come on earth. At stage center in the Book of the Revelation is Jerusalem, and of course at the center of Jerusalem, the Temple Mount. It is there that vigorous outdoor preaching and teaching by Jewish prophets of God will once again occur for a brief few years before the return of Jesus.
Evangelical Christians also hold to a doctrine known as the "rapture of the church," described in I Thessalonians 4. This removal of the true Christians from the earth for a seven-year time interval will herald, it is believed, the passing of the torch back to Israel, as well as the renewing and final fulfillment of God's ancient promises to Israel as a nation. During this "time of Jacob's trouble" spoken of by the prophet Jeremiah, Israel will experience her greatest trials but find deliverance with the coming of Messiah. Not all Christians agree with the exact scenario of Bible prophecy (eschatology) to be sure, but there can be little doubt to most of us that the most important piece of real estate in the world today is the Temple Mount. Christians may not find it necessary to call that piece of land "holy" but that does not mean that they approve of its desecration or misuse. Thus many evangelical Christians can be expected to support the view that the Temple Mount belongs to the Jews and to their God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. From the prophet Zechariah evangelicals note that the Bible clearly says that the nations of the world will one day come to Jerusalem to pay homage to the Holy One of Israel. Israel will then be called upon to once again faithfully represent the true character of their God to all the Gentiles, so that they may come to worship God in the midst of his chosen people.
For all these reasons, sovereign control and management of the Temple Mount by the government of Israel should be resumed. Recent suggestions that the Pope assume a central role over Jerusalem as an international city should be rejected as this would be clearly in violation of God's promises concerning both the future of Israel and of Jerusalem.
The following article represents one major Jewish point of view on the current situation:
The Temple Mount
SNS News Service
July 17, 1996, ..... 1 Av 5756, ..... Special Report - 010sr
This being the special "three-week" period, which culminates on Tisha B'av, commemorating the destruction of the two Temples, SNS brings its readers a review and analysis of the legal parameters, as well as the public policy concerning the Temple Mount, as regards entry and prayer.
By Yisrael Medad.
Despite the Law for the Protection of the Holy Places, 1967, and its clauses assuring freedom of access to and worship within each religion's holy sites, despite their reconfirmation in the Basic Law: Jerusalem, 1980, and despite the recognition of those rights, in principle, by Israel's High Court of Justice, in practice the Israeli police consistently refuse to permit any form of Jewish prayer in the confines of the Temple Mount compound. In addition, any outward appearance of religiosity such as Tallit (Prayer Shawl) fringes hanging out, a Prayer Book or other religious tome or any ritual object such as Tefillim (Phylacteries), Lulav (palm branch) or the like are banned. In essence, a Jew may enter his Most Sacred Site but may not do so in a way that would be Jewish.
Some two dozen petitions have been heard by the High Court of Justice in the past 28 years. Throughout them all, the main thread is less a formalistic argument than an agreement by the justices, that in the matter of the Temple Mount, there is an overriding principle of "sensitivity". The "principle of sensitivity" dictates that because Muslims view the Temple Mount Courtyard as their exclusive domain and will engage in violent acts to counter any display of Jewishness, then it is in the interests of public order to prevent a Jew from exercising his legal rights. The presence of a Jew, as a Jew and not as a "tourist" or "visitor", is a provocation. As Professor Itzhak Englard has written: "In substance, the prohibition of public prayer is a violation of the principles of collective freedom of religion" (Amer. Journal of Comparative Law, 35:1987, p. 198).
Jurists and legal experts from the West and especially the United States will readily realize, that based on such a principle, the Civil Rights movement would never had made any gains, not to speak of gay rights and a plethora of social, religious and ethnic issues.
In one instance, in 1994, the Justices ordered the police to insure the entry of Jews (H.C.J. 3995/94) but nevertheless gave the police a free hand to cancel their order if public order needed to be preserved. Needless to say, with 300 angry Muslims led by the Deputy Mufti gathered inside the main entrance of the compound, the Jews assembled outside were denied entry.
The point should be stressed that it is not the wish of Jews to pray inside any Muslim building. In this regard, though, it is worth drawing attention to the fact, that such an arrangement already does exist in Hevron, where Jews and Muslims pray under the same roof. The Israeli Police and Border Guard Units, utilizing electronic instruments, assure the peace at that holy site.
It is undeniable that, legal and security arguments aside, it is a political consideration which denies Jews their civil rights and liberties. For example, although the High Court of Justice has confirmed, inter alia, that the Temple Mount surely is a Jewish holy place, the Department for Holy Places of the Ministry for Religious Affairs does not list the Temple Mount as such, budgets no money for it and in no other way administers the site. Most crucial, the Judges refuse to obligate the relevant Minister to formulate and adopt administrative regulations that would allow Jews to pray on the Temple Mount by defining, for example, the location and times for prayer.
The day-to-day administration, actually, is in the hands of the Jordanian Wakf. The religious officials tending to the Temple Mount are not Israeli government employees. They are uniformed and carry sophisticated communications equipment. The Temple Mount is a testing-ground for the undercurrent of tensions between supporters of Arafat, King Hussein and Islamic fundamentalists among those in charge and who run the institutions that exist there: educational, cultural and political.
Many people presume that Jewish Halachic (Jewish law) restrictions would deny entry into the Compound because of a Rabbinic Ban on stepping into sacred precincts. However, that prohibition extends only to a 500 cubit-square area, which is considerably smaller than the current esplanade. Former Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren and others have pronounced in favor of a limited access.
Archaeological and scientific engineering research, which could contribute to the location of the 500 cubit-square are is disallowed. In fact, Jewish archaeological remains are systematically destroyed or covered over. The underground passageways of astounding historical importance are off-limits.
What we are witness to is the exploitation of the juridical system to the political demands of policy. Israel's Courts must be convinced that their duty is to uphold the law and the norms of justice. They themselves, lend a legitimacy to the flouting of legal principles. It should be noted that as recently as this month, Israel's High Court of Justice ordered the police to prepare for the protection of the right of Meretz supporters to demonstrate, even in a provocative fashion, along the Bar-Ilan Boulevard. Will they apply the same outlook to allow Jews to pray on the Temple Mount.
SHOMRON NEWS SERVICE is an independent news service, and is not affiliated with any political party or governmental agency.
IN THIS landmark decision (HG 4185/90) Israel's Supreme Court sitting as the High Court of Justice was asked to consider the religious and legal status of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The Court's unanimous decision issued Sept. 23 1993, was written by Justice Menachem Elon. The English translation was commissioned by The Israel Colloquium for its symposium on "Jerusalem and the Peace Process: Muslim, Christian and Jewish Perspectives," held on Sept. 13, 1995 at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. This year it was published together with the proceedings of another symposium on Jerusalem - in The Catholic University Law Review, Vol. 45, No. 3.
The following are excerpts from the Supreme Court Ruling:
Solomon's Temple: Unique Role as Focus for Prayer
"The uniqueness and the destiny of the Holy Temple found expression in the prayer of King Solomon upon completion of that building's erection (I Kings, Ch. 8):
...when a prayer or a plea is made by any person, by any of your people Israel - each one aware of the afflictions of his own heart, and spreading out his hands towards this Temple - then hear from heaven, your dwelling place. Forgive and act; deal with each man according to all his deeds, for you know his heart - you alone know the hearts of all men...
2nd Temple: Courtesy of Compassionate Foreign Ruler
"In the year 538 BCE, Cyrus, King of Persia, issued a proclamation to the Jews of the Babylonian exile in which he announced his wish to raise up the Holy Temple in Jerusalem from its ruins, and urged the exiles to go up to their land and to participate in the rebuilding of the Temple..."
'Foundation of the State and Its Religious life'
"King Herod wrought a great change in the annals of the Temple Mount and in its contours: The shape of the Mount as we see it today is his work...The Temple Mount and the Holy Temple itself were the heart of the nation and the focus of its faith, whence emanated law and instruction to the people of Israel, and around them gathered all its sons and daughters, from near and far...In the year 70 CE, Titus, the son of the Emperor Vespasian, activated the Roman legions in Jerusalem, which overcame the fierce resistance of the Jewish defenders of the Temple Mount...The historian Gedaliah ...thus sums up the place of the Temple in that era and the reason for its demolition at Titus' hands:
The status and significance of the Temple as the foundation of the state and its religious life, and as the stronghold and the symbol of this people's national spirit and faith - this, more than all else, brought on Titus' order to burn it down..."
Continuing Sanctity of the Temple Mount
"...the Temple Mount has been the holiest place for the past 3,000 years, ever since King Solomon erected the First Temple on Mt. Moriah (II Chron. 3:1); and Mt. Moriah itself had been held sacred because of [an event that took place there some 1 ,000 years earlier], the binding of Isaac by Abraham, the father of the Hebrew nation, 'in the land of Moriah' (Gen. 22:2)...Thus primeval sanctity of the Temple Mount continues unabated to this day - even after the destruction of the First and Second Temples...and the Western Wall of the Temple Mount, which stands to this very day, is the holiest site in Jewish tradition.
"For adherents to the Muslim faith, the Temple Mount has been held sacred for the past 1,300 years - since the conquest of Jerusalem by the Muslims in 638 - and on it they erected the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque. The sanctity of the Mount, for Muslims, comes after the sanctity of Medina, which in turn comes after the. sanctity of Mecca.. The Christians, too, ascribe religious importance to the Temple Mount.
The law: Recognition of History, Mutual Respect
"Basic Law: Jerusalem, the Capital of Israel (adopted July 30, 1980) states:
'1. Undivided and united Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.
'2. Jerusalem is the seat of the President of the State, the Knesset, the Government and the Supreme Court.
'3. The Holy Places shall be protected from desecration and from any other violation, as well as from anything that might hinder the freedom of access of the members of the various religions to the places sacred to them or that might give offense to their feelings toward these places.'
"The sanctity of the Temple Mount for the Jewish people, with all that this implies, is not open to discussion. Its sanctity is eternal and does not depend on the powers that be...The area of the Temple Mount is part of the territory of the State of Israel, and the law, jurisdiction and administration of the State apply to it. These include, among other things...the right of every person to freedom of worship, freedom of access to the Holy Places and protection against their desecration..."
'Islam Does Not Prohibit Jewish Prayer'
"There is nothing in Islam or in the Koran that prohibits the prayer of Jews on the Temple Mount." This was stated, at a recent international conference in Jerusalem, by Prof. Abd el-Hadi Fallacci, the head of the Islamic Institute in Rome, as reported by Israel's daily Ha'aretz of July 18.
"From the theological point of view," he explained, "there is no reason to prevent Jews land, presumably, members of other faiths] from praying in places that are not mosques. Professor Fallacci noted that, while the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock are located on the Temple Mount, they do not take up its entire area.
It is the responsibility of the political leadership, he averred, to make the kind of arrangements that will make such prayer possible. "What we, the religious leadership, can do is to arouse people's awareness and conscience to this possibility."
Lambert Dolphin's Library
The Temple Mount Web Site
August 1983. Revised October 12, 1996.