Dr. Aaron Lerner Date: 6 November 2007
IMRA interviewed Rabbi Chaim Richman, Director, International Department, The Temple Institute, in English, on 6 November:
IMRA: What is the Jewish position regarding the presence of human beings in the area of the Holy of Holies on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem?
RICHMAN: Let me premise this by saying that we believe that it is important for people to go to the Temple Mount. People who believe in the God of Israel – Jews and righteous Gentiles and all those people who want to respect environs of where the Temple stood. When I take people up to the Temple Mount I take non-Jews as well. And I am pleased that they agree to go according to the halachic (AL: Jewish law) guidelines and that I know that I am preventing these non-Jews from going where they shouldn’t go.
As far as the law – the Torah – is concerned, there are not supposed to be any people in the sanctified courtyard of the Temple. Where the Temple stood. Nobody is supposed to be there. It is not a question of ‘oh, we are satisfied that the Moslems are there keeping it warm for us’. It is nothing like that. Nobody is supposed to be there at all.
IMRA: When we talk about the area. There are different people who have mapped out different places. Would you say that the area of the Dome of the Rock certainly has within it the Holy of Holies?
RICHMAN: No question. There are different opinions. As many as a dozen opinions over the boundaries of the area. The Temple Mount is a very large area. It is that largest man made plateau in the world. The equivalent of 24 football fields. But the sanctified area is around a fifth of that size and there were additions that were made throughout history beginning with the time of Herod and those additions do not have the same legally binding sanctity. And this is a very important question of scholarship – both as far as rebuilding is concerned and as far as going in today – to know exactly where it stood.
So even though there are all these opinions that I mentioned, they can be distilled to three or four central opinions – all of which are arguing about 300 feet. Some say a little more to the North, some say a little more to the South. However, according to the opinion which I would call unimpeachable because it is the most central – reflecting an unbroken tradition – in the words of the Radbaz, Rabbi David ben Zimra, "it is obvious that the Shtiah rock (AL: of the Holy of Holies) exists under the Dome of the Rock".
Even the most perfunctory study of Islam would find that that is why the Dome of the Rock was built there in the first place.
IMRA: How is the presence of any human being within the area of the Dome of the Rock perceived by Jewish law?
RICHMAN: The presence of a human being there is an undermining of the conception of the sovereignty of God because He chose that one place out of the whole world to rest His presence.
Consider this from the perspective of the Torah where you have one man who goes into this one place once a year. The apex of the spiritual world. Of time, space and life, The High Priest, representing all of humanity, going into this place, representing the sanctity of space on that one day [AL: Yom Kippur] representing the sanctity of time and he makes an alignment, a reconcilement of the spiritual relationship between God and man. This is a place that is very highly charged. This is the place that is the center of the universe. This is the navel of creation. The prayers of all humanity, even today, before they assemble On High they assemble at that place like at a cosmic switchboard.
This is a question of our understanding and belief and regard for God’s desire to have an abode in this world. To be where mankind lets Him in. That is His house. So what am I doing there? What business does a person have being there?
IMRA: So if one were to consider what concessions people have made, one might say that Israel has made a phenomenal unprecedented concession in allowing access to human beings to the Dome of the Rock.
RICHMAN: I wouldn’t use that word because it makes it sound as if this is something that we should be lauded for. Because we do not have the right to concede.
I would call it an irony rather than a concession.
There is no other word. Because everything going on on the Temple Mount smacks of such cosmic irony.
Do you know that there is a monument commemorating "the martyrs of Sabra and Shatilla" on the southwestern part of the Temple Mount under the open skies of the State of Israel with an Arabic inscription that calls for the destruction of the State of Israel? There, at the holiest place in the world for the Jewish People?
That at the one place in the world where Jews are required to pray they are not allowed to pray? And if I try to pray there I will be escorted off by the Israel Police – even though the Supreme Court of the State of Israel upholds my right to pray.