Ministry to review Jewish prayer on Temple Mount
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Ministry to review Jewish prayer on Temple Mount

Jews are currently permitted to ascend to the volatile holy site, but police forbid them from worshiping there

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Religious Jews visiting the Temple Mount, March 27, 2013. (photo credit: Sliman Khader/Flash90)
Religious Jews visiting the Temple Mount, March 27, 2013. (photo credit: Sliman Khader/Flash90)

The director-general of the Religious Affairs Ministry has announced that regulations governing the right of Jews to pray on the Temple Mount will be reviewed and updated in an initiative that may relax an informal ban on worship at the holy site.

During a special meeting of the Knesset Interior Committee Wednesday, Elhanan Galat said his office was looking into a range of changes to the current laws, which have been in place for nearly half a decade. The meeting, presided over by MK Miri Regev (Likud), met under the heading “Jewish ascension to the Temple Mount and state authority on the mount.”

A Religious Affairs Ministry spokeswoman told The Times of Israel that the matter was currently under review and that the ministry did not have any specific ideas or changes it wished to promote beyond the general intention of improving Jewish prayer rights at the site.

Under current laws, Jews are allowed to ascend the mount and pray at the site, which is the revered as the location of both ancient Jewish temples. However, police have the right to veto any visits and in practice prevent both prayer and high-profile Jewish visits.

Regev has spearheaded a recent campaign to uphold Jewish prayer on the controversial site, despite the explosive security and political implications.

Last week Regev canceled a planned Interior Committee tour of the Temple Mount at the request of police.

MKs debate the issue of Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount at the Knesset Interior Committee, Wednesday, May 8, 2012 (photo credit: Knesset spokesman)
MKs debate the issue of Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount at the Knesset Interior Committee, Wednesday, May 8, 2012 (photo credit: Knesset spokesman)

“The issue of prayer arrangements on the Temple Mount and the holy places is of utmost sensitivity and requires a thorough examination,” Regev said at the time. “That said, if the planned visit has the potential to increase tension, I’m not going to go ahead with it.”

She emphasized, however, that “canceling the tour doesn’t mean giving up Jews’ right to pray on the Temple Mount, the holiest place for the Jewish people.”

Muslims believe the mount is where the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven and embarked on a night journey through the air to Mecca. The day-to-day functioning of the site is in the hands of the Islamic Waqf, as it has been since Israel captured the site in the 1967 Six Day War, and Israeli governments have been stringent about maintaining the status quo. Because of its importance to Muslims and the inherent tension of such a place being under the control of Israel, any altercation there resonates across the Islamic world and has the potential for deadly results.

MK Miri Regev at a Knesset committee meeting in May. (photo credit: Uri Lenz/FLASH90)
MK Miri Regev at a Knesset committee meeting in May. (photo credit: Uri Lenz/FLASH90)

At the moment, Israeli police and Waqf guards keep close tabs on visitors identifiable as religious Jews. If any are seen moving their lips in prayer, or prostrating themselves on the smooth stones of the shrine, they are expelled and detained.

Last week Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein approved a decision to prevent MK Moshe Feiglin (Likud) from visiting the Temple Mount for fear that it could spark violence and endanger Israel’s security.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was behind the decision, which he based on intelligence assessments that the MK’s visit could escalate tension at the site, Army Radio reported.

A visit to the Temple Mount by then-prime ministerial candidate Ariel Sharon in 2000 is widely considered one of the sparks that led to the Second Intifada.

Michal Shmulovich and Matti Friedman contributed to this report.

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