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Visiting the Temple Mount in Our Time (3)

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Based on a Shiur given by HaRav Aharon Lichtenstein*

[Last week the shiur dealt with purity requirements of a person entering the various areas of Har ha-Bayit.]


In addition to the prohibition of entry discussed above, there is another rabbinic prohibition of entry – into the area of the Chail. The Mishna in tractate Kelim (1:8) defines the various areas of the Temple Mount and sanctuary:

The Temple Mount is holier, for neither zavim nor zavot nor menstruants nor women after childbirth may enter it. The Chail is holier, for neither idolaters nor one who contracted corpse uncleanness may enter it. The Ezrat Nashim is holier, for no tevul yom may enter it, though no sin offering is thereby incurred. The Ezrat Yisrael is holier, for a man who has not yet offered his obligatory sacrifices may not enter it, and if he enters he incurs thereby a sin-offering.

Today we are all regarded as having contracted the ritual impurity imparted by a corpse. Therefore, we are rabbinically forbidden to enter the area of the Chail. Obviously, defining the various areas depends upon archeological understanding of the Temple Mount. We shall not go into the divergent opinions.

Generally speaking, then, the concern about visiting the Temple Mount is on two levels:

1) Possible entry into the Azara – which is a possible violation of a Torah prohibition. Stringency is, therefore, required.

2.) A place which is certainly not the Azara, but may possibly fall within the bounds of the Chail – involves a possible violation of a rabbinic prohibition.


As we saw earlier in the words of the Rambam, non-Jews are barred from entering particular areas of the Temple Mount. This restriction raises an interesting question: Why are non-Jews forbidden entry? Will they obey the demands of Halakha? It seems that this halakha raises an important point regarding the entry of those who are ritually impure to the Temple Mount.

The Gemara in Makkot 14b discusses a negative precept that is preceded by a positive commandment (i.e., a negative precept whose violation requires that the transgressor must already have violated a positive precept):

Rabba bar Bar Chana said: Any prohibition preceded by a positive commandment is subject to lashes.

In the end, after a detailed discussion, the Gemara asserts that a negative precept that was preceded by a positive one is considered like a negative precept whose violation can be rectified by the fulfillment of a positive commandment. Lashes are, therefore, not administered for the violation of the negative commandment.

A number of Rishonim object to this assertion: An explicit Mishna states that lashes are administered for entering the Temple while ritually impure. Now if there is no flogging for the violation of a negative commandment that was preceded by a positive one – then how can flogging be imposed in this case? Surely the prohibition was preceded by the positive precept of banning from the camp those who are ritually impure?

It may be suggested that the negative precept barring entry into the Temple while in a state of ritual impurity is not defined as a negative precept that is preceded by a positive commandment because there is no symmetry between the positive and negative commandments. The negative commandment applies to the individual, to each and every person who is ritually impure. The positive precept, on the other hand, as formulated by the biblical verse as well as by the Rambam, falls upon the community:[1]

It was a positive commandment to banish all unclean persons from the Sanctuary. For it is said: "Command the children of Israel, that they put out of the camp every leper, and every one that has an issue, and whoever is unclean by the dead" (Bamidbar 5:2).

The Rambam implies that the obligation falls upon the community. The community is responsible for the sanctity of the Temple, and this responsibility expresses itself, among other ways, in sending the ritually impure out of the camp.

According to this, we may understand the prohibition of non-Jewish entry into the Temple Mount. The non-Jew is not commanded not to enter the Temple Mount, but the Jewish community is collectively responsible to make sure that a non-Jew does not go beyond the Chail, so as not to violate the sanctity of the Temple.


The entire preceding discussion is only relevant if we assume that the sanctity of the Temple is still in effect in our day, even though the Temple is no longer standing. As is well known, this question is subject to dispute among the Rishonim.


The Rambam in Hilkhot Beit ha-Bechira (7:7) rules:

Even though the Sanctuary today is in ruins because of our iniquities, we are obliged to revere it in the same manner as when it was standing. One should not enter except where it was permissible; nor should anyone sit down in the [site of] the Azara or act irreverently while facing [the place where stood] the East Gate; for it is said: "You shall keep my Sabbaths, and revere My Sanctuary" (Vayikra 19:30). Now just as we are obliged to keep the Sabbath for all time to come, so must we revere the Sanctuary, for all time to come; for even though it is in ruins its sanctity endures.

The Rambam relates here to the commandment of revering the sanctuary, but it would seem that his words are equally applicable to the prohibition of entry in a state of ritual impurity.

In the Gemara, we find many discussions of the question whether the first and second sanctifications were for their time alone, or for the future as well. It follows from the Rishonim that a distinction may be made between the sanctity of the land of Israel and the sanctity of partitioned areas (Jerusalem, the Temple Mount, and the like). Indeed, the Rambam also makes such a distinction (ibid. 6:14):

If at any time the rite of hallowing did not include all of the above provisions and in the order stated, the hallowing was not complete. And when Ezra prepared two thanksgiving offerings, he did so merely as a memorial [of the rite]. The site was not hallowed by his ceremony, since neither a king was present nor did the Urim and Tumim function. How then was the site hallowed? By the first sanctification which Shlomo had made, for he had hallowed the Azara and Jerusalem for his own time and for all time to come.

The first sanctity, then, took effect on the Temple Mount and sanctified it to this very day. However, there is a distinction between the sanctity of the Temple Mount and the sanctity of the Land of Israel:

Now why is it my contention that as far as the Sanctuary and Jerusalem were concerned, the first sanctification hallowed them for all time to come, whereas the sanctification of the rest of the Land of Israel, which involved the laws of the Sabbatical year and tithes and like matters, did not hallow the land for all time to come? Because the sanctity of the Sanctuary and of Jerusalem derives from the Divine Presence, which could not be banished. Does it not say "And I will bring your sanctuaries unto desolation" (Vayikra 26:31), wherefrom the Sages have averred: even though they are desolate, the sanctuaries retain their pristine holiness.

By contrast, the obligations arising out of the Land as far as the Sabbatical year and the tithes are concerned had derived from the conquest of the Land by the people [of Israel], and as soon as the land was wrested from them the conquest was nullified. Consequently, the Land was exempted by the Law from tithes and from [the restrictions of] the Sabbatical year, for it was no longer deemed the Land of Israel.

When Ezra, however, came up and hallowed [the Land], he hallowed it not by conquest but merely by the act of taking possession. Therefore, every place that was possessed by those who had come up from Babylonia and hallowed by the sanctification of Ezra is holy today, even though the land was later wrested from them; and the laws of the Sabbatical year and the tithes appertain thereto in the manner we have described in Hilkhot Teruma.

Clearly, then, if we follow the rulings of the Rambam, all the restrictions on entering the Temple Mount should be fully in force even in our day. The Ra'avad disagrees with this position:

Avraham says: This is his own argument; I do not know from where he got it. [We find] in several places in the Mishna: "If there is no Sanctuary, let it rot." And in the Gemara, they say: "That the barriers fell down." This implies that according to the one who says that the first sanctification did not hallow them for all time to come, there is no distinction between the Sanctuary, Jerusalem and the rest of the Land of Israel. Moreover, I say that according to Rabbi Yose, who maintains that the second sanctification hallowed them for all time to come, he said this regarding the rest of the Land of Israel, but not about Jerusalem and the Sanctuary. For Ezra knew that in the future the Sanctuary and Jerusalem will change and become hallowed with a different sanctification with the glory of God forever. This has been revealed to me as God's secret to those who fear Him.

In effect, the Ra'avad disagrees with the Rambam on two points:

1) The first sanctity did not remain valid for the future.

2) The distinction between the sanctity of the Temple Mount and the sanctity of the Land of Israel is in just the opposite direction: In our day, even according to those who maintain that the land of Israel is sanctified, the extra sanctity of Jerusalem and the Temple is no longer valid.

The Tosafot put forward a third opinion, according to which there is no distinction between the sanctity of the land of Israel and the sanctity of Jerusalem and the Temple.

The Ra'avad concludes his words as follows:

Therefore, one who enters there at this time is not liable for karet (excision).

A discussion about the position of the Ra'avad must take a number of considerations into account:

Firstly, why does the Ra'avad say that there is no excision for entry into the Temple Mount, when he maintains that such entry is perfectly permissible? The Acharonim have dealt with his position; Rabbi Kook and others have argued that even the Ra'avad agrees that entering the Temple Mount is forbidden today by Torah law, though not on the level of excision. Other Acharonim maintain that according to the Ra'avad entering the Temple Mount is only forbidden by rabbinic decree.

The Meiri in Shavuot (16) says that the prevalent custom is to enter the site of the Temple. This, however, is a solitary opinion. It is clear that according to all the other Rishonim, entry into the Temple Mount is forbidden, whether by Torah law or only by rabbinic decree.

Furthermore, it is possible that the Ra'avad relates solely to the problem of ritual impurity, which according to him does not exist today. But even according to him, the mitzva to revere the sanctuary applies even today.

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, z"l, explained that there are two aspects to the Temple: the Temple as the site of the sacrificial service, and the Temple as God's chosen abode. Jerusalem was established as God's chosen place for all times; hence, even today, when its sanctity is nullified, and one is forbidden to offer sacrifices there, it is still forbidden to offer sacrifices elsewhere, because Jerusalem remains God's chosen abode. According to this explanation, it is possible that even if the sanctity necessary for the offering of sacrifices is no longer valid, there is still a mitzva to revere the Temple, even according to the Ra'avad.

(Translated by David Strauss)

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