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Temple Mount


TEMPLE MOUNT, the trapezoid-shaped (approximately rectangular) walled-in area (approx. 140 dunams) in the southeastern corner of the Old City of Jerusalem. The four walls surrounding it (see *Western Wall) date – at least in their lower parts – from the time of Herod's Temple (end of first century B.C.E.; see *Temple: Second). These huge supporting walls, partly buried underground (except for the northern one), were built around the summit of the eastern hill (see *Jerusalem) identified as Mount *Moriah, the traditional site of the *Akedah and the known location of the two Temples. The gaps between the walls and the mount were filled in to create a large surface area around the Temple. Its eastern wall and the eastern half of its southern wall form part of the city wall on those sides. Deep valleys (now partly filled by debris) run outside the walls (northeast, east, south, west), thus separating the Temple Mount from and elevating it above its surroundings, both inside and outside the city.

The dimensions of the Temple Mount (north, 313 m. (1,020 ft.); east, 470 m. (1,530 ft.); south, 280 m. (910 ft.); west, 485 m. (1,578 ft.)) extend considerably beyond those given in the Mishnah (Mid. 2:1), which describes a square of approximately 250 × 250 m. (815 × 815 ft.), referring only to the sanctified area within the Temple Mount as known today (also known by its Arabic designation ?aram al-Shar?f, i.e., the noble sanctuary). The entire enclosure consists of an esplanade or courtyard (the most important structure on its southern side being the Mosque of al-Aq??), surrounding an elevated platform (4 m. (13 ft.) higher) occupying approximately 23 dunams and decorated by arched structures around the central structure (the Dome of the Rock). In each of the walls there are a number of gates. Some are ancient gates (see *Temple: Second; *Jerusalem), which are blocked, and some are newer gates, from the Arab conquest (638) onward which are still in service (the latter are only in the northern and western walls).

Within the area of the Temple Mount there are about 100 different structures from various periods, among them great works of art and craftsmanship, including open Muslim prayer spots (some of them with small domes), arches, arched porticos, Muslim religious schools, minarets, and fountains (some for drinking and others for worshipers to wash their hands and feet before prayer). Underneath the present-day surface, in the "artificial" parts of the mount, there are 34 cisterns (the largest of these holds as much as 12,000 cu. m. (168,000 cu. ft.)). There are also other substructures, the largest of which is known as "Solomon's stables."

Caliph Omar prayed on the Temple Mount after he conquered Jerusalem in 638, accompanied by the Yemenite Jewish apostate Ka'ab al-Akhbar. In 684 (or 687) the Ummayyad caliph Abd-al-Malik began to build the Dome of the Rock (wrongly called the Mosque of Omar), a shrine over the rock believed to be the *even shetiyyah of Herod's Temple, located approximately in the center of the Temple Mount. This monumental piece of architecture of octagonal shape was completed in 690–91. Abd-al-Malik built the Mosque of al-Aq?? in about 700 on the spot where Omar is supposed to have offered his prayers. (According to some historians, al-Aq?? was only completed in 795 by his son Al-Walid.) The present building was constructed in 1033. After the conquest of Jerusalem by the crusaders, the Dome of the Rock was converted into a church and called Templum Domini (the Temple of the Lord) and al-Aq?? became a church called Templum Solomonis (Solomon's Temple). They were reconverted into Muslim houses of worship after Saladin's conquest of Jerusalem in 1187 and have remained so ever since.

A few days after the Six-Day War, on June 17, 1967, a meeting was held at al-Aqsa between Moshe Dayan and Muslim religious authorities of Jerusalem reformulating the status quo. Jews were given the right to visit the Temple Mount unobstructed and free of charge if they respected Muslims' religious feelings and acted decently, but they were not allowed to pray. The Western Wall was to remain the Jewish place of prayer. 'Religious sovereignty' was to remain with the Muslims while 'overall sovereignty' became Israeli. Dayan's offer was objected to by the Muslims, as they totally rejected the Israeli conquest of Jerusalem and the Mount. Some Jews, led by Shlomo Goren, then the military chief rabbi, had objected as well, claiming the decision handed over the complex to the Muslims, since the Western Wall's holiness is derived from the Mount and symbolizes exile, while praying on the Mount symbolizes freedom and the return of the Jewish people to their homeland.  The President of the High Court of Justice, Aharon Barak, in response to an appeal in 1976 against police interference with an individual's putative right to prayer on the site, expressed the view that, while Jews had a right to prayer there, it was not absolute but subject to the public interest and the rights of other groups. Israel's courts have considered the issue as one beyond their remit, and, given the delicacy of the matter, under political jurisdiction. He wrote:

The basic principle is that every Jew has the right to enter the Temple Mount, to pray there, and to have communion with his maker. This is part of the religious freedom of worship, it is part of the freedom of expression. However, as with every human right, it is not absolute, but a relative right... Indeed, in a case where there is near certainty that injury may be caused to the public interest if a person's rights of religious worship and freedom of expression would be realized, it is possible to limit the rights of the person in order to uphold the public interest.

Police continued to forbid Jews to pray on The Temple Mount.Subsequently, several prime ministers also made attempts to change the status quo, but failed to do so. In October 1986, an agreement between the Temple Mount Faithful, the Supreme Muslim Council and police, which would allow short visits in small groups, was exercised once and never repeated, after 2,000 Muslims armed with stones and bottles attacked the group and stoned worshipers at the Western Wall. During the 1990s, additional attempts were made for Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount, which were stopped by Israeli police.

Until 2000, non-Muslim visitors could enter the Dome of the Rock, al-Aqsa Mosque and the Islamic Museum by getting a ticket from the Waqf. That procedure ended when the Second Intifada erupted. Fifteen years later, negotiation between Israel and Jordan might result in reopening of those sites once again.

In the 2010s, fear arose among Palestinians that Israel planned to change the status quo and permit Jewish prayers or that the al-Aqsa mosque might be damaged or destroyed by Israel. Al-Aqsa was used as a base for attacks on visitors and the police from which stones, firebombs and fireworks were thrown. The Israeli police had never entered al-Aqsa Mosque until November 5, 2014, when dialog with the leaders of the Waqf and the rioters failed. This resulted in imposing strict limitations on entry of visitors to the Temple Mount. Israeli leadership repeatedly stated that the status quo would not change. According to then Jerusalem police commissioner Yohanan Danino, the place is at the center of a "holy war" and "anyone who wants to change the status quo on the Temple Mount should not be allowed up there", citing an "extreme right-wing agenda to change the status quo on the Temple Mount"; Hamas and Islamic Jihad continue to erroneously assert that the Israeli government plans to destroy al-Aqsa Mosque, resulting in chronic terrorist attacks and rioting.

There have been several changes to the status quo: (1) Jewish visits are often prevented or considerably restricted. (2) Jews and other non-Islamic visitors can only visit from Sunday to Thursday, for four hours each day. (3) Visits inside the mosques are not allowed. (4) Jews with religious appearance must visit in groups monitored by Waqf guards and policemen.

Many Palestinians believe the status quo is threatened since right-wing Israelis have been challenging it with more force and frequency, asserting a religious right to pray there. Until Israel banned them, members of Murabitat, a group of women, cried 'Allah Akbar' at groups of Jewish visitors to remind them the Temple Mount was still in Muslim hands.


A.I. Kook, Mishpat Kohen (19662), no. 96; ET, 3 (1951), 224–41; 10 (1961), 578–87.