A Jewish couple’s furtive wedding on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem led one party leader to call for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday to choose between the “loony organization” that carried out the ceremony and public safety.
The announcement of the wedding came hours before Palestinian leaders, apparently unaware of the wedding, warned that Jews visiting the compound during the upcoming Passover festival will inflame tensions.
In a post — later deleted — on its Facebook page on Tuesday, the Temple Institute said that a couple asked Rabbi Chaim Richman to marry them on the Temple Mount, the Jerusalem holy site that has been a flashpoint for conflict between Israelis and the Palestinians.
The institute, a nonprofit organization that describes itself as “dedicated to every aspect of the Biblical commandment to build the Holy Temple of God on Mount Moriah [the Temple Mount] in Jerusalem,” said that part of the wedding ceremony was conducted earlier at the organization’s headquarters, after which the wedding party, including two official witnesses as required by Jewish law, headed up to the Temple Mount.
“While walking along the eastern perimeter of the Temple Mount, Rabbi Richman gave a tacit signal,” the institute wrote. “The two witnesses drew close to the groom, who, ring in hand, said quietly to the bride [in Hebrew], “Behold, you are sanctified to me with this ring, in accordance with the law of Moses and Israel,” and quickly slipped the ring on the bride’s finger.
Uttering the phrase and the placing of the ring on the bride’s finger “is the binding act of marriage in any Jewish wedding ceremony. The couple was now married.”
The group then left the site to complete the wedding ceremony at another location.
According to the institute, the brief nuptials were recorded on video but, at the request of the couple, only two still shots were published. In one picture, the groom can be seen placing the ring on the bride’s finger and in the second she holds up her hand showing the ring. Both photos were edited to cover the faces of those taking part. Other than Richman, the institute did not identify those who were present.
Jerusalem police did not publicly respond to the incident.
The Hebrew-language Ynet website, citing one of the participants, reported there were 13 people in the wedding party, one of whom acted as a decoy to distract the attention of police and Waqf officials while the brief ceremony was held last week.
In a Facebook post, MK Zehava Galon of the left-wing Meretz party seethed at the Temple Institute, saying it threatened the delicate status quo at the Temple Mount.
“Not only did the people of the Temple Institute decide to thumb their noses at the delicate understandings on the Temple Mount, they also decided to do it right in our faces,” she wrote.
“I don’t know if in the government they think that our blood is worthless, or that the lives of Israeli citizens is less important than a quarrel with a loony group that wants to set up the Third Temple and, along the way, change the conflict from a nationalistic conflict to a religious conflict.”
“The time has really come for the prime minister to take charge and decide what he wants: quiet on the streets or to continue to transfer hundreds of thousands [of shekels] to organizations that want to build a third temple and a third world war.”
Galon noted that although she supports freedom of worship for Jews on the Temple Mount, “there is a need to differentiate between that right, and the ability to exercise the right at the present moment.”
On Wednesday, Adnan Gaith, the head of Fatah’s armed Tanzim wing in Jerusalem, told Israel Radio that any calls by Jewish religious and political leaders to visit the flashpoint compound — which today houses the Muslim shrines of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock and is known in Arabic as Haram al-Sharif, or the Holy Sanctuary — “will not bring about peace or quiet.”
Jerusalem Mufti Sheikh Muhammad Ahmad Hussein, the Muslim cleric in charge of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, also warned against increased Jewish “provocations” at the compound during the Jewish festival, which begins next Friday evening.
Both Gheit and Hussein, who did not appear to be referring to the Temple Mount wedding, accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of exacerbating tensions there.
Muslims regard the compound as the third-holiest site in Islam, after Mecca and Medina.
In Judaism, the Temple Mount is so holy that Jews have traditionally refrained from setting foot there due to Jewish ritual purity rules, congregating instead at the adjacent Western Wall, a retaining wall of the ancient temple complex, which has become the top holy spot for Jewish prayer. But during Passover, some religiously observant Jews seek to visit the Mount in homage to the pilgrimages taken by Jews to the site in biblical times.
Under an agreement between the Israeli government and Islamic authorities at the site reached after Israel’s conquest of the Old City of Jerusalem in 1967, Jews are allowed to visit but not pray at the site, which is revered as the location of both ancient Jewish temples.
Jewish visitors suspected of violating the Temple Mount prayer ban are routinely arrested by police.
Clashes between Palestinian youths and Israeli security forces erupted at the compound in September 2015 amid fears among Muslims that Israel was planning to change rules governing the site. Israel denied any such plans.
Tamar Pileggi contributed to this report.