Today, we regularly hear about tensions on the Temple Mount, where either the Waqf or other Muslims accuse Jews of violating the “permission” granted to Jews by the Arabs to go to the Mount by praying there.
Historically, though, Jews have prayed on the Temple Mount after the destruction of the Second Temple — including when the area was under Muslim control.
In an article, The Mounting Problem of Temple Denial, David Barnett writes that denial of the Jewish connection to the Temple Mount by Palestinian Arabs makes no sense, considering the fact that classical Islamic literature clearly recognizes the existence of the Jewish Temple and its importance to Judaism:
- Sura 17:1 of the Koran, the “Farthest Mosque” is called the al-masjid al-Aqsa.
- The Tafsir al-Jalalayn, a well-respected Sunni exegesis of the Koran from the 15th and 16th centuries, notes that the “Farthest Mosque” is a reference to the Bayt al-Maqdis of Jerusalem (nearly identical to the Hebrew “Beyt Ha-Miqdash”)
- In the commentary of Abdullah Ibn Omar al-Baydawi, who authored several prominent theological works in the 13th century, the masjid is referred to as the Bayt al-Maqdis because during Muhammad’s time no mosque existed in Jerusalem.
- Koranic historian and commentator, Abu Jafar Muhammad al-Tabari, who chronicled the seventh century Muslim conquest of Jerusalem, wrote that one day when Omar finished praying, he went to the place where “the Romans buried the Temple [bayt al-maqdis] at the time of the sons of Israel.”
- Eleventh century historian Muhammad Ibn Ahmad al-Maqdisi and fourteenth century Iranian religious scholar Hamdallah al-Mustawfi acknowledged that the al-Aqsa Mosque was built on top of Solomon’s Temple.
So it is not surprising that historically, Jews have been granted access to the Temple Mount by the Muslim rulers of the time to not only ascend to the Temple Mount, but also to pray there.
In his Jerusalem: The Biography, Simon Sebag Montefiore writes
Jews, many of them from Iran and Iraq, settled in the Holy City, living together south of the Temple Mount, retaining the privilege of praying on (and maintaining) the Temple Mount. But in about 720, after almost a century of freedom to pray there, the new Caliph Omar II, who was, unusually in this decadent dynasty, an ascetic stickler for Islamic orthodoxy, banned Jewish worship–and this prohibition would stand for the rest of Islamic rule. p. 195
The source for this is the book Jerusalem: The Holy City in the Eyes of Chroniclers, Visitors, Pilgrims and Prophets from the Days of Abraham to the Beginning of Modern Times.by F. E. Peters. Peters quotes Salman ben Yeruham, a Karaite writing in about 950.
Peters goes on to write that this would have been during the earliest days of the Muslim occupation, probably before the construction of the Dome of the Rock by Abd al-Malik and the consecration of the Temple Mount as the “Noble Sanctuary.” According to Peters, the construction of the Dome would have changed the nature of the area.
F.M. Loewenberg, in an article on the Middle East Forum website, Did Jews Abandon the Temple Mount? goes further. He writes that 50 years after Omar had conquered Jerusalem in 680, a struggle broke out with a rebel dynasty in Mecca. In order to damage the Meccan economy, the Umayyads decided to build a competing pilgrimage site in Jerusalem to siphon off Mecca’s revenue. That was accomplished with the building of the Dome of the Rock:
Thus, a political strategy designed to fight mutineers in far-off Mecca transformed Jerusalem’s Temple Mount into a Muslim holy site with far-reaching implications to this day.
As Sebag Montefiore writes in explaining the 40 year silence of the Muslim world when the Arabs lost Jerusalem during the Crusades, “as so often in Jerusalem’s history, religious fervour was inspired by political necessity.”
But according to Lowenberg, this in itself did not put an end to Jewish access to the Temple Mount. Basing himself on the same Salman ben Yeruham, he writes
Soon after the Muslim conquest, Jews received permission to build a synagogue on the Temple Mount. Perhaps the wooden structure that was built over the Foundation Stone was first intended for a synagogue, but even before it was completed, the site was expropriated by the city’s rulers [as the site for the Dome of the Rock]. The Jews received another site on the mount for a synagogue in compensation for the expropriated building. Most probably there was an active synagogue on the Temple Mount during most of the early Muslim period. [emphasis added]
After the Fatimids conquered Jerusalem in 969, a Temple Mount synagogue was rebuilt and used — until the Jews were then banished by Caliph al-Hakim in 1015. That decree was rescinded by a later ruler and Jews were again allowed to worship there until the conquest of Jerusalem by the Crusaders.
But even then, Jews were able to go up to the Temple Mount. The Rambam wrote in a letter in 1165 that he “entered the Great and Holy House [and] prayed there.”
|Portrait of The Rambam. Public domain|
The Jewish traveler, Benjamin of Tudela, visited Jerusalem between 1159 and 1172, and writes there were Jews praying “in front of the Western Wall [of the Dome of the Rock], one of the [remaining] walls of what was once the Holy of Holies.” Loewenberg notes that the Western Wall described by Benjamin of Tudela could not be the current Western Wall because it did not become a site for prayer until the sixteenth century, but instead the reference is to the ruins of the western wall of the Second Temple building on the Temple Mount.
Even after Saladin captured Jerusalem back from the Crusaders in 1187, and even though the Temple Mount was re-consecrated as a Muslim sanctuary, Saladin still allowed Jews access not only to Jerusalem, but also to worship on the Temple Mount. Later, though, Saladin forbade Jews from praying there. From the late thirteenth to the mid-nineteenth century, the Temple Mount was basically off-limits to Jews, though occasionally they were allowed access.
The chief rabbi of Jerusalem, David ben Shlomo Ibn Zimra (Radbaz, 1479-1573) wrote that the city’s Jews regularly went to the Temple Mount in order to view the entire temple ruins and pray there and that “we have not heard or seen anyone object to this.”
After the Ottoman conquest of Jerusalem in 1516, Sultan Suleiman I encouraged European Jews, especially those expelled from Spain and Portugal a generation earlier, to resettle in Jerusalem. He instructed his court architect to prepare a special place for Jewish prayer in an alley at the bottom of the Western retaining wall of the Temple Mount in compensation for prohibiting all non-Muslims from entering any part of the Temple Mount. He issued a royal decree guaranteeing Jews the right to pray at this Western Wall for all time.
So much much for Jews not being allowed to pray on the Temple Mount under Muslim control. Halachic issues are one thing, but that Israel today allows the Arabs, who were defeated by Israel in 1967 when Jerusalem was reunified, to continue to have the power to dictate to Jews what they can and cannot do on the Temple Mount is mind boggling.
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