The spiritual leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, Rabbi Shalom Cohen, met Sunday with the United Arab Emirates envoy to Israel and told him Jews should not enter the Temple Mount and that the situation at the Jerusalem holy site should not be of concern to Jews.
According to the Kan public broadcaster, Cohen told UAE envoy Mohammad Mahmoud Al Khajah that “the issue of the Temple Mount isn’t for us. The Arabs are in charge there.”
The Temple Mount is the holiest place in Judaism, as the site of the biblical Temples. It is also the site of the third-holiest shrine in Islam, the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Israel captured the Temple Mount and Jerusalem’s Old City in the 1967 Six Day War and applied its sovereignty over the entire city but allowed the Jordanian Waqf religious authority to continue to manage the sacred compound. Jews are allowed to visit there under numerous restrictions, but not to pray.
Violence at the flashpoint site exploded earlier this month during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan — after police cracked down on Palestinians gathering rocks and fireworks to attack Jewish visitors and officers — and the tensions spread to other locations around the country, sparking the worst rioting between Jews and Arabs in years.
The Hamas terror group began firing rockets at Israeli cities, saying it was in support of Palestinians on the Temple Mount. Israel responded with airstrikes on targets in Gaza, and 11 days of fighting were eventually brought to a close with a ceasefire on May 21.
During Sunday’s meeting at the rabbi’s home in Jerusalem, the two men spoke via translators, although Cohen did try a few words in Arabic.
“This is crazy,” Cohen, 89, said. “The Temple Mount, what is going on.”
Khajah responded: “Sir, as you said, this is crazy, crazy what is happening. We need your wisdom and we need cooperation.”
Khajah also told Cohen how impressed he was by the tolerance in Israel, noting that he had seen a mosque in the middle of Tel Aviv.
Cohen’s remarks were apparently based on his religious opinion that due to the Temple Mount’s holiness, Jewish people should not enter the compound. There are differing opinions on the matter within Orthodox Judaism, with the more ultra-Orthodox tending to shy away from entering the compound for fear of treading upon the former location of the destroyed Temple’s Holy of Holies.
The rabbi and the envoy exchanged gifts, and the latter asked for a blessing for success in his role. Khajah also invited Cohen to visit the UAE to participate in the dedication of Abrahamic Family House, an interfaith compound under construction in the Emirates that will include a synagogue, a mosque and a church.
Though the situation on the Temple Mount has calmed down, there are lingering tensions and continued police activity against those who were involved in the violence.
On Monday, an indictment was filed against an East Jerusalem resident on charges of throwing rocks at police during the clashes earlier this month. The man, 41, was charged for violence on the Temple Mount on May 10. He was arrested a week ago, the Ynet website reported.
On Sunday, police said they intended to file charges against another East Jerusalem resident who was arrested for pushing a police officer during a scuffle on the Temple Mount on May 21. Although the suspect initially left the scene, police were able to identify him and he was later arrested. His remand was extended on Sunday by five days, police said.
Earlier this month, the head of United Torah Judaism, another ultra-Orthodox party, implored Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not to reopen the Temple Mount to Jews amid the simmering tensions.
Jews had been barred from visiting the Temple Mount since May 3, when authorities made the decision to shutter the compound to non-Muslims amid spiraling tensions in the city.
Major clashes broke out at the site between police and Palestinian rioters a week later, on Jerusalem Day, leaving hundreds wounded.
The site has since been reopened to Jewish pilgrims.
Cohen has spoken before against Jewish pilgrimage to the Temple Mount, reportedly telling a Shas party faction meeting in 2015 that Jews who enter the compound are “crazy.” The subject had come up at the time due to tensions on the site that led Netanyahu to order police to prevent Jewish members of Knesset from visiting the compound. The ban was lifted three years later.