Israel's leading ultra-Orthodox rabbis are waging a new offensive against Jews visiting Jerusalem's Temple Mount. Rabbis Shalom Elyashiv, Chaim Kanievsky and Ovadia Yosef sent a letter recently to Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovich, the overseer of holy places in the Western Wall complex, urging him to reiterate the religious decree signed 40 years ago by most rabbis in Israel forbidding Jews from entering the Mount.
The rabbis' efforts follow the publication in Haaretz last month of the visit of Rabbi Moshe Tendler, the son-in-law of prominent U.S. rabbi Moshe Feinstein, to the Temple Mount. Rabbi Tendler was photographed visiting the plaza atop the Mount, where the Dome of the Rock Islamic shrine now sits, igniting a firestorm of controversy in the ultra-Orthodox community. Several other prominent ultra-Orthodox rabbis have ascended the Mount in recent years, including Rabbi Dov Kook of Tiberias, the husband of Elyashiv's granddaughter.
The rabbis' statement calls for a complete ban on entering any part of the Temple Mount complex for fear of compromising the "purity" of the area.
The declaration stated that "as time passed, 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," referring to the inner sanctuary of the Temple tabernacle.
Rabbi Elyashiv urged Rabinovich to place notices and guards around the complex to warn the faithful of the prohibition.
Rabbi Kanievsky wrote 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."
After Israel gained control of the Temple Mount in the 1967 Six-Day War, the chief rabbinate placed signs around the complex informing visitors that entering the area would result in divine punishment, namely death.
But recent years have seen a change in position among national-religious rabbis, many of whom have made efforts to lift the ban on visiting the Mount. The change in position is due partly to damage caused to Jewish antiquities at the site, and the denial by Muslim authorities of Jewish links to the area. Kiryat Shmona chief rabbi Zephania Drori, chief rabbi of Judea and Samaria Dov Lior and Ma'aleh Adumim yeshiva head Nahum Rabinovich are among the religious authorities calling for a review of the ban.