Temple Mount activists, police feud over shofar-blowing near flashpoint site

Activists seek to blow ram’s horn at Eastern Wall of Jerusalem’s Old City, where Muslim cemetery lies, but face police opposition despite court rulings upholding freedom of worship

Jeremy Sharon is The Times of Israel’s legal affairs and settlements reporter

Religious Zionism MK Simcha Rothman remonstrates with a police officer for arresting Temple Mount activist Emanuel Brosh at the Eastern Wall of the Temple Mount on October 2, 2022. (Courtesy Arnon Segal)
Religious Zionism MK Simcha Rothman remonstrates with a police officer for arresting Temple Mount activist Emanuel Brosh at the Eastern Wall of the Temple Mount on October 2, 2022. (Courtesy Arnon Segal)

Temple Mount activists have become embroiled in an ongoing legal battle with the police over their efforts to blow the shofar at what is known as the Eastern Wall of the Temple Mount complex.

During the course of the past month, a brewing feud between the two sides has played out in the courts, turning into a legal contest over freedom of religious worship and the extent to which security considerations can be used by the police to restrict that right.

The legal battle centers around the efforts of Temple Mount activists to blow the shofar at the Golden Gate of the Eastern Wall, outside of the holy site, so that it can be heard by Jewish visitors on the Temple Mount above.

The activists have repeatedly been arrested by the police, who argue that their activities could ignite tensions with Palestinians in Jerusalem and the West Bank and lead to violence.

On Sunday, MK Simcha Rothman of the right-wing Religious Zionist party visited the site for the second time in just over a week to blow the shofar, avoiding arrest due to his parliamentary immunity.

Another person present, Emanuel Brosh — one of the primary activists involved in the controversy — was detained for the third time since mid-September and released eight hours later.

Religious Zionism MK Simcha Rothman blows the shofar close to the Golden Gate of the Eastern Wall of the Temple Mount and the Old City of Jerusalem, September 23, 2022. (Courtesy)

On Monday, the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court rejected for the fourth time the efforts to ban Brosh from the site, thereby upholding his right, for all intents and purposes, to blow the shofar anywhere along the Eastern Wall.

In a rebuke to the police, the judge also ordered the department to pay NIS 2,000 in legal costs for Brosh.

The controversy is the latest chapter in persistent efforts spanning well over a decade by religious and secular nationalists to secure greater Israeli control over the Temple Mount and increase Jewish access and prayer rights.

These efforts have frequently been opposed by the police and the serving minister of public security due to the importance of the site in Islam and the fact that Israeli actions at the Temple Mount have, on numerous occasions, been followed by violence.

The Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism and is revered as the location of both ancient Jewish temples. The compound is Islam’s third holiest site and is managed by Jordan — from whom Israel captured the Old City and rest of East Jerusalem in the 1967 Six Day War — as part of a delicate arrangement with the Jewish state.

Starting last month, during the Jewish month of Elul ahead of the High Holidays, Temple Mount activists have blown the shofar outside the Golden Gate of the Eastern Wall so that Jewish visitors to the Temple Mount above can hear it during their visits to the site, which are strictly time-limited.

The Eastern Wall forms the eastern side of the Temple Mount complex and at the same time the eastern outer wall of the Old City of Jerusalem. It is also the oldest of the walls surrounding the site, dating back to the Hasmonean period.

An Orthodox Jewish man walks past the Golden Gate in the Eastern Wall of the Temple Mount, August 4, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

On the Temple Mount, prayer and the use of prayer items such as tefillin, prayer shawls and a shofar — the ram’s horn used by Jews ahead of and during the High Holy Days — are prohibited by the police.

Activists have therefore in the last three years blown the shofar down by the Golden Gate, outside the Temple Mount complex, at the specific time when visitors are in the vicinity above.

The police have, however, repeatedly arrested activists blowing the shofar at the Golden Gate and on the public path that runs the length of the Eastern Wall, insisting in court that they are seeking to prevent provocations against the Muslim population that could further exacerbate an already fragile security situation.

Temple Mount activist Emanuel Brosh is arrested outside the Eastern Wall of the Temple Mount and the Old City of Jerusalem, September 23, 2022. (Courtesy)

The police have noted in their hearings that the Golden Gate lies amid a Muslim cemetery and that Jewish prayer services and activity at the site are provocative toward Muslims.

In the first hearing in the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court on September 19, the police specifically noted that the activists broadcast their ceremonies on social media, and warned that “Arab authorities including senior people with standing in the Muslim world with connections to the Temple Mount” have noted and reacted to these activities.

But the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court and the Jerusalem District Court have sided with the activists in every incident, refusing to grant the police requests for restraining orders and ruling that the activists have a right to blow the shofar at the Eastern Wall. Judge Amit Shaked of the magistrate’s court added that the danger to public security emanated not from the activists themselves, but those hostile to them.

Following the most recent legal decision on Monday, Brosh said that given the absence of any court ruling restricting his movement, he is entitled to blow the shofar at any point along the Eastern Wall.

“The resounding victory today in the court is dedicated first and foremost to the Temple Mount,” said Brosh following the decision.

“[Poet] Uri Zvi Greenberg coined the phrase ‘He who rules the mountain rules Jerusalem and rules the entire land’… We will continue to work for sovereignty over the entire land.”

In response to a question from the Times of Israel as to why Brosh had been arrested, the police stated: “The police allow freedom of worship for everyone within the boundaries of existing law and practice, and while upholding security, preserving the peace and protecting the holy sites.

“Unfortunately, there is a small group that is trying to deliberately cause a provocation and carry out the rituals of the [Jewish] holidays specifically in the Muslim cemetery, which is what happened Sunday morning when people arrived at the site and did not listen to the instructions of the police officers,” the statement continued. “The police were forced to arrest one man who did not listen to the instructions of the police while he was being detained.”

It is not yet clear if the police will appeal the most recent court decision.

On Tuesday morning however, the eve of Yom Kippur, Brosh and other activists including Rothman, fellow Religious Zionism MK Michal Waldiger and others went to the Eastern Wall to the blow the shofar and were once again obstructed by the police.

Three activists were arrested at the site.

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