ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 148

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Chief Sephardic rabbi: Ben Gvir’s Temple Mount visits are a ‘sin’

Rebuke is an escalation in the rhetoric around ultranationalist minister’s pilgrimages to the site in defiance of rulings by some rabbis

Cnaan Lidor is The Times of Israel's Jewish World reporter

File: Israel's Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef at the International Convention Center, on February 1, 2022. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
File: Israel's Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef at the International Convention Center, on February 1, 2022. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Yitzhak Yosef, the Sephardic chief rabbi of Israel, accused National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir of “sinning and causing others to sin” by visiting the Temple Mount.

Ben Gvir, a far-right politician who regularly visits the holy site, has defied multiple rabbinical rulings stating that Jewish Orthodox law forbids Jews to enter the Temple Mount, Yosef said, citing principles detailed in halacha, Jewish Orthodox law, about preserving the purity of the site, considered the holiest in Judaism.

Yosef referenced Ben Gvir during his weekly Saturday night filmed sermon. “One of the cabinet’s ministers — I won’t name him, it wouldn’t be appropriate to name him here in this place — enters the Temple Mount publicly, sinning and causing others to sin. People err and enter the Temple Mount,” Yosef said.

He and some other rabbis have consistently condemned Ben Gvir for his Temple Mount visits, which are also widely controversial because of the site’s geopolitical volatility and sanctity for Muslims.

But labeling Ben Gvir’s actions as sinful is an escalation for Yosef, who in the past has limited himself to criticizing Ben Gvir for “setting up others to err” and “violating a prohibition.”

Ben Gvir has used his pilgrimages as minister to send out a political message, declaring on his May drop-in that “we are the owners here.”

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, center, visits the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem, May 21, 2023. (Courtesy: Minhelet Har Habayit)

He has responded to religious criticism by citing other rabbis who permit and welcome visits by Jews to the Temple Mount.

“I am acting in accordance with the position of my rabbis, who believe that visiting the Temple Mount is a mitzvah,” Ben Gvir said, using the Hebrew-language word for duty or commandment.

Ben Gvir named Dov Lior, a former chief rabbi of the Kiryat Arba settlement near Hebron, and Yehuda Kroizer, the rabbi of the Mitzpe Yericho settlement and a promoter of the teaching of Meir Kahane, the late ultranationalist rabbi and politician, whose Kach movement is considered a terrorist group in the United States and Israel.

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