A controversial former Jewish Home party candidate for the Knesset was one of the visitors who violated rules barring Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount Wednesday, prompting his removal and leading police to briefly close the site to non-Muslims that day.
The site has reemerged as a flashpoint in recent days, with Muslim protesters holding at-times violent demonstrations in protest of Israel’s placement of metal detectors at the gates to the Temple Mount compound, following a terror attack last week. Last Friday’s deadly attack saw three Arab Israelis emerge from the compound and shoot dead two police officers who were guarding one of the entrances.
The Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism, the place where the two ancient Jewish Temples stood. It is the third holiest site in Islam, as the spot where the prophet Mohammed ascended to heaven.
Israel captured the Temple Mount and the rest of the Old City and East Jerusalem from Jordan in 1967, and extended sovereignty there, but it left administrative authority atop the Mount in the hands of the Jordanian Waqf (Muslim trust), and instituted a status quo agreement that sees Jews permitted to visit but not pray there. Waqf guards and Israeli police who escort Jewish groups on the Temple Mount have removed worshipers for uttering silent supplications or reciting liturgic passages.
In an 11-minute video posted to YouTube from his Wednesday visit, Rabbi Jeremy Gimpel said he was going to the site in the hope that he would, for the first time, be allowed to pray openly.
“This is probably one of the most exciting days that I can ever remember. The Temple Mount is open up for Jews to actually pray there,” claimed Gimpel, incorrectly, at the beginning of the video, which tracked his experience before, during, and after his visit to the holy site.
Following the terror attack, in which the three Arab-Israeli gunmen killed two Israeli Druze police officers, Israel took the rare move of closing the compound while it searched for more weaponry. It reopened the site to Muslims on Sunday and to non-Muslims on Monday. Since it was reopened to non-Muslims, a number of incidents have been recorded of Jews praying at the site.
Standing at the Western Wall before alighting the ramp that takes non-Muslim visitors to the Temple Mount, Gimpel said in the video, “It’s time for us to go above the wall. It’s time for us to go beyond our barriers. It is time for a new era in Jewish history.”
Moments later, however, Gimpel told the camera that a police officer just informed him he would not be allowed to pray there. “I just can’t believe it. My heart is literally just broken,” he says.
On the Temple Mount, police allowed the Jewish group to stand in silent meditation but told them they would not be permitted to move their lips. But overcome by what he called “a spiritual explosion,” Gimpel disregarded the instructions and prostrated himself on the ground, facing the area where the center of the Jewish Temple is said to have stood.
“I hope you’re not mad at me, but I have to do what I have to do,” he recounted telling the police officer who then dragged him from the site, while describing the incident as “one of the highlights of my life.”
After the incident, Jerusalem police chief Yoram Halevi briefly ordered the site closed to non-Muslims. “The Israel Police operates within a series of balances to uphold the law and the rules of the site and won’t allow anyone to violate the law in any way,” a police statement said.
American-born Gimpel is no stranger to controversy over his views on the Temple Mount.
In the run-up to the 2013 election, in which he was placed 14th on the Jewish Home list, Gimpel was widely criticized when footage emerged of a 2011 speech in Florida in which he talked about the theoretical possibility of the Dome of the Rock shrine being blown up and the cornerstone of a third Jewish Temple laid in its place.
In his speech, Gimpel urged his audience in a Florida church to imagine “the golden dome” — the 1,300-year-old Muslim shrine atop the mount. “Let’s say the dome was blown up and we laid the cornerstone of the temple,” Gimpel said with enthusiasm. He told the Christian audience that they’d surely all rush to be in Israel if that happened. Gimpel added that he was refraining from expressing more radical sentiments since the speech was being recorded.
Gimpel later defended the statements by claiming they were jokes, made to spruce up his lecture to a Christian group, and were taken out of context. But the video hit the Jewish Home just as it was rising in the polls. The Orthodox-nationalist party ended up winning 12 Knesset seats, leaving Gimpel, who had been considered likely to become an MK, out of parliament.
Gimpel, who now runs The Land of Israel broadcasting network aimed at promoting Israel to Evangelical Christians, on Thursday called on the Israeli government to change the long-held status quo on the Temple Mount to allow full Jewish prayer.
“Jews are a minority in the Middle East and although we have our own country, we do not yet have freedom at our holiest site. It is time for the government of Israel to protect our freedom of religion together with the freedom of all who seek to pray on the Temple Mount,” he said. “Israel prides itself on being the only democracy in the Middle East but when it comes to Jewish freedom and equality, Israel is morally deficient.”
Israel has said repeatedly it has no plans to change the status quo at the Mount but Gimpel said the situation changed “when Muslim Arabs killed 2 Israeli police officers. They changed the status and Israel should respond with conviction and moral clarity.”
“Until we arrive at a place where Muslims respect Jewish freedom of prayer, either out of a maturation process or by submitting to Israel’s authority, this war will never end,” he said.