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50,000 visits a year: Jews increasingly flock to Temple Mount amid escalation fears

Ahead of Rosh Hashanah, group says visits nearly doubled in past year; police gear up for tense holiday season

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Jews visit the Temple Mount, August 7, 2022. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)
Jews visit the Temple Mount, August 7, 2022. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)

Jews visited the Temple Mount more than 50,000 times over the past year, a record high and nearly twice as many as the year before, according to an activist group.

The umbrella group of Temple Mount activists Beyadenu, which tracks the number of visits to the Temple Mount by Jews, released the figures in recent days ahead of the Jewish new year, Rosh Hashanah, that takes place next week.

According to the group, as of last Thursday, Jews visited the holy site 50,000 times over the past Jewish year (since September 7, 2021), with more still expected to make the pilgrimage ahead of the new year.

This appears to be the largest number of visits to the Temple Mount by Jews since the site came into Israeli hands in the 1967 Six Day War and thus the largest number since the Second Temple was destroyed in 70 CE.

The meteoric rise in the number of visits to the Temple Mount represents a major shift and a resounding victory for groups like Beyadenu that push for Jews to not only be allowed to visit the flashpoint site, but to pray there as well.

The Temple Mount is the holiest place in Judaism and the third-holiest place in Islam, though it holds particularly strong national significance for Palestinians. It is also a frequent site of violence, primarily between Muslim men and Israeli police. Non-Muslims are allowed to visit the site at certain hours, but are officially barred from praying there (though quiet prayers have increasingly been allowed, to the chagrin of Muslims).

This massive rise in the number of visitors and the slow expansion of Jewish prayer on the site — developments that a small but dedicated group of Jewish activists have cultivated over the course of the past three decades or so — has prompted regular claims by Muslim authorities that Israel is changing the status quo on the Temple Mount, along with occasionally violent protests, despite official Israeli denials.

The more than 50,000 visits is nearly twice as many as in the year before — 25,582 — and far more than the previous record of 29,420, which was set from September 10, 2018, to September 30, 2019.

The figure marks the number of visits to the Temple Mount, not visitors, so it is unclear whether this statistic represents a major rise in the number of pilgrims or whether the same devotees are making the trip more frequently. The answer is likely a mixture of the two, as the past year has seen a number of days with a far larger than normal number of discrete visitors, such as on last month’s Tisha B’Av, a day of mourning on which 2,200 Jews ascended the Temple Mount this year on that day alone, according to Beyadenu.

The Israel Police on Sunday warned of potential unrest ahead of the upcoming holiday period, which begin next Sunday night with Rosh Hashanah and continues through the middle of next month with the Simhat Torah holiday on October 17.

To prepare for this tense period, the police have deployed some 2,000 officers around the capital and have also issued restraining orders against a number of Muslims and Jews who were seen as potential instigators of violence and unrest in Jerusalem.

Speaking to reporters on Sunday, Jerusalem District Commander Doron Turgeman said that visits to the Temple Mount would continue as usual during the holiday season and that police would remove anyone who violated the rules of the site.

“Regular practices in place at the [Temple Mount] for years will be maintained. The dates of visits will not be changed. Anyone who breaks the rules will be removed from the mount,” Turgeman said.

Police said they were also working with the Waqf — the Jordan-funded trust that administers the site — to prevent an escalation of violence.

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