YESHIVAT HARA'AYON HAYEHUDI
HaRav Yehuda Kroizer SHLIT"A, Rosh Yeshiva
9 Sivan 5767/25-26 May 2007
CLARIFYING A TEMPLE MOUNT ISSUE
“The children of Israel did so; they sent them (the impure) to the outside of the camp, as Hashem had spoken to Moses”. In this week’s parsha, we are taught of the obligation to remove the spiritually unclean (tam’eh) to the outside of the camp of Israel. In the desert, the children of Israel were made up of three camps, each with a higher lever of holiness. In the center of the Jewish people’s encampment was the Tabernacle - this was the camp of the Divine Presence. Next came the Levite camp - this was the area surrounding the Tabernacle, and finally the Israelite camp, which was made up of the entire encampment of the twelve tribes of Israel. The Torah obligates an impure person to leave one, two or all three of these camps according to the severity of his tum’ah.
This division of the Jewish people, as the Jews wandered for 40 years in the desert with the Tabernacle, was not just a one- time affair; rather, it was a commandment for all generations. We find that this division of camps also took place in Jerusalem and the Temple Mount. Corresponding to the Divine Presence camp in the desert was the Temple, the Kohanim and Israelite courtyards. The camp of the Levite constituted the remaining sections of the Temple Mount, and the camp of the children of Israel corresponded to the city of Jerusalem. These levels of holiness still envelop the Temple Mount and Jerusalem today, even though the Temple is not standing.
What’s the problem?
As is well known, today we are all in the category of impurity through contact with a dead body. This type of impurity was banned from entering the Divine Presence camp under the punishment of Karet - being cut off, but a person with such impurity would be able to remain in the Levite and Israelite camps. That means that today, we are forbidden to go to the area on the Temple Mount where the Temple and its courtyards stood, but we can go the rest of the Temple Mount, which makes up some 85 percent of the Mount! Now you might say that we don't know where this 15-percent (Temple and courtyards) “off-limits” area is, and therefore, by going up to the Mount we might accidentally be walking in the forbidden area. The truth is, that even if we did not know where the Temple and its courtyards stood (which in truth we do), the 15 forbidden percent cannot be just anywhere on the Mount, but must be somewhere in the middle of it. In any case, when one goes up to the Mount, he does not come close to any area where that 15% might have been.
Well, you might ask: What about the rest of the Temple Mount - that 85%? Is a "tum’at met"- a person with impurity from a dead body - allowed to be there? To answer this question, let's go back to the encampment of the Jewish people in the desert. As we said, the Levite camp enclosed the surrounding area of the Tabernacle that corresponds today to 85% of the Temple Mount, and as we learned in the Torah (Exodus 13:19), Moses, who lived in the Levite camp, took the bones of Joseph with him, meaning that the bones of Joseph were with Moses in his camp! We see from here that not only is someone who is impure because of a dead body - as we are today - allowed to be in the Levite camp (85% of the Temple Mount), but you can actually bring a dead body itself up to the Temple Mount!
If as "tam'eh met" –impure from a dead body, we are allowed to go up to the permitted areas in the Mount, why, then, do many Rabbis come out forbidding people from going to the Temple Mount today? I don’t know - As of now, not one Rabbi has given over a serious halachic reason not to go up! Maybe they are afraid that people who do not know where they are allowed to go might wander to the forbidden 15%. But that certainly is not a justified reason to stop people who do know, and certainly they could place markers showing people which road to stay on.
More than all of this is the overriding factor of the horrible Chilul Hashem that take place every day on the Temple Mount: Giving control of the Mount to our Arab enemies. The least we can do is to have a Jewish presence on the Mount and to show Hashem that we, the Jewish people, want to build His house again!
With love of Israel,
I'd just like to add my own personal note...
The Rambam (Laws of the Temple, 1:1) says:
...it is permitted to bring a dead body onto the Temple Mount
[that is, the areas around the Temple but not the Temple itself], and one who
had contracted ritual impurity from a corpse may definitely enter
The Rambam himself ascended the Temple Mount and prayed there, as he relates in his "Iggeret Teiman." To celebrate he established a "private festival" for himself, and to this very day there are many Yemenite Jews who celebrate that ascent. He says:
I entered into the great and holy house [the Temple Mount] and prayed there on
the sixth of Cheshvan... and I vowed an oath, that I will always celebrate this
day as a personal festival, to be marked by prayer and rejoicing in HaShem, and
by a festive meal.
In addition, the Talmud (Eruvin 105a) tells us that in order to build the Temple or in order to repair and maintain it, one may enter even the restricted areas of the Temple Mount. This is brought down as the Halacha in Rambam, Laws of the Temple, Chapter 7. As a result, the general Halachik concensus is that "for means of conquest" even the ritually impure can ascend into the areas otherwise forbidden to them. The Maccabim, for example, were all tum'at met, (since they had killed many enemy soldiers, among them Hellenistic Jews) and yet they ascended in order to fix the damage and desecration that the Greeks had caused to the Temple.