The coronavirus has brought about a remarkable situation on the Temple Mount in which the Muslim-Arabs are shut out of the two main structures in which they pray while Jewish visitors are now the prominent force of prayer at Judaism’s holiest site.
On Sunday, the Waqf (Muslim authority) announced that the buildings reserved for exclusive Muslim use on the Temple Mount would be closed until further notice.
The Islamic Waqf department decided to shut down the enclosed prayer places inside the blessed Aqsa Mosque, and until further notice, as a protective measure to prevent the spread of coronavirus,” Sheikh Omar Al-Kiswani, the Director of Al-Aqsa Mosque, told Reuters. “All prayers will be held in the courtyards of Al-Aqsa mosque and doors will remain open to all worshippers.”
Some Islamic sects claim that the site where the Jewish Temples once stood has significance in Islam. The number of Muslim Arabs praying at the site has dropped significantly in the wake of the spread of the coronavirus.
Last Thursday, Rabbi David Lau, Israel’s chief Ashkenazi rabbi, and Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, Israel’s chief Sephardi rabbi, both issued religious edicts on Thursday instructing Jews to obey all instructions issued by Israels health officials’ instructions including instructions to avoid visiting the Western Wall.
The rabbinic ban did not cover the Temple Mount and, in fact, more Jews ascended to Judaism’s holiest site than ever before. Elishama Sanderman, head of the Yera’eh Temple Mount advocacy group, noted a rise in 14 percent of the Jews who ascended to the Temple Mount last week, a trend that is continuing into this week. Sanderman attributed this to the Biblical precedent of the Temple Mount preventing and stopping plagues.
And David built there a mizbayach to Hashem and sacrificed burnt offerings and offerings of well-being. Hashem responded to the plea for the land, and the plague against Yisrael was checked. II Samuel 24:25
“Every group of Jews that ascends has at least one representative to say pitum ketoret,” Sanderman said, referring to a recitation of the composition of the Temple incense traditionally recited in response to outbreaks of illness. “This is really what the Temple Mount was intended to be: a house of prayer for all nations. Here is where all nations should come to pray and where the Jews can pray for other nations.”
Assaf Fried, the spokesman for the Temple Organizations, ascended to the Temple Mount on Wednesday and was thrilled.
“It was like praying in the Garden of Eden,” Fried told Breaking Israel News. “The entire time I was up there, I saw maybe five Arabs and they were very subdued. We were able to pray in the proper manner without any concerns, including all the sections of prayer.”
“We did the Kohanic blessing and, of course, included special prayers for anyone suffering from the coronavirus. We studied Torah. We have never been so free to pray like this before.”
Fried recited the verses from the Bible referring to King David’s purchase of the Temple Mount and how that act of devotion healed Israel from a plague. His act took on special meaning as he recited it directly in front of the site that the verses describe.
“I am not the type of person that pretends to know what is in God’s mind but here we see that just like in the days of King David, a plague is in the world. In the most natural way, the Jews are turning to the Temple Mount, just as King David did, and the Arabs are running from the place.”
Fried noted that the government could have closed the Temple Mount just as they closed every other public institution.
“The police are going to special efforts to support the Jews in connecting with our holiest site,” Fried said. “They deserve special recognition for their role.”
Jews may only ascend to the Temple Mount after ritual immersion and may not wear leather shoes. It is interesting to note that the rabbinic prohibition also proscribed male immersion in public baths but since Israel is experiencing an exceptionally blessed rainy season, natural pools are full to a degree that has not been seen in decades.
Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount is a relatively new phenomenon. It was legally mandated in a 2015 Jerusalem magistrate court decision but a clause in the ruling permitted the police to enforce the law based on security considerations. For the last four years, the Israeli police have cited Palestinian Islamic violence as a reason to prevent Jews from praying at the site. After two Palestinian terrorists launched an armed attack from inside the Temple Mount compound, the police began distancing Waqf guards from Jewish visitors. The Waqf policy of only allowing Muslim prayer on the site, responding to such attempts with violence, is racist and in contravention of international law. It is currently being contested in the Israeli courts.
Trump’s recently proposed Deal of the Century puts theTemple Mount under Israeli sovereignty, stating, “People of every faith should be permitted to pray on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, in a manner that is fully respectful to their religion, taking into account the times of each religion’s prayers and holidays, as well as other religious factors.”