An enormous empty space underneath the Temple Mount Plaza, refurbished in an illegal land-grab by the Waqf (Muslim authority), is according to some rabbinic authorities, uniquely suited for immediate use as a synagogue that could serve approximately 10,000 Jewish worshippers. One rabbi believes that this was actually the divinely intended purpose behind the ill-intended actions of the Islamic Waqf when they turned the neglected cavern into a mosque.
The rabbi, Yehuda Kroizer who is Chief Rabbi of Mitzpe Yericho in Judea and dean of the Hara’ayon Hayehudi (the Jewish idea) yeshiva (Torah academy) in Jerusalem, led a group of Jews on a tour of the Temple Mount. At one point, he stopped to give a lecture on a site Jews are not permitted to visit, but which was located directly beneath their feet; Solomon’s Stables, a large space that was converted into a mosque 11 years ago. Like the other structures on the Temple Mount, Jews are forbidden to enter.
“Below us, there is a large empty space that the Waqf tried to turn into a mosque,” Rabb Kroizer explained in the video of the tour. “That place could, in fact, be an enormous synagogue.”
The location the rabbi was referring to was “Solomon’s Stables,” a cavernous space underneath the Temple Mount Plaza. Located eight feet below the courtyard in the southeastern corner of the Temple Mount, the roof is held up by twelve rows of 88 pillars and arches. The structure was built in the first century BCE by King Herod as part of his southward extension of the Temple Mount’s platform. Except for a brief period in 1099 when the site was used for stables serving the Crusaders’ horses (thus earning its name, “Solomon’s Stables”), the space was unused and gradually filled up with refuse.
The Waqf began construction on Solomon’s Stables in 1996, without a permit and in gross violation of the status quo agreement signed two years earlier in which Israel granted custodianship to Jordan. The builders used heavy equipment to clear the site, destroying artifacts of immense archaeological importance and damaging the structural integrity of the southern wall of the Temple Mount. The Waqf declared its intention to build the country’s largest mosque with space for 10,000 worshippers. Later that year, the El-Marwani Mosque was inaugurated. The space is huge but many halls of Herod’s massive underground construction project still remain unfinished. Some archaeologists have conjectured that there are still more subterranean areas that remain unexplored.
The underground mosque is always open to Muslims but prayers are only held there on Muslim holidays when rain or heat makes outdoor prayer uncomfortable. In many of the available photos, Muslims are seen using the site as a place to sleep or socialize.
“According to all rabbinic opinions and under all conditions, this particular space would be permitted for use by Jews,” Rabbi Kroizer said to Breaking Israel News. “According to all opinions, this space is outside of the area restricted to non-priests. It is even situated so that Jews could access the site through the Hulda Gate without coming into contact with Arabs, thereby solving any security concerns.”
In his lecture, Rabbi Kroizer explained that the laws of purity require any Jew who intends to visit the Temple Mount to first bathe in a mikveh (a ritual bath). The rabbi conjectured that Solomon’s Stables offers an alternative for Jews who are ritually impure yet want to pray at the site. Since the laws of ritual purity state that impurity is contained within an enclosed space, a ritually impure Jew could, in fact, pray in Solomon’s Stables without bathing in a mikveh.
The rabbi suggested that the Waqf did Jews a favor despite its intention to wrest the site away from the Jews.
“Due to the sensitivity of the site, archaeologists would never have let us prepare a synagogue here,” Rabbi Kroizer explained to the tour group. “But since the Muslim Authority did what they wanted to anyway without asking, [the Waqf] actually set everything up for us to make a synagogue. This could be an alternative to the Western Wall.”
“From every bad thing can come something that is also good,” he continued. “All these years, any dialogue concerning the Temple Mount was shut down. But even so, things were done here for our benefit! In the end, good things can grow out of evil beginnings.”
Rabbi Kroizer’s speculations are not based in fantasy nor are they a fringe belief rejected by mainstream Judaism. For a short period after the 1967 Six Day War, Rabbi Shlomo Goren, the Chief Rabbi of the IDF, organized several prayer sessions on the Temple Mount until Minister of Defense Moshe Dayan and Chief-of-Staff Yitzhak Rabin ordered him to stop doing so. In the mid-1990’s, Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, former Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel, called for the construction of a synagogue on the Temple Mount. His son, Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, Safed’s Chief Rabbi, continues to work toward that goal.
Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau, generally considered to be moderate in his politics as well as his religious rulings, stunned many when he said in 2016 that there was enough room on the Temple Mount for the addition of both a synagogue and church without infringing on the Muslim sites currently in existence. He argued that building a synagogue and a church was an imperative that should be instituted immediately in order for the site to achieve its prophesied status of a House of Prayer for all Nations.
I will bring them to My sacred mount And let them rejoice in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices Shall be welcome on My mizbayach; For My House shall be called A house of prayer for all peoples.” Isaiah 56:7
Professor Yitzchak Reiter, senior researcher at the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies and author of Jerusalem and its Role in Islamic Solidarity, believes that, in the name of religious equality, there should be a synagogue on the Temple Mount. But Solomon’s Stables are no longer a viable option.
“This idea of a synagogue has been around for some time, but when Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu started speaking about it in the ‘80’s, this generated a negative response from the Muslims who then declared the entire Temple Mount to be holy to Islam,” Dr. Reiter told Breaking Israel News. “This is what led to the construction of the Marwani Mosque.”
“There is no Muslim authority that will agree to Jewish prayer or a place for Jewish Prayer on the Temple Mount in the current political environment,” Dr. Reiter went on. “They believe that behind the stated goal of using part of the Temple Mount for Jewish prayer is a hidden agenda to entirely take over the Temple Mount.”
“In any case, now that Solomon’s Stables has become the Marwani Mosque, it is sanctified as a mosque and the Muslims will never relinquish a place that has been sanctified for Islam,’ Dr. Reiter said.
Yaakov Hayman, the head of Yishai, which is an NGO dedicated to reinstating Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount, believes that Solomon’s Stables is unacceptable as a site for a Temple Mount synagogue.
“There are many places that a synagogue could be placed on the Temple Mount that are much closer to the site of the Temple and therefore much more suited and desirable than Solomon’s Stables,” Hayman told Breaking Israel News. “Jews should not be relegated to praying underground. If that becomes our synagogue then the process will end right there with the Muslims saying we should be satisfied with just that.”
“The right thing to do is to move forward in the name of religious equality, but the Muslims and the people who support them are motivated to simply to keep the Jews away from the site,” Hayman said. “I invite the Muslim Waqf to go up to pray with me on the Temple Mount, side by side. This is my vision of a House of Prayer. I am waiting for their answer from the Waqf.