(OH 561, Magen Avraham subparag. 2)
Is it permissible to enter the Temple Mount in our time?
Mishnah Kelim (1:8-9) forbids entrance of a t’mey met (a person made ritually impure by contact with a corpse), into the Heil (a ten amah area around the Temple), into the Ezrat Nashim (Women’s Court in the Temple) and into the Ezrat Yisrael (Men’s Court in the Temple), due to the sanctity of the Temple. In our time everyone is considered to be t’mey met; should one therefore conclude that it is prohibited to enter the Temple Mount in our time? Such a prohibition would presuppose the acceptance, expressed by Maimonides, that the Sanctity of the First Temple prevails forever. This view is disputed by the Ra’avad, but many Rishonim and Aharonim followed Maimonides and ruled that it is forbidden to enter the Temple Mount in our time.
However, it appears that all of these authorities were overly stringent, and that it is permissible to enter part of the Temple Mount in our time. This approach is based on the following:
1) It is not clear in the Talmud whether the original sanctity of the Temple Mount remains forever, and, accordingly, whether the halakhah follows the view of Maimonides or of the Ra’avad on this issue. Furthermore, even if halakhah is according to Maimonides, there are a number of reasons to permit entry into a part of the Temple Mount.
2) It is known that from the Tannaitic period and at least until the fifteenth century, there were Jews who entered and even prayed on the Temple Mount.
3) As was stated above, the prohibition of the entrance of a t’mey met pertains only to the area of the Heil, the Ezrat Nashim and the Ezrat Israel, and not to the entire Temple Mount. Thus if we can determine the originally sanctified area of the Temple on today’s Temple Mount, we can determine where one can enter.
The main sources for determining the boundaries of the Second Temple are Mishnah Midot and Josephus Flavius (Antiquities). Most Rabbis and archaeologists agree on two main points:
A) The area of the Temple Mount in our days is much larger than the one described by the Mishnah and Josephus. The southern part and the northern part (north of the elevated area of the Mosque of Omar) were added by King Herod, and are not part of the sanctified area.
B) The rock situated under the Mosque of Omar (Dome of the Rock) is the “Foundation Stone” which stood under the Holy of Holies.
Therefore it is permissible to enter the southern part of the Temple Mount, near the mosque of El Aksa, and the northern part, north of the elevated area of the Mosque of Omar.
On the other hand, everyone agrees that it is prohibited to enter the Mosque of Omar, and the middle of the Temple Mount, because this was the area of the Ezrat Israel and/or the Holy of Holies. Therefore it is preferable not to enter the elevated area around the Mosque of Omar at all.
In the west, one should remain close to the Western Wall, in order to avoid the area of the Holy of Holies. In the east, one should stay close to the eastern side to avoid the Heil and the Ezrat Nashim. (See the maps at the end of the Hebrew responsum).
One should add that in addition to the fear of defiling the Temple, there is another reason not to enter the Temple area: the biblical commandment of “revering the Sanctuary”. It is written in Leviticus 19:30: “You shall keep My Sabbaths, and revere My sanctuary; I am the Lord”. A passage in Yebamot 6a-b, explains that the word “revere” means that one must not enter the Temple Mount with a walking stick, with one’s shoes on, or with dust on one’s feet, and this command applies even when the Temple no longer exists.
In conclusion, a Jew should not enter the central part of the Temple Mount, both because of the prohibition of a t’mey met entering the sanctified area, and because of the positive commandment to revere the Sanctuary.
Rabbi David Golinkin
In favor: Rabbi Tuvia Friedman
Is it permissible to enter the Temple Mount in our present time?
A. Mishnah Kelim, which was the basis for Rabbi Golinkin’s responsum, can be interpreted in another way. This Mishnah describes different levels of sacredness. It begins with the Sanctity of the Land of Israel, and ends with the Holy of Holies. It is clear that the concept of sanctity spoken about in this Mishnah is related to the cult. Therefore this sanctity is not eternal (see Kelim 1:6), and does not exist today since the Temple was destroyed.
B. The Talmud contains two opinions as to whether the original sanctity remains forever, and we can rely on the lenient opinion.
C. The Ra’avad disagrees with Maimonides, and we agree with the Ra’avad.
D. Our conclusion is that the sanctity which is spoken about in the Mishnah does not exist today regarding the place of the Temple. Therefore, there is no prohibition of entering the area of the Heil because of ritual impurity.
E. At the end of his responsum, Rabbi Golinkin discusses the commandment to revere the sanctuary, which is not connected to the subject of ritual impurity.
F. How do we fulfill this commandment of revering the Sanctuary? A visit to the Temple Mount should not be just a sightseeing experience, but a pilgrimage to the place where the Temple stood. One has to behave there in a very respectful way, be dressed properly, and a Jew should not enter the area of the Holy of Holies (i.e. inside the Dome of the Rock), where only the High Priest was allowed. Moreover, one has to remember that in the days of the Temple, not only ritual purity was required to enter the Temple Mount but also moral purity. Therefore, one should read a Psalm, such as Psalm 15, upon entering the Temple Mount.
Rabbi Reuven Hammer