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|הַר הַבַּיִת, Har haBáyith|
الحرم الشريف, al-Haram ash-Sharīf,
Aerial southern view of the Temple Mount
|Elevation||740 m (2,428 ft)|
|הַר הַבַּיִת, Har haBáyith|
الحرم الشريف, al-Haram ash-Sharīf,
Aerial southern view of the Temple Mount
|Elevation||740 m (2,428 ft)|
The Temple Mount, known in Hebrew as Har haBáyit (Hebrew: הַר הַבַּיִת or as Har haMoria (Hebrew: הַר הַמוריה and in Arabic as the Haram al-Sharif (Arabic: الحرم القدسي الشريف, al-haram al-qudsī ash-sharīf, Noble Sanctuary), is one of the most important religious sites in the Old City of Jerusalem. It has been used as a religious site for thousands of years. At least four religions are known to have used the Temple Mount: Judaism, Christianity, Roman religion, and Islam.
Biblical scholars have often identified it with two biblical mountains of uncertain location: Mount Moriah where the story of the binding of Isaac is set, and Mount Zion where the original Jebusite fortress stood; however, both interpretations are disputed.
Judaism regards the Temple Mount as the place where God chose the divine presence to rest (Isa 8:18); according to the rabbinic sages whose debates produced the Talmud, it was from here the world expanded into its present form and where God gathered the dust used to create the first man, Adam. The site is the location of Abraham's binding of Isaac. According to the Bible, two Jewish Temples stood at the Temple Mount, though there is no proof for the first temple. According to the Bible the site should function as the center of all national life—a governmental, judicial and, of course, religious center (Deut 12:5-26; 14:23-25; 15:20; 16:2-16; 17:8-10; 26: 2; 31: 11; Isa 2: 2-5; Oba 1:21; Psa 48). During the Second Temple period it functioned also as an economical center. From that location the word of God will come out to all nations, and that is the site where all prayers are focused. According to Jewish tradition and scripture (2 Chronicles 3:1-2), the first temple was built by King Solomon the son of King David in 957 BCE and destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE. The second was constructed under the auspices of Zerubbabel in 516 BCE and destroyed by the Roman Empire in 70 CE. Jewish tradition maintains it is here the Third and final Temple will also be built. The location is the holiest site in Judaism and is the place Jews turn towards during prayer. Due to its extreme sanctity, many Jews will not walk on the Mount itself, to avoid unintentionally entering the area where the Holy of Holies stood, since according to Rabbinical law, some aspect of the divine presence is still present at the site. It was from the Holy of Holies that the High Priest communicated directly with God.
Among Sunni Muslims, the Mount is widely considered the third holiest site in Islam. Revered as the Noble Sanctuary (Bait-ul-Muqaddas) and the location of Muhammad's journey to Jerusalem and ascent to heaven, the site is also associated with Jewish biblical prophets who are also venerated in Islam. After the Muslim conquest of Jerusalem in 637 CE, Umayyad Caliphs commissioned the construction of the al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock on the site. The Dome was completed in 692 CE, making it one of the oldest extant Islamic structures in the world, after the Kaabah. The Al Aqsa Mosque rests on the far southern side of the Mount, facing Mecca. The Dome of the Rock currently sits in the middle, occupying or close to the area where the Bible mandates the Holy Temple be rebuilt.
In light of the dual claims of both Judaism and Islam, it is one of the most contested religious sites in the world. Since the Crusades, the Muslim community of Jerusalem has managed the site as a Waqf, without interruption. As the site is part of the Old City, controlled by Israel since 1967, both Israel and the Palestinian Authority claim sovereignty over it, and it remains a major focal point of the Arab–Israeli conflict. In an attempt to keep the status quo, the Israeli government enforces a controversial ban on prayer by non-Muslim visitors.
The Temple Mount forms the northern portion of a very narrow spur of hill that slopes sharply from north to south. Rising above the Kidron Valley to the east and Tyropoeon Valley to the west, its peak reaches a height of 740 m (2,428 ft) above sea level. In around 19 BCE, Herod the Great extended the Mount's natural plateau by enclosing the area with four massive retaining walls and filling the voids. This artificial expansion resulted in a large flat expanse which today forms the eastern section of the Old City of Jerusalem. The trapezium shaped platform measures 488 m along the west, 470 m along the east, 315 m along the north and 280 m along the south, giving a total area of approximately 150,000 m2 (37 acres). The northern wall of the Mount, together with the northern section of the western wall, is hidden behind residential buildings. The southern section of the western flank is revealed and contains what is known as the Western Wall. The retaining walls on these two sides descend many meters below ground level. A northern portion of the western wall may be seen from within the Western Wall Tunnel, which was excavated through buildings adjacent to the platform. On the southern and eastern sides the walls are visible almost to their full height. The platform itself is separated from the rest of the Old City by the Tyropoeon Valley, though this once deep valley is now largely hidden beneath later deposits, and is imperceptible in places. The platform can be reached via Bridge Street – a street in the Muslim Quarter at the level of the platform, actually sitting on a monumental bridge; the bridge is no longer externally visible due to the change in ground level, but it may be seen from beneath via the Western Wall Tunnel.
The hill is believed to have been inhabited since the 4th millennium BCE.
Assuming colocation with the biblical Mount Zion, its southern section would have been walled at the beginning of the 2nd millennium BCE, in around 1850 BCE, by Canaanites who established a settlement there (or in the vicinity) named Jebus.
Biblical scholars have also identified it with Mount Moriah where the binding of Isaac took place. According to the Hebrew Bible, Mount Moriah was originally a threshing-floor owned by Araunah, a Jebusite. The prophet Gad suggested the area to King David as a fitting place for the erection of an altar to YHWH, since it was there a destroying angel was standing when God stopped a great plague in Jerusalem. David then bought the property from Araunah, for fifty pieces of silver, and erected the altar. YHWH instructed David to build a sanctuary on the site, outside the city walls on the northern edge of the hill. The building was to replace the Tabernacle, and serve as the Temple of the Israelites in Jerusalem. The Temple Mount is an important part of Biblical archaeology.
Much of the Mount's early history is synonymous with events pertaining to the Temple itself. After the alleged destruction of Solomon's Temple by Nebuchadnezzar II, construction of the Second Temple began under Cyrus in around 538 BCE, and completed in 516 BCE. Evidence of a Hasmonean expansion of the Temple Mount has been recovered by archaeologist Leen Ritmeyer. Around 19 BCE, Herod the Great further expanded the Mount and rebuilt the temple. The ambitious project, which involved the employment of 10,000 workers, more than doubled the size of Temple Mount to approximately 36 acres (150,000 m2). Herod leveled the area by cutting away rock on the northwest side and raising the sloping ground to the south. He achieved this by constructing huge buttress walls and vaults, filling the necessary sections with earth and rubble. A basilica (the Royal Stoa) was constructed on the southern end of the expanded platform, which provided a focus for the city's commercial and legal transactions, and which was provided with separate access to the city below via the Robinson's Arch overpass. In addition to restoration of the Temple, its courtyards, and porticoes, Herod also built Antonia Fortress abutting the northwestern corner of the Temple Mount, and a rainwater reservoir, Birket Israel, in the northeast. As a result of the First Jewish-Roman War, the fortress was destroyed by Roman emperor Vespasian, in 70 CE, under the command of his son and imperial heir, Titus.
Aelia came from Hadrian's nomen gentile, Aelius, while Capitolina meant that the new city was dedicated to Jupiter Capitolinus, to whom a temple was built on the site of the former second Jewish temple, the Temple Mount.
Hadrian had intended the construction of the new city as a gift to the Jews, but since he had constructed a giant statue of himself in front of the Temple of Jupiter and the Temple of Jupiter had a huge statue of Jupiter inside of it, there were now two enormous graven images on the Temple Mount. It was also the normal practice of the adherents of the Hellenic religion to sacrifice pigs before their deities. In addition to this, Hadrian issued a decree prohibiting the practice of circumcision. These three factors, the graven images, the sacrifice of pigs before the altar, and the prohibition of circumcision, constituted for non-Hellenized radical Zealot Jews a new abomination of desolation, and thus Bar Kochba launched the Third Jewish Revolt. After the Third Jewish Revolt failed, all Jews were forbidden on pain of death from entering the city.
In 363, Emperor Julian, on his way to engage Persia, stopped at the ruins of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. Julian granted the Jews permission to begin rebuilding the Temple. To Christians, the destroyed Temple was a symbol of Christianity's triumph over Judaism, and Julian, was an opponent of Christianity. Rebuilding work began, but was ended by the Galilee earthquake of 363.
There are records of Jews continuing to offer sacrifices on the Foundation Stone after the destruction of the Temple and into the Byzantine period.
Archaeological evidence in the form of an elaborate mosaic floor similar to the one in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and multiple fragments of an elaborate marble Templon (chancel screen) prove that an elaborate Byzantine church or monastery or other public building stood on the Temple Mount in Byzantine times.
In 610, the Sassanid Empire drove the Byzantine Empire out of the Middle East, giving the Jews control of Jerusalem for the first time in centuries. The Jews in Palestine were allowed to set up a vassal state under the Sassanid Empire called the Sassanid Jewish Commonwealth which lasted for five years. Jewish rabbis ordered the restart of animal sacrifice for the first time since the time of Second Temple and started to reconstruct the Jewish Temple. Shortly before the Byzantines took the area back five years later in 615, the Persians gave control to the Christian population, who tore down the partially built Jewish Temple edifice and turned it into a garbage dump, which is what it was when the Caliph Omar took the city in the 630s.
Upon the capture of Jerusalem by the victorious Caliph Omar, Omar immediately headed to the Temple Mount with his advisor, Ka'ab al-Ahbar, a formerly Jewish rabbi who had converted to Islam, in order to find the holy site of the "Furthest Mosque" or Al Masjid al Aqsa which was mentioned in the Quran and specified in the Hadiths of being in Jerusalem.Ka'ab al-Ahbar suggested to Caliph Omar to build the Dome of the Rock monument on the site that Ka'ab believed to be the Biblical Holy of the Holies, believing that this site is where Mohammad ascended to heaven during the Isra and Mi'raj miracle. The actual construction of the Muslim monuments at the southeast corner, facing Mecca, near which the al-Aqsa Mosque were built 78 years later. The original building is now known to have been wooden and to have been constructed on the site of a Byzantine public building with an elaborate mosaic floor.
In 691 an octagonal Islamic building topped by a dome was built by the Caliph Abd al-Malik around the rock, for a myriad of political, dynastic and religious reasons, built on local and Koranic traditions articulating the site's holiness, a process in which textual and architectural narratives reinforced one another. The shrine became known as the Dome of the Rock (Qubbat as-Sakhra قبة الصخرة). (The dome itself was covered in gold in 1920.) In 715 the Umayyads led by the Caliph al-Walid I, rebuilt the Temple's nearby Chanuyot into a mosque (see illustrations and detailed drawing) which they named al-Masjid al-Aqsa المسجد الأقصى, the al-Aqsa Mosque or in translation "the furthest mosque", corresponding to the Islamic belief of Muhammad's miraculous nocturnal journey as recounted in the Qur'an and hadith. The term al-Haram al-Sharif الحرم الشريف (the Noble Sanctuary) refers to the whole area that surrounds that Rock as was called later by the Mamluks and Ottomans.
For Muslims, the importance of the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque makes Jerusalem the third-holiest city, after Mecca and Medina. The mosque and shrine are currently administered by a Waqf (an Islamic trust). The various inscriptions on the Dome walls and the artistic decorations imply on symbolic eschatological significance of the structure.
The Crusader period began in 1099 with the First Crusade's capture of Jerusalem. After the city's conquest, the Crusading order Knights Templar was granted use of the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount by Baldwin II of Jerusalem and Warmund, Patriarch of Jerusalem probably at the Council of Nablus in January 1120, giving the Templars a headquarters in the captured Al-Aqsa Mosque. The Temple Mount had a mystique because it was above what was believed to be the ruins of the Temple of Solomon. The Crusaders therefore referred to the Al Aqsa Mosque as Solomon's Temple, and it was from this location that the new Order took the name of Poor Knights of Christ and the Temple of Solomon, or "Templar" knights.
Following the Ottoman conquest of Palestine in 1516, the Ottoman authorities continued the policy of prohibiting non-Muslims from setting foot on the Temple Mount until the early 19th-century, when non-Muslims were again permitted to visit the site.
In 1867, a team from the Royal Engineers, led by Lieutenant Charles Warren and financed by the Palestine Exploration Fund (P.E.F.), discovered a series of underground tunnels near the Temple Mount. Warren secretly excavated some tunnels near the Temple Mount walls and was the first one to document their lower courses. Warren also conducted some small scale excavations inside the Temple Mount, by removing rubble that blocked passages leading from the Double Gate chamber.
Between 1922 and 1924, the Dome of the Rock was restored by the Islamic Higher Council.
Jordan undertook two renovations of the Dome of the Rock, replacing the leaking, wooden dome with an aluminum dome in 1952, and, when the new dome leaked, carrying out a second restoration between 1959 and 1964.
During the 1967 Six-Day War Israel captured the Temple Mount together with all of East Jerusalem and the West Bank from Jordan, who had controlled it since 1948. The Chief Rabbi of the Israeli Defense Forces, Shlomo Goren, led the soldiers in religious celebrations on the Temple Mount and at the Western Wall. The Israeli Chief Rabbinate also declared a religious holiday on the anniversary, called "Yom Yerushalayim" (Jerusalem Day), which also became a national holiday that commemorates the reunification of the city. Many Jews saw the capture of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount as a miraculous liberation of biblical-messianic proportion.
A few days after the war was over 200,000 Jews flocked to the Western Wall in the first mass Jewish pilgrimage near the mount since the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. However, the Israeli government subsequently left the Islamic waqf in control of the site. The site has become a flash-point between Israel and the Muslim world.
On October 8, 1990, Israeli forces patrolling the site blocked worshipers from accessing it. A tear gas canister was detonated among the female worshipers, which caused events to escalate. Rocks were eventually thrown, while security forces fired rounds that ended up killing 20 people and injured around 140 more. An Israeli enquiry found Israeli forces at fault, but it also concluded that charges could not be brought against any particular individuals.
Between 1992 and 1994, the Jordanian government undertook the unprecedented step of gilding the dome of the Dome of the Rock, covering it with 5000 gold plates, and restoring and reinforcing the structure. The Salah Eddin minbar was also restored. The project was paid for by King Hussein personally, at a cost of $8 million.
On September 28, 2000, Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon visited the Temple Mount. He toured the site, together with a Likud party delegation and a large number of Israeli riot police. The visit was seen as a provocative gesture by many Palestinians, who gathered around the site. Demonstrations soon turned violent, with both rubber bullets and tear gas being used. This event is often cited as one of the catalysts of the Second Palestinian Intifada.
Also in this period, Palestinian authorities have begun excavations at the Temple Mount, damaging the structural integrity of the site; see below.
An Islamic Waqf has managed the Temple Mount continuously since the Muslim reconquest of the Kingdom of Jerusalem in 1187. On June 7, 1967, soon after Israel had taken control of the area during the Six-Day War, Prime Minister Levi Eshkol assured that "no harm whatsoever shall come to the places sacred to all religions". Together with the extension of Israeli jurisdiction and administration over east Jerusalem, the Knesset passed the Preservation of the Holy Places Law, ensuring protection of the Holy Places against desecration, as well as freedom of access thereto. Israel agreed to leave administration of the site in the hands of the Waqf.
Although freedom of access was enshrined in the law, as a security measure, the Israeli government currently enforces a ban on non-Muslim prayer on the site. Non-Muslims who are observed praying on the site are subject to expulsion by the police. At various times, when there is fear of Arab rioting upon the mount resulting in throwing stones from above towards the Western Wall Plaza, Israel has prevented Muslim men under 45 from praying in the compound, citing these concerns. Sometimes such restrictions have coincided with Friday prayers during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. Normally, West Bank Palestinians are allowed access to Jerusalem only during Islamic holidays, with access usually restricted to men over 35 and women of any age eligible for permits to enter the city. Palestinian residents of Jerusalem, which because of Israel's annexation of Jerusalem, hold Israeli permanent residency cards, and Israeli Arabs, are permitted unrestricted access to the Temple Mount.
An additional flat platform was built above the portion of the hill rising above the general level of the top of the Temple Mount, and this upper platform is the location of the Dome of the Rock; the rock in question is the bedrock at the peak of the hill, just breaching the floor level of the upper platform. Beneath the rock is a natural cave known as the Well of Souls, originally accessible only by a narrow hole in the rock itself, Crusaders hacked open an entrance to the cave from the south, by which it can now be entered. There is also a smaller domed building on the upper platform, slightly to the east of the Dome of the Rock, known as the Dome of the Chain — traditionally the location where a chain once rose to heaven. Several stairways rise to the upper platform from the lower; that at the northwest corner is believed by some archaeologists be part of a much wider monumental staircase, mostly hidden or destroyed, and dating from the Second Temple era.
The lower platform – which constitutes most of the surface of the Temple Mount – has at its southern end the al-Aqsa Mosque, which takes up most of the width of the Mount. Gardens take up the eastern and most of the northern side of the platform; the far north of the platform houses an Islamic school. The lower platform also houses a fountain (known as al-Kas), originally supplied with water via a long narrow aqueduct leading from pools at Bethlehem (colloquially known as Solomon's Pools), but now supplied from Jerusalem's water mains. There are several cisterns embedded in the lower platform, designed to collect rain water as a water supply. These have various forms and structures, seemingly built in different periods by different architects, ranging from vaulted chambers built in the gap between the bedrock and the platform, to chambers cut into the bedrock itself. Of these, the most notable are (numbering traditionally follows Wilson's scheme):
The walls of the platform contain several gateways, all currently blocked. In the east wall is the Golden Gate, through which legend states the Jewish Messiah would enter Jerusalem. On the southern face are the Hulda Gates — the triple gate (which has three arches) and the double gate (which has two arches, and is partly obscured by a Crusader building); these were the entrance and exit (respectively) to the Temple Mount from Ophel (the oldest part of Jerusalem), and the main access to the Mount for ordinary Jews. In the western face, near the southern corner, is the Barclay's Gate – only half visible due to a building on the northern side. Also in the western face, hidden by later construction but visible via the recent Western Wall Tunnels, and only rediscovered by Warren, is Warren's Gate; the function of these western gates is obscure, but many Jews view Warren's Gate as particularly holy, due to its location due west of the Dome of the Rock. Traditional belief considers the Dome of the Rock to have earlier been the location at which the Holy of Holies was placed; numerous alternative opinions exist, based on study and calculations, such as those of Tuvia Sagiv.
Warren was able to investigate the inside of these gates. Warren's Gate and the Golden Gate simply head towards the centre of the Mount, fairly quickly giving access to the surface by steps. Barclay's Gate is similar, but abruptly turns south as it does so; the reason for this is currently unknown. The double and triple gates (the Huldah Gates) are more substantial; heading into the Mount for some distance they each finally have steps rising to the surface just north of the al-Aqsa Mosque. The passageway for each is vaulted, and has two aisles (in the case of the triple gate, a third aisle exists for a brief distance beyond the gate); the eastern aisle of the double gates and western of the triple gates reach the surface, the other aisles terminating some way before the steps – Warren believed that one aisle of each original passage was extended when the al-Aqsa Mosque blocked the original surface exits.
East of and joined to the triple gate passageway is a large vaulted area, supporting the southeastern corner of the Temple Mount platform – which is substantially above the bedrock at this point – the vaulted chambers here are popularly referred to as King Solomon's Stables. They were used as stables by the Crusaders, but were built by Herod the Great – along with the platform they were built to support. In the process of investigating Cistern 10, Warren discovered tunnels that lay under the Triple Gate passageway. These passages lead in erratic directions, some leading beyond the southern edge of the Temple Mount (they are at a depth below the base of the walls); their purpose is currently unknown – as is whether they predate the Temple Mount – a situation not helped by the fact that apart from Warren's expedition no one else is known to have visited them.
The existing four minarets include three near the Western Wall and one near the northern wall. The first minaret was constructed on the southwest corner of the Temple Mount in 1278. The second was built in 1297 by order of a Mameluk king, the third by a governor of Jerusalem in 1329, and the last in 1367.
Due to the extreme political sensitivity of the site, no real archaeological excavations have ever been conducted on the Temple Mount itself. Protests commonly occur whenever archaeologists conduct projects near the Mount. This sensitivity has not, however, prevented the Muslim Waqf from destroying archeological evidence on a number of occasions. Aside from visual observation of surface features, most other archaeological knowledge of the site comes from the 19th century survey carried out by Charles Wilson and Charles Warren and others.
After the Six-Day War of 1967, Israeli archeologists began a series of excavations near the site at the southern wall that uncovered finds from the Second Temple period through Roman, Umayyad and Crusader times. Over the period 1970–88, a number of tunnels were excavated in the vicinity, including one that passed to the west of the Mount and became known as the Western Wall Tunnel, which was opened to the public in 1996. The same year the Waqf began construction of a new mosque in the structures known since Crusader times as Solomon's Stables. Many Israelis regarded this as a radical change of the status quo, which should not have been undertaken without first consulting the Israeli government. The project was done without attention to the possibility of disturbing historically significant archaeological material, with stone and ancient artifacts treated without regard to their preservation.
In October 1999, the Islamic Waqf, and the Islamic Movement conducted an illegal dig which inflicted much archaeological damage. The earth from this operation, which has archeological wealth relevant to Jewish, Christian and Muslim history, was removed by heavy machinery and unceremoniously dumped by trucks into the nearby Kidron Valley. Although the archeological finds in the earth are already not in situ, this soil still contains great archeological potential. No archeological excavation was ever conducted on the Temple Mount, and this soil was the only archeological information that has ever been available to anyone. For this reason Israeli archaeologists Dr. Gabriel Barkay and Zachi Zweig established a project sifting all the earth in this dump: the Temple Mount Sifting Project. Among finds uncovered in rubble removed from the Temple Mount were:
In late 2002, a bulge of about 700 mm was reported in the southern retaining wall part of the Temple Mount. A Jordanian team of engineers recommended replacing or resetting most of the stones in the affected area. In February 2004, the eastern wall of the Mount was damaged by an earthquake. The damage threatened to topple sections of the wall into the area known as Solomon's Stables. A few days later, a portion of retaining wall, supporting the earthen ramp that led from the Western Wall plaza to the Gate of the Moors on the Temple Mount, collapsed. In 2007 the Israel Antiquities Authority started work on the construction of a temporary wooden pedestrian pathway to replace the Mugrabi Gate ramp after a landslide in 2005 made it unsafe and in danger of collapse. The works sparked condemnation from Arab leaders.
In July 2007 the Muslim religious trust which administers the Mount began digging a 400-metre-long, 1.5-metre-deep trench from the northern side of the Temple Mount compound to the Dome of the Rock in order to replace 40-year-old electric cables in the area. Israeli archaeologists accused the waqf of a deliberate act of cultural vandalism.
Israelis allege that Palestinians are deliberately removing significant amounts of archaeological evidence about the Jewish past of the site and claim to have found significant artifacts in the fill removed by bulldozers and trucks from the Temple Mount. Muslims allege that the Israelis are deliberately damaging the remains of Islamic-era buildings found in their excavations. Since the Waqf is granted almost full autonomy on the Islamic holy sites, Israeli archaeologists have been prevented from inspecting the area, and are restricted to conducting excavations around the Temple Mount.
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Jewish connection and veneration to the site arguably stems from the fact that it contains the Foundation Stone which, according to the rabbis of the Talmud, was the spot from where the world was created and expanded into its current form. It was subsequently the Holy of Holies of the Temple, the Most Holy Place in Judaism. Jewish tradition names it as the location for a number of important events which occurred in the Bible, including the Binding of Isaac, Jacob's dream, and the prayer of Isaac and Rebekah. Similarly, when the Bible recounts that King David purchased a threshing floor owned by Araunah the Jebusite, tradition locates it as being on this mount. An early Jewish text, the Genesis Rabba, states that this site is one of three about which the nations of the world cannot taunt Israel and say "you have stolen them," since it was purchased "for its full price" by David. David wanted to construct a sanctuary there, but this was left to his son Solomon, who completed the task in c. 950 BCE with the construction of the First Temple.
Due to religious restrictions on entering the most sacred areas of the Temple Mount (see following section), the Western Wall, a retaining wall for the Temple Mount and remnant of the Second Temple structure, is considered by some rabbinical authorities the holiest accessible site for Jews to pray. Jewish texts record that the Mount will be the site of the Third Temple, which will be rebuilt with the coming of the Jewish Messiah.
A 2013 Knesset committee hearing considered allowing Jews to pray at the site, amidst heated debate. Arab-Israeli MPs were ejected for disrupting the hearing, after shouting at the chairman, calling her a "pyromaniac". Religious Affairs Minister Eli Ben-Dahan of Jewish Home said his ministry was seeking legal ways to enable Jews to pray at the site.
During Temple times, entry to the Mount was limited by a complex set of purity laws. Those who were not of the Jewish nation were prohibited from entering the inner court of the Temple. A hewn stone measuring 60 x 90 cm. and engraved with Greek uncials was discovered in 1871 near a court on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem in which it outlined this prohibition:
Translation: "Let no foreigner enter within the parapet and the partition which surrounds the Temple precincts. Anyone caught [violating] will be held accountable for his ensuing death." Today, the stone is preserved in Istanbul's Museum of Antiquities.
Maimonides wrote that it was only permitted to enter the site to fulfill a religious precept. After the destruction of the Temple there was discussion as to whether the site, bereft of the Temple, still maintained its holiness or not. Jewish codifiers accepted the opinion of Maimonides who ruled that the holiness of the Temple sanctified the site for eternity and consequently the restrictions on entry to the site are still currently in force. While secular Jews ascend freely, the question of whether ascending is permitted is a matter some debate among religious authorities, with a majority holding that it is permitted to ascend to the Temple Mount, but not to step on the site of the inner courtyards of the ancient Temple. The question then becomes whether the site can be ascertained accurately. A second complex legal debate centers around the precise divine punishment for stepping onto these forbidden spots.
There is debate over whether reports that Maimonides himself ascended the Mount are reliable. One such report claims he did so on Thursday, October 21, 1165, during the Crusader period. Some early scholars however, claim that entry onto certain areas of the Mount are permitted. It appears that Radbaz also entered the Mount and advised others how to do this. He permits entry from all the gates into the 135×135 cubits of the Women's Courtyard in the east, since the biblical prohibition only applies to the 187×135 cubits of the Temple in the west. There are also Christian and Islamic sources which indicate that Jews accessed the site, but these visits may have been made under duress.
In August 1967 after Israel's capture of the Mount, the Chief Rabbis of Israel, Isser Yehuda Unterman and Yitzhak Nissim, together with other leading rabbis, asserted that "For generations we have warned against and refrained from entering any part of the Temple Mount." A recent study of this rabbinical ruling suggests that it was both "unprecedented" and possibly prompted by governmental pressure on the rabbis, as well as "brilliant" in preventing Muslim-Jewish friction on the Mount.
Rabbinical consensus in the post-1967 period in the Religious Zionist stream of Orthodox Judaism held that it is forbidden for Jews to enter any part of the Temple Mount, and in January 2005 a declaration was signed confirming the 1967 decision.
Nearly all Haredi rabbis are also of the opinion that the Mount is off limits to Jews and non-Jews alike. Their opinions against entering the Temple Mount are based on the danger of entering the hallowed area of the Temple courtyard and the impossibility of fulfilling the ritual requirement of cleansing oneself with the ashes of a red heifer. The boundaries of the areas which are completely forbidden, while having large portions in common, are delineated differently by various rabbinic authorities.
However, there is a growing body of Modern Orthodox and national religious rabbis who encourage visits to certain parts of the Mount, which they believe are permitted according to most medieval rabbinical authorities. These rabbis include: Shlomo Goren (former Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel); Chaim David Halevi (former Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv and Yaffo); Dov Lior (Rabbi of Kiryat Arba); Yosef Elboim; Yisrael Ariel; She'ar Yashuv Cohen (Chief Rabbi of Haifa); Yuval Sherlo (rosh yeshiva of the hesder yeshiva of Petah Tikva); Meir Kahane. One of them, Shlomo Goren, states that it is possible that Jews are even allowed to enter the heart of the Dome of the Rock, according to Jewish Law of Conquest. These authorities demand an attitude of veneration on the part of Jews ascending the Temple Mount, ablution in a mikveh prior to the ascent, and the wearing of non-leather shoes. Some rabbinic authorities are now of the opinion that it is imperative for Jews to ascend in order to halt the ongoing process of Islamization of the Temple Mount. Maimonides, perhaps the greatest codifier of Jewish Law, wrote in Laws of the Chosen House ch 7 Law 15 "One may bring a dead body in to the (lower sanctified areas of the) Temple Mount and there is no need to say that the ritually impure (from the dead) may enter there, because the dead body itself can enter". One who is ritually impure through direct or in-direct contact of the dead cannot walk in the higher sanctified areas. For those who are visibly Jewish, they have no choice, but to follow this peripheral route as it has become unofficially part of the status quo on the Mount. Many of these recent opinions rely on archaeological evidence.
In December 2013, the two Chief Rabbis of Israel, David Lau and Yitzhak Yosef, reiterated the ban on Jews entering the Temple Mount. They wrote, "In light of [those] neglecting [this ruling], we once again warn that nothing has changed and this strict prohibition remains in effect for the entire area [of the Temple Mount]".
In Islam, the Mount is called al-haram al-qudsī ash-sharīf, meaning the Noble Sanctuary. Muslims view the site as being one of the earliest and most noteworthy places of worship of God. For a few years in the early stages of Islam, Muhammad instructed his followers to face the Mount during prayer.
"Exalted is He who took His Servant by night from al-Masjid al-Haram (the Sacred Mosque) to al-Masjid al-Aqsa (the Further Mosque), whose surroundings We have blessed, to show him of Our signs. Indeed, He is the Hearing, the Seeing." Quran 17:1 
The hadith, a collection of the sayings of the Prophet Mohammad, confirm that the location of the Al-Aqsa mosque is indeed in Jerusalem:
"When the people of Quraish did not believe me (i.e. the story of my Night Journey), I stood up in Al-Hijr and Allah displayed Jerusalem in front of me, and I began describing Jerusalem to them while I was looking at it." Sahih Bukhari: Volume 5, Book 58, Number 226.
After the construction, Muslims believe, the temple was used for the worship of one God by many prophets of Islam, including Jesus. Other Muslim scholars have used the Torah (called Tawrat in Arabic) to expand on the details of the temple.
The Mount has great significance in Christianity due to the role the Temple played in the life of Jesus. As a twelve-year-old boy, Jesus was found in the Temple where he confounded the Jewish theologians with his knowledge of the Torah. (Luke 2:41-50) During his ministry, Jesus challenged the corruption of those who used the Temple for commerce and extortion (Matthew 21:12-17) and prophesied the temple's destruction, which came to pass in AD 70. (Mark 13:1-2) During the Byzantine era, Jerusalem was primarily Christian and pilgrims came by the tens of thousands to experience the places where Jesus walked.
With the Persian invasion in 614 followed by the Muslim Siege of Jerusalem in 637, many churches were razed but for some time pilgrims still were able to come and experience the Temple Mount area. Increasing Muslim violence against these pilgrims to Jerusalem instigated the Crusades. The Crusaders re-captured Jerusalem in 1099 and the Dome of the Rock was given to the Augustinians, who turned it into a church, and the Al-Aqsa Mosque became the royal palace of Baldwin I of Jerusalem in 1104. The Knights Templar, who believed the Dome of the Rock was the site of the Solomon's Temple, gave it the name "Templum Domini" and set up their headquarters in the Al-Aqsa Mosque adjacent to the Dome for much of the 12th century.
Though some Christians believe that the Temple will be reconstructed before, or concurrent with, the Second Coming of Jesus (also see dispensationalism), pilgrimage to the Temple Mount is not viewed as essential in the beliefs and worship of most Christians. To wit, the New Testament recounts a story of a Samaritan woman asking Jesus about the appropriate place to worship, Jerusalem or the Samaritan holy place at Mount Gerizim, to which Jesus replies, "Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth."(John 4:21-24)
The place is of greater importance to Eastern Christians because there was a fully consecrated church on that spot during the Byzantine period. According to Eastern Church canons, once a church has been fully consecrated, it cannot ever serve as anything other than a church. Of course, this is just one example of the thousands of churches that were either destroyed, or converted to mosques following the Muslim invasion of the Eastern Roman Empire. The most notable example is the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.
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