The Temple Mount
Clarification: As many of our readers have pointed out, an error was present in the last sentence of Sunday’s Halacha regarding cognac and brandy and should have read as follows: “Thus, there is certainly no room for leniency regarding this beverage (cognac/brandy) and one should point this out to those who act leniently for various incorrect reasons.” We apologize for the confusion and appreciate the attentiveness of our readers.
Question: Is there room nowadays to allow one to enter the boundaries of the Temple Mount?
Answer: The Temple Mount is the mountain upon which the first and second Holy Temples were situated until nearly two thousand years ago when it was destroyed by the wicked Roman general Titus. Since then, the mountain laid in ruins until Muslims built mosques upon it which remain there until today.
Since the sanctity of the Bet Hamikdash was so great, an individual who was impure as a result of coming in contact with a corpse was forbidden to enter the Bet Hamikdash. Nowadays when we do not have the ashes of the Red Heifer, we are all impure as a result of corpses, for it is impossible never to have a touched a person who has touched a corpse or never to have touched a person who was in the same room as a corpse. It is therefore absolutely forbidden for any of us to enter the confines of the Bet Hamikdash. One who does so is liable for the “Karet” punishments as well as having transgressed several Torah prohibitions.
We must now discuss two important points: Firstly, does the sanctity of the Bet Hamikdash remain nowadays when the actual Bet Hamikdash has been destroyed? Furthermore, is one forbidden to enter any are of the Temple Mount or are there areas on the Temple Mount that one may enter?
The Original Sanctity Remains Sanctified Forever
The Rambam (Chapter 6 of Hilchot Bet Ha’Bechira, Halacha 14) states: The original sanctity with which King Solomon sanctified the Holy Temple and Jerusalem shall never be removed although the Temple was destroyed. Why does the original sanctity of the Bet Hamikdash and Jerusalem remain intact forever? This is because the sanctity of Jerusalem and the Temple are a result of Hashem’s Divine Presence resting upon it and this Divine Presence never ceases. Indeed, Hashem states, ‘And I shall leave your cities in destruction and I shall cause your temples to lay desolate’ and our Sages expounded, although they remain desolate, their sanctity nevertheless remains!”
The Rambam thus teaches us that the sanctity of the Bet Hamikdash which prohibits the impure from entering its perimeter remains forever regardless of the fact that the Bet Hamikdash is destroyed.
Thus, one who enters the area of the Bet Hamikdash nowadays is liable for “Karet” and transgresses several Torah prohibitions.
Entering the Temple Mount
Nevertheless, the above applies only to the perimeter of the Bet Hamikdash; on the other hand, other areas of the Temple Mount are not off limits to those impure as a result of contact with a corpse, as the Rambam states (Chapter 3 of Hilchot Bi’at Mikdash, Halacha 4): “One who is impure as a result of a corpse and even a corpse itself may enter the Temple Mount.” (Nonetheless, there are various forms of impurity nowadays which prohibit entry into any area of the Temple Mount, which we shall not discuss at this time.)
As a result, all of the greatest Poskim of the previous generations deliberate whether or not there is room to allow entering certain areas of the Temple Mount.
Indeed, Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l discusses this matter extensively in his Responsa Yabia Omer (Volume 5, Yoreh De’ah, Chapter 26) and Chazon Ovadia-Arba Ta’aniyot (page 454) where he provides sources from the Poskim that nowadays, we cannot be exactly sure where on the Temple Mount the Bet Hamikdash actually stood. Thus, most of the area of the Temple Mount is considered doubtfully the place of the Bet Hamikdash (and even if a given area regarding which there is no doubt, it still retains sanctity and not just anyone may enter this area). Maran zt”l quotes Hagaon Harav David of Karlin who writes (in his Responsa She’elat David, Kuntres Derishat Zion Virushalayim, page 14, Section 3) that it is impossible to locate the precise location of the Altar and one must be concerned regarding a sin which bears Karet. One must therefore take great care not to enter the Temple Mount even after having immersed properly in a Mikveh and even for the purpose of a Mitzvah, for this will cause the masses to ascend the Temple Mount while impure and enter portions of the perimeter of the Bet Hamikdash. The leaders of the generation have come together and decreed that no one may enter any area of the Temple Mount until the arrival of Mashiach at which point the verse “And I shall sprinkle you with pure water and you shall become pure” shall be fulfilled. The following great and mighty luminaries agreed to this prohibition of entering the Temple Mount nowadays because of the concern of a prohibition which bears Karet: Hageonim Harav Yitzchak Yaakov Weiss, Harav Shalom Messas, Harav Eliezer Yehuda Waldenberg, Harav Yechiel Michel Tikochinsky, and many others.
Thus, those who rely on the opinion of whomever it may be and say that there is a special need to ascend the Temple Mount are acting contrary to Halacha and are dealing with sins bearing Karet. In the words of the author of the Responsa Minchat Yitzchak (Volume 5, Chapter 1): “All of their words are less than foolishness.” Although there are those who explain that according to the Ra’avad, there is no Karet prohibition to enter the area of the Bet Hamikdash nowadays, nevertheless, the Ra’avad’s opinion has been halachically rebuffed, as the Radbaz writes that the Halacha certainly follows the opinion of the Rambam and the other great Poskim who prohibit entering the Temple perimeter even nowadays and that doing so is a prohibition which bears Karet. This is especially true since according to many Poskim, even the Ra’avad is in agreement that doing so is a Torah prohibition, as Hagaon Harav Avraham Yitzchak Ha’Kohen Kook writes in his Responsa Mishpat Kohen (Chapter 96). Additionally, even according to the Ra’avad’s opinion that this prohibition does not bear Karet, a Torah prohibition still certainly exists.
Sir Moses Montefiore
In the year 5627 (1867), the righteous philanthropist Sir Moses Montefiore visited Jerusalem and while he was there, he entered the area of the Temple Mount (it was during this visit that he decided to renovate the Western Wall by adding several rows of stones on top that that it would not tumble). In those days, Rabbi Yosef Moshe of Lisa (son of the renowned Gaon of Lisa, Hagaon Harav Yaakov Loberbaum, author of Netivot Ha’Mishpat) lived in Jerusalem and when he heard about this, he took a Shofar and sounded it all around Jerusalem excommunicating Sir Montefiore for entering the forbidden territory. Because Sir Moses had tremendous fear of Heaven, he and his personal rabbi, Dr. Levy, turned to the sages of Jerusalem and apologized for they had done so innocently, for they mistakenly relied on the Ra’avad’s opinion. Indeed, the sages of Jerusalem calmed him and said that Rabbi Yosef Moshe’s excommunication was meaningless since he could not be held accountable for his actions and that he had nothing to worry about. Maran zt”l adds that certainly the sages of Jerusalem did not mean to condone Sir Moses’s entering the Temple Mount in contrast with the opinion of the Rambam, Rosh, and the vast majority of Poskim; rather, they only meant to mollify him that he was not worthy of excommunication since he did so inadvertently.
A compilation by the name of Sha’arei Yerushalayim (printed in 5639) states that Sir Moses Montefiore received a special permit from the Sultan in Constantinople and by paying a hefty sum to the Pasha of Jerusalem against the wishes of the sages of Jerusalem. The Sefer Vaylaket Yosef (Chapter 134) writes that Hagaon Harav Shmuel Salant rebuked Sir Moses for entering the area of the Bet Hamikdash inadvertently.
Summary: It is absolutely forbidden to enter the perimeter of the Bet Hamikdash even nowadays and this is a grave Torah prohibition. In fact, it is actually forbidden to enter any area of the Temple Mount nowadays since we are uncertain of the exact borders of the Bet Hamikdash. All of the opinions of rabbis and archeologists who have tried to determine the actual inner borders of the Temple are not based on solid evidence. Thus, the greatest Poskim of the previous generation have agreed to completely prohibit entering any part of the Temple Mount. Those who act leniently are playing with a sin which bears Karet and are acting in opposition to Halacha.
In the next Halacha we shall discuss this matter further as well as recounting what Maran zt”l had heard in his youth regarding the above incident involving Sir Moses Montefiore.