Police detain several people seeking to carry out animal sacrifice at Temple Mount

Cops stop a number of individuals with goats or lambs as they try to bring them to sensitive holy site to perform ancient ritual; act seen as having explosive potential

A policeman detains a youth with a lamb he is suspected of intending to sacrifice on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, April 5, 2023. (Social media; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
A policeman detains a youth with a lamb he is suspected of intending to sacrifice on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, April 5, 2023. (Social media; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Police detained a number of people near Jerusalem’s Temple Mount Wednesday with lamb or goats they were suspected of intending to sacrifice at the site for the Passover holiday.

By noon, at least three clips of people being detained with animals were shared on social media.

In recent years, fringe religious groups have increasingly sought to carry out the sacrifice at the flashpoint Jerusalem holy site, as performed on Passover in biblical times. The Returning to the Mount group makes a request each year to carry out the ritual, but to no avail.

Most Israeli security officials believe that permitting the Passover sacrifice on the Temple Mount would spark fierce protests by Muslims in Jerusalem, the West Bank and neighboring Arab countries, who would see it as a major change to the status quo on the holy site.

The movement has handed out flyers in the Old City in recent days calling on activists to bring a lamb onto the Temple Mount for the pre-Passover sacrifice, and promising a financial reward for those arrested by police while attempting such a sacrifice. The movement offered NIS 2,500 ($700) for anyone arrested on the Temple Mount with a lamb and NIS 20,000 ($8,240) for a successful sacrifice.

The efforts, which drew the attention of Palestinian social media, are believed to have contributed to clashes at Al-Aqsa Mosque overnight, which saw police break into the mosque and detain hundreds after masked youths barricaded themselves inside with fireworks, clubs and rocks following evening prayers, while locking the doors and placing barricades at the entrances.

Monday saw the head of Returning to the Mount detained, apparently to prevent him from attempting a sacrifice.

Activist Rafael Morris was stopped in his car Monday as he was driving with his son near Latrun, about 35 kilometers (22 miles) from the capital, according to a statement from a far-right activism group calling itself the Temple Mount Administration.

Officers told him he was being detained on suspicion of a future plan to disrupt public order.

Mainstream Jewish leaders reject renewing the biblical rite of sacrifice on the Mount at this time.

On Sunday, far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir said that Jews should visit the Temple Mount during the holiday but not perform the ritual sacrifice, which he has repeatedly called for allowing in the past and has even attempted to perform himself.

The Passover festival coincides this year with the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, when hundreds of thousands of Muslim pilgrims also visit the site.

Ramadan has often been marked by clashes and high tension between Israel and the Palestinians, particularly surrounding the sensitive site, which is the holiest in Judaism.

For decades, Muslims have accused Israel of planning to take over the Temple Mount or destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third holiest site, which it houses. Israel dismisses the accusation and has vowed repeatedly to maintain the status quo, whereby Jews are allowed to visit there — under numerous restrictions and only during limited hours — but not pray. However, Jews have increasingly been allowed to quietly pray there, while Palestinians have instigated violence at the site and unilaterally designated more parts of the site for prayer.

The Western Wall Heritage Foundation, which administers the Western Wall area, said in a statement Tuesday that following reports of intentions to bring a Passover sacrifice on the Temple Mount, Western Wall chief rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch was introducing a ban on animals being brought to the Mughrabi Bridge area.

The Mughrabi Bridge is the sole entry point to the Temple Mount permitted for use by non-Muslims, including Jews. It is adjacent to the Western Wall, is located within the Western Wall site and leads up to the Mughrabi Gate and into the compound.

“The Western Wall Heritage Foundation operates in accordance with the directions given by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel which, throughout the generations, has objected to any act of this sort [sacrifice], and in accordance with the authority of the rabbi of the Western Wall has prevented these sorts of acts for years and will continue to do so this year as well,” the foundation said in a statement.

A wooden footbridge leads up from the Western Wall to the Mughrabi Gate of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City, November 28, 2011. (Kobi Gideon/Flash90).

Returning to the Mount responded to the statement by vowing to continue its sacrifice efforts and calling on the government to fire Rabinovitch for “a despicable attempt and a cynical use of the Holy Places Law to prevent Jewish access and worship to Judaism’s holiest place.”

Ben Gvir has long been an advocate for formally altering the Temple Mount status quo, in which Muslims are allowed to pray and enter with few restrictions, while religious Jews can visit only during limited time slots via a single gate and walk on a predetermined route, closely accompanied by police.

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