In Shift, Israel Quietly Allows Jewish Prayer on Temple Mount (Published 2021) (2023)


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Jewish activists say they are exercising their right to free worship at a site holy to Jews and Muslims. But the change upsets a longstanding compromise aimed at staving off conflict.

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In Shift, Israel Quietly Allows Jewish Prayer on Temple Mount (Published 2021) (1)

By Patrick Kingsley and Adam Rasgon

JERUSALEM — The Israeli government has long forbidden Jews to pray on the Temple Mount, a site sacred to Jews and Muslims, yet Rabbi Yehudah Glick made little effort to hide his prayers. In fact, he was livestreaming them.

“Oh Lord!” prayed Rabbi Glick, as he filmed himself on his phone on a recent morning. “Save my soul from false lips and deceitful tongues!”

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Since Israel captured the Old City of Jerusalem from Jordan in 1967, it has maintained a fragile religious balance at the Temple Mount, the most divisive site in Jerusalem: Only Muslims can worship there, while Jews can pray at the Western Wall below.

But recently the government has quietly allowed increasing numbers of Jews to pray there, a shift that could aggravate the instability in East Jerusalem and potentially lead to religious conflict.

“It’s a sensitive place,” said Ehud Olmert, a former Israeli prime minister. “And sensitive places such as this, which have an enormous potential for explosion, need to be treated with care.”

Rabbi Glick, an American-born, right-wing former lawmaker, has been leading efforts to change the status quo for decades. He characterizes his effort as a matter of religious freedom: If Muslims can pray there, why not Jews?

“God is the master of all humanity,” he said. “And he wants every one of us to be here to worship, every one in his own style.”


But the prohibition of Jewish prayer on the 37-acre plateau that once held two ancient Jewish temples was part of a longstanding compromise to avoid conflict at a site that has been a frequent flash point in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Under the arrangement, the Jordanian government has retained administrative oversight of the Temple Mount, known to Arabs as the Noble Sanctuary or the Aqsa compound. The Aqsa Mosque and the golden Dome of the Rock, a shrine that Muslim tradition considers to be the spot where the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven, are situated on its limestone plaza.

Israel has overall security authority and maintains a small police station there.

The government officially allows non-Muslims to visit the site for several hours each morning on the condition that they not pray there. Though no Israeli law explicitly bars Jewish prayer there, Jewish visitors who attempt to pray there have historically been removed or reprimanded by the police.

When this balance of power has appeared to teeter, it has often led to violence.

When Ariel Sharon, a former Israeli prime minister, toured the mount in 2000, surrounded by hundreds of police officers, the provocation led to the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising.

When Israel briefly installed metal detectors at the mount’s gates in 2017, it led to unrest that left several people dead and briefly threatened to unleash another major uprising.

And when the Israeli police raided the compound several times last spring, it contributed to tensions that led to an 11-day war with Hamas, the militant Islamist group in the Gaza Strip, as well as days of unrest within Israel.

The policy began to change during the tenure of Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, who led coalitions of right-wing and religious parties. Rabbi Glick said that the police began to allow him and his allies to pray on the mount more openly five years ago.


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The numbers have quietly increased, but to avoid a backlash, the policy was not widely publicized. That changed last month, after Mr. Netanyahu was replaced by Naftali Bennett. Suddenly, Israeli news outlets published images and footage of dozens of Jews praying openly on the mount, including a lawmaker from Mr. Bennett’s party, forcing Mr. Bennett to address the issue publicly.

Mr. Bennett initially appeared to confirm a formal change in policy, saying that all religions would have “freedom of worship” on Temple Mount, to the delight of some members of his own hard-right party.

A day later, after criticism from Jordan and leftist and Arab members of his governing coalition, he backtracked, issuing a statement that the status quo ante remained in place. His office repeated that claim after a recent inquiry from The New York Times, providing a six-word comment: “No change in the status quo.”

But in reality, dozens of Jews now openly pray every day in a secluded part of the eastern flank of the site, and their Israeli police escorts no longer attempt to stop them.

On two recent mornings, Times reporters witnessed Israeli officers standing between Jewish worshipers and officials from the Waqf, the Jordanian-led body that manages the mount, preventing the latter from intervening.

To many Palestinians, the shift is provocative and unfair. They feel that Muslims have already made a big concession at the Western Wall, which is now used mostly by Jewish worshipers despite its also being important to Muslims. In 1967, Israel even razed an Arab neighborhood beside the wall to create more space for Jewish prayer.

Sheikh Omar al-Kiswani, the director of the mosque, said that the Aqsa compound should be reserved for Muslim prayer, in recognition of its importance to Muslims. Many Palestinians consider the Aqsa compound the embodiment of Palestinian identity, the animating force behind the aspiration for a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem.


“It has been named Al Aqsa since the Prophet Muhammad rose to heaven there,” Sheikh Omar said.

The de facto change in policy is just part of a larger pattern of slights against Palestinian dignity across the occupied territories, he said.

“This is the prevalent reality, not only at the Aqsa Mosque, but also at checkpoints and other places in Palestine,” he said. “We face constant racist discrimination and infringement on our human rights.”

To many Orthodox Jews, the shift is also problematic.

The mount was once the site of two Jewish temples where tradition holds that God’s presence was revealed. Jews ascending the mount risk treading on a site too sacred for human footfall, they argue, since the temples’ exact locations are unknown. For this reason many rabbis, including the senior rabbinical authorities of the Israeli state, prohibit Jews from entry.

But to some Jews, like Rabbi Glick, there is great virtue to praying as close as possible to the location of the ruined temples.

Rabbi Glick says he is not there to provoke. But as he crossed the mount, guarded by six armed police officers, mosque officials and passers-by filmed him. The videos were soon circulated on Twitter, captioned with angry commentary.

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“The extremists never used to come this far inside,” said Azzam Khatib, the deputy chairman of the Waqf council. “Now they’re taking over the whole plaza, with the protection of the police.”

Part of the resistance to allowing Jewish prayer on Temple Mount stems from the fact that some activists like Rabbi Glick want to do more than just pray there.

Ultimately, they seek to build a third Jewish temple on the site of the Dome of the Rock, the third-holiest place in Islam. Rabbi Glick says this temple would be open to all religions, and would be made possible through dialogue with Muslims.


But to Muslims, it is an offensive non-starter.

“It will lead to a religious war,” said Mr. Khatib. “But if everyone stays in their own places of worship, we’ll have peace.”

Some Jewish activists have even prepared a stone altar nearby, ready for installation on the mount as soon as it becomes politically feasible to move it there. Their group, the Temple Institute, has also worked with architects to design the floor plan of a new Jewish temple there.

While many see the group as marginal, the organization claims its ideas are gradually growing in currency.

“Twenty or 30 years ago there was no public discourse about this,” said Rabbi Yisrael Ariel, the president of the institute’s board, who as a young paratrooper helped capture the mount in 1967. “Temple Mount was forgotten.”

But the controversy over the prime minister’s recent comments about “freedom to worship” brought the issue to wider consciousness, he said.

“This was a very beneficial debate,” said Rabbi Ariel. “It’s bringing a lot more people to the Temple Mount.”


A correction was made on

Aug. 25, 2021


An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of the president of the board of the Temple Institute, which supports the construction of a new Jewish temple at the Temple Mount. He is Rabbi Yisrael Ariel, not Israel Arieli.

How we handle corrections

Patrick Kingsley is the Jerusalem bureau chief, covering Israel and the occupied territories. He has reported from more than 40 countries, written two books and previously covered migration and the Middle East for The Guardian. @PatrickKingsley

Adam Rasgon reports from Israel for The Times's Jerusalem bureau. He previously covered the Palestinian territories and the Arab world for The Times of Israel. @adamrasgon

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Why Jews are not allowed to pray in Temple Mount? ›

After Israel captured the site in 1967, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel announced that entering the Temple Mount was forbidden to Jews, in accordance with a halakhic prohibition against temei ha'met (Impurity by contacting the dead, cemeteries etc.).

What is the difference between Temple Mount and Dome of the Rock? ›

For Muslims, Temple Mount is known as the Noble Sanctuary or Haram al-Sharif. The Al-Aqsa Mosque is the 3rd holiest site in the world in Islam. The Dome of the Rock is a shrine that contains the Foundation Stone and marks the spot where Muhammad ascended into heaven.

Is the Temple Mount the holiest site in Judaism? ›

The Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism. According to Jewish tradition and scripture, the First Temple was built by King Solomon, the son of King David, in 957 BCE, and was destroyed by the Neo-Babylonian Empire, together with Jerusalem, in 587 BCE.

Why is the Temple Mount important to Muslims? ›

Biblically, this is where Abraham offered his son Isaac as a sacrifice. The Temple Mount is the third holiest site for Muslims after Mecca and Medina. Alongside the Abrahamic history of the site, in Muslim tradition, this is where the Prophet Mohammed made his “Night Journey” to the throne of God.

Do Jews pray towards the temple? ›

Jews traditionally pray in the direction of Jerusalem, where the "presence of the transcendent God (shekinah) [resided] in the Holy of Holies of the Temple." Within the Holy of Holies lay the Ark of the Covenant that contained the Ten Commandments tablets given to the prophet Moses by God; this is the reason that the ...

Are Muslims allowed to visit Israel? ›

Every nationality is allowed to enter Israel, but some need a visa approved in advance. Check out our article on visas to Israel to see which type of visa you'll need for your journey.

Can Christians enter the Dome of the Rock? ›

Non-Muslim visitors are not allowed to enter the Dome of the Rock, but can get a close look from the Temple Mount courtyard during regular non-Muslim visiting hours. As with other holy sites in Jerusalem, visitors to the Temple Mount are asked to dress modestly.

Does the Dome of the Rock belong to the Jews? ›

Arabic QUBBAT AS-SAKHRAH, also erroneously referred to as the MOSQUE OF OMAR, this shrine in Jerusalem is the oldest extant Islamic monument. The rock over which the shrine was built is sacred to both Muslims and Jews.

Is the Holy of Holies in the Dome of the Rock? ›

In addition, the Dome of the Rock is believed by many to stand directly over the site of the Holy of Holies of both Solomon's Temple and Herod's Temple. The Dome of the Rock was built by the Umayyad caliph Abd al-Malik from 688 to 691 AD.

What is the most holy place in Christianity? ›

Located in the Christian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, the Edicule, also known as the Tomb of Christ, within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is the most holy site for many mainstream denominations within Christianity.

What is the most religious area in Israel? ›

Jerusalem has been sacred to the Jews since the 10th century BC. The Western Wall, a remnant of the Second Temple, is a holy site for Jews, second only to the Temple Mount itself. Christianity reveres Jerusalem not only for its role in the Old Testament but also for its significance in the life of Jesus.

What is the holiest city in Christianity? ›

The city of Jerusalem is sacred to many religious traditions, including the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam which consider it a holy city. Some of the most sacred places for each of these religions are found in Jerusalem and the one shared between all three is the Temple Mount.

How did the Muslims take control of the Temple Mount? ›

After Israel took control of the Temple Mount, it granted the Islamic Waqf (see below) responsibility for the administration of the site. The Islamic Waqf was first established by Muslim military leader Saladin in 1187 CE, following his recapture of Jerusalem from the Crusaders.

Why do Jews pray at the Western Wall? ›

Because of the Temple Mount entry restrictions, the Wall is the holiest place where Jews are permitted to pray outside the previous Temple Mount platform, as the presumed site of the Holy of Holies, the most sacred site in the Jewish faith, lies just behind it.

What makes the Temple Mount unique? ›

The Temple Mount is believed by Jews to be the site of two biblical temples. It is Judaism's holiest site, but Jews are not allowed to pray there. It is located above the Western Wall, part of an old temple and the holiest site where Jews can pray.

Do Jews pray directly to God? ›

Instead, a Jew prays at home and in the synagogue: they invite God into their daily lives in the blessings they recite each day, and they are reminded of and connect to the will of God while also studying and discussing – on a daily basis – the Word of God.

Can you pray anywhere in Judaism? ›

God's presence is everywhere, and being that prayer is about conversing with God, one can and should pray anywhere and everywhere. That said, Halacha (Jewish law) teaches us the importance of creating what is called a makom kavua or an “established place” for prayer.

Which temple do Jews worship in? ›

synagogue, also spelled synagog, in Judaism, a community house of worship that serves as a place not only for liturgical services but also for assembly and study.

Are Christians allowed to go to Israel? ›

Not only is Israel considered Christianity's place of birth, but it helps Christians connect with their religion which is why it is vital for any Christian to make at least one trip to Israel in their lifetime. Visiting the Holy Land does help one visualize and reimagine the events that they read in the bible.

Should I carry my passport with me in Israel? ›

All visitors to Israel must hold a passport that is valid for at least six months from the date they are departing the country. People with no nationality must hold a valid laissez-passer, as well as a visa back to the country that issued it.

Can you drink in public in Israel? ›

There are laws about when, and where you can drink. You must be over 18yrs old to drink alcohol in Israel. Drinking alcohol in public is illegal from 11pm to 7am. The sale of alcohol outside of bars and restaurants is illegal from11pm to 6am.

Can anyone enter the Temple Mount? ›

Temple Mount can be accessed by 11 gates in the Old City of Jerusalem but tourists and non-Muslims are only allowed to enter through the Moroccan Gate which is also known as Mugrabi Gate.

Is there a temple in Jerusalem today? ›

After the destruction of the second temple, it was rebuilt by the second Rashidun Caliph, Omar, which stands until today as Al-Aqsa Mosque.

What time should I go to Temple Mount? ›

The policy of visiting the Temple Mount

The policy for ascending to the Temple Mount is strict, and the main regulations include: Entry to the mountain is allowed from Sunday to Thursday. During winter time – between 7:00-10:30 and 12:30-13:30. During summer time – between 7:00-11:00 and 13:30-14:30.

What do Christians call the Dome of the Rock? ›

In the Middle Ages, Christians and Jews identified the Dome of the Rock with the Temple of Solomon (Templum Domini); its image was iconographically employed in both artwork and ritual objects to represent the Temple.

Why is the Dome of the Rock holy to Muslims? ›

Introduction. The Dome of the Rock (Qubbat al-Sakhra) is an octagonal structure on an elevated platform in the middle of the Temple Mount area in Jerusalem. It is revered by most Muslims as the spot from which the Prophet Muhammad ascended to Heaven.

What religion built the Dome of the Rock? ›

Dome of the Rock
The Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount (Al-Aqsa Mosque) in the Old City of Jerusalem
12 more rows

Where is the Holy of Holies located today? ›

Holy of Holies, Hebrew Qodesh Ha-qadashim, also called Devir, the innermost and most sacred area of the ancient Temple of Jerusalem, accessible only to the Israelite high priest.

Where is the Ark of the Covenant today? ›

According to church leaders, the Ark of the Covenant has for centuries been closely guarded in Aksum at the Church of St. Mary of Zion.

Can we enter the Holy of Holies? ›

We have access to Him all the time, no matter what! Hebrews 9 tells us that Jesus entered the Most Holy Place once for all by His own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. Now we enter the same way, through His precious blood, for it made a way for us.

What is the holiest Church in the world? ›

Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Wikimedia | © OpenStreetMap
31°46′42″N 35°13′47″E
LocationChristian Quarter, Old City of Jerusalem
DenominationCatholic, Armenian Apostolic, Greek Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox, Syriac Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox
16 more rows

What religion was Jesus? ›

He was born of a Jewish mother, in Galilee, a Jewish part of the world. All of his friends, associates, colleagues, disciples, all of them were Jews. He regularly worshipped in Jewish communal worship, what we call synagogues. He preached from Jewish text, from the Bible.

Which religion dominates Israel? ›

About eight-in-ten (81%) Israeli adults are Jewish, while the remainder are mostly ethnically Arab and religiously Muslim (14%), Christian (2%) or Druze (2%). Overall, the Arab religious minorities in Israel are more religiously observant than Jews.

What is the largest religion in the world? ›

Largest religious groups
ReligionFollowers (billions)Cultural tradition
Christianity2.4Abrahamic religions
Islam1.9Abrahamic religions
Hinduism1.2Indian religions
Buddhism0.5Indian religions
1 more row

What are the 3 holy cities of Christianity? ›

holy places
  • Jerusalem. In Jerusalem: Roman rule. Christian pilgrims to Jerusalem are not recorded until the 4th century. ...
  • Palestine. In Palestine: Roman Palestine. ...
  • Rome. In Rome: Factional struggles: papacy and nobility. ...
  • Santiago de Compostela. In Santiago de Compostela.

What is the oldest religion in the world? ›

Hinduism has been called the oldest religion in the world. The word Hindu is an exonym although many practitioners refer to their religion as Sanātana Dharma (Sanskrit: सनातन धर्म, lit.

Who is the father of Judaism? ›

For Jews, Abraham is seen as the one from whom all Jews are descended. Abraham is the father of Isaac and grandfather of Jacob, who is renamed Israel and whose 12 sons represent the tribes of Israel. For Christians, Abraham is seen as the “father of the faith” and is honored for his obedience.

Who built the Temple Mount and why? ›

As the site for a future temple, David chose Mount Moriah, or the Temple Mount, where it was believed Abraham had built the altar on which to sacrifice his son Isaac. The First Temple was constructed during the reign of David's son, Solomon, and completed in 957 BC.

Why can't the Temple Mount be excavated? ›

Due to the extreme political sensitivity of the site, few archaeological excavations have been conducted on the Temple Mount itself. Protests commonly occur whenever archaeologists conduct projects on or near the Mount.

Who built Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem? ›

Can Jews go to the Western Wall? ›

Jewish people have been praying at the wall for two thousand years and travel from around the world to gather and pray at this holy site. Jews pray facing the wall three times daily, often in tears which is why some refer to the wall as the "Wailing Wall".

Can you touch the Wailing Wall? ›

If you want, you can touch the wall, pray, and even deposit a written prayer on a piece of paper in the gaps between the large stones.

Who can pray at the Wailing Wall? ›

The Western Wall is considered the holiest site where Jews can pray. Under ultra-Orthodox management, the wall is currently separated between men's and women's prayer sections.

Can non Muslims visit the Temple Mount? ›

When visiting Jerusalem, many people want to see the Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock. The Temple Mount is a holy site within the Old City of Jerusalem for Jewish, Christian, and Muslim people. All visitors are able to tour the compound and the Al-Aqsa Mosque, with the exception of the Dome of the Rock.

What was the major discovery in the Temple Mount? ›

While doing renovation at the famed Temple Mount, Israeli archaeologists discovered a sealed layer containing fragments of ceramic table vessels and animal bones. The items have been dated by Israeli scientists to the First Temple in the eighth century B.C. - roughly during the reign of the biblical King Hezekiah.

How many times has Jerusalem been destroyed? ›

During its long history, Jerusalem has been destroyed twice, besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times, and captured and recaptured 44 times.

Why is the Temple Mount the holy site? ›

As the site for a future temple, David chose Mount Moriah, or the Temple Mount, where it was believed Abraham had built the altar on which to sacrifice his son Isaac. The First Temple was constructed during the reign of David's son, Solomon, and completed in 957 BC.

What does the Temple Mount mean to Jews? ›

For Jews, the Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism and is where the First and Second Holy Temples, which were destroyed in ancient times, once stood. The area served as the spiritual center of the Jewish people for centuries, and it remains a focal point of Jewish liturgy and collective identity.

What is the mosque under the Temple Mount? ›

The Dome and Al-Aqsa Mosque are both located on the Temple Mount, the site of Solomon's Temple and its successors. The Dome of the Rock was built between AD 685 and 691 by the caliph 'Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan, not as a mosque for public worship but rather as a mashhad, a shrine for pilgrims.

What is the holiest site in Christianity? ›

Located in the Christian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, the Edicule, also known as the Tomb of Christ, within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is the most holy site for many mainstream denominations within Christianity.

Did Jesus go to the Temple in Jerusalem? ›

According to the gospel, Mary and Joseph took the baby Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem forty days after his birth to complete Mary's ritual purification after childbirth, and to perform the redemption of the firstborn, in obedience to the Law of Moses, Leviticus 12, Exodus 13:12-15.

What did the Jews call the Temple? ›

synagogue, also spelled synagog, in Judaism, a community house of worship that serves as a place not only for liturgical services but also for assembly and study.

Who controls the Dome of the Rock? ›

The Dome is maintained by the Ministry of Awqaf in Amman, Jordan. Until the mid-20th century, non-Muslims were not permitted in the area. Since 1967, non-Muslims have been permitted limited access; however non-Muslims are not permitted to pray on the Temple Mount, bring prayer books, or wear religious apparel.

What is Mount Moriah called today? ›

Jewish tradition says that Mount Moriah — now known as the Temple Mount — is the site of Creation itself. According to Hebrew for Christians, the Jewish sages believe that God created the world at Moriah, and that the “foundation stone,” the Even-ha-Shetiyah, is there.

What has been found under the Temple Mount? ›

The excavations included many archaeological finds along the way, including discoveries from the Herodian period (streets, monumental masonry), sections of a reconstruction of the Western Wall dating to the Umayyad period, and various structures dating to the Ayyubid, Mamluk, and Hasmonean periods constructed to ...

Where do Jews pray? ›

Instead, a Jew prays at home and in the synagogue: they invite God into their daily lives in the blessings they recite each day, and they are reminded of and connect to the will of God while also studying and discussing – on a daily basis – the Word of God.


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