Visiting the Temple Mount in Our Time

  • Harav Aharon Lichtenstein

 

Visiting the Temple Mount in Our Time

 

Based on a shiur by Harav Aharon Lichtenstein

Translated by David Strauss

 

 

            The issue of visiting the Temple Mount is a somewhat loaded topic. In this shiur, I shall deal exclusively with the halakhic aspects of this issue, and not with its other dimensions, the importance of which should not be treated lightly.

 

            The issue of visiting the Temple Mount in our time can be divided into two separate questions:

 

1)    Is there any prohibition whatsoever to enter the Temple Mount?

2)    Assuming that such a prohibition exists, with what restrictions, if at all, is visiting the Temple Mount nevertheless possible?

 

Generally speaking, there are a number of questions and issues regarding the Temple Mount and the site of the Temple. The Temple area divides into several zones: the Kodesh ha-Kodashim (the Holy of Holies), the Heikhal (the Sanctuary), and Har ha-Bayit (the Temple Mount). This division is by Torah law. The Heikhal and Har ha-Bayit further divide into sub-zones; this division is on the rabbinic level. Obviously, the severity of entering any particular area varies according to the area’s sanctity, regardless of the question of ritual purity and impurity.

 

I. THE VARIOUS ZONES OF THE TEMPLE AREA

 

A. the kodesh ha-kodashim

 

            Entry into the Kodesh ha-Kodashim is permitted solely to the High Priest and only on Yom Kippur.

 

B. THE HEIKHAL

 

            As for the Heikhal, “needless entry,” as it is termed by Chazal, is forbidden. There is, however, a question about the Rambam’s position on this issue. The Rambam states (Hilkhot Bi’at ha-Mikdash 2:1-2):

 

The High Priest did not enter the Holy of Holies except on Yom Kippur; but an ordinary priest would enter the Holy Place every day for the service.

All priests were admonished not to enter the Holy Place or the Holy of Holies outside the time of service. For it is said: “That he come not at all times into the holy place within the veil” (Vayikra 16:2), “the holy place” referring to the Holy of Holies, and “within the veil” being an admonition with respect to the entire Temple.

 

These laws are based on the Gemara (Menachot 27b). The Rambam seems to imply that the prohibition to enter the Temple outside the time of service applies exclusively to the priests, and not to ordinary Jews. The reason for this might be that the priests are connected to the sacrificial order in the Temple, and therefore they are forbidden to enter the Heikhal when they are not involved in such service. In any event, the Vilna Gaon does not mention this point; he leaves the impression that needless entry into the Heikhal is forbidden to all.

 

C. THE AZARA (THE TEMPLE COURTYARD)

 

            In various places in the Torah, the term “Kodesh” refers to both the Kodesh ha-Kodashim and the Heikhal. The next level of sanctity is that of the Azara. While it too is endowed with a certain sanctity, the term “Kodesh” does not apply to it.

 

            The Rambam describes the area of the Azara as follows (Hilkhot Beit ha-Bechira 1:5):

 

These are the things that were essential in the construction of the Temple: a Holy Place and a Holy of Holies were to be made. In front of the Holy Place there was to be a specific place called the Ulam. Together these three structures were called the Heikhal. Around the Heikhal, at a distance, another wall was erected, corresponding to the hangings of the court [of the Tabernacle] in the wilderness. Everything comprised within this partition, which corresponded to the court of the Tent of Meeting, was called the Azara. All the aforementioned together was referred to as the Mikdash.

 

            Regarding the Azara, there is no prohibition of needless entry. There are, however, certain types of conduct that are forbidden there. The guiding principle is that when a person enters the Azara, he should not feel overly relaxed, as if he were sitting in his living room. This finds expression primarily with regard to sleeping and sitting in the Azara. There is a famous halakha that is mentioned in several places:

 

Sitting in the Azara is permitted only to the kings of the House of David.

 

It should be noted that it is unclear whether these prohibitions are by Torah law or only by rabbinic decree. This issue is subject to a dispute in the Gemara (Zevachim 16).

 

D. HAR HA-BAYIT (THE TEMPLE MOUNT)

 

            The wall of the Azara constitutes the border separating between the priestly and levitical camps. The next level of sanctity (in descending order), below that of the Azara, is the sanctity of the Temple Mount. [In the time of the Mishkan in the desert, the camp was divided into three areas: the camp of the Shekhina, the camp of the Levites, and the camp of Israel.  Similarly, there are three areas within Jerusalem: the Heikhal (Sanctuary) and Azara (Temple Courtyard) parallel the camp of the Shekhina, the rest of the Temple Mount parallels the camp of the Levites, and the rest of Jerusalem parallels the camp of Israel. Each area is governed different rules of access.]

 

On the Temple Mount, free entry is somewhat restricted, so as not to detract from the atmosphere appropriate for the place. These prohibitions fall into a category that appears several times in the Torah: the mitzva of showing reverence to the Temple.

 

            The source of these prohibitions is a Mishna (Berakhot 9:5):

 

A man should not enter the Temple Mount with his staff or with his shoes on or with his wallet or with his feet dust-stained; nor should he make it a short cut, and spitting [on it is forbidden], a fortiori.

 

The Gemara on this Mishna specifies additional prohibitions, but adds nothing to the basic principle. The Gemara explains that the command is to refrain from conducting oneself in the sanctuary as if one were in one’s own home.

 

            The Rambam adds something that does not appear in the Mishna and the Gemara (Hilkhot Beit ha-Bechira 7:1-2):

 

It is a positive commandment to revere the Sanctuary, for it is said: “You shall … revere My sanctuary” (Vayikra 19:30). This does not bid you fear the Sanctuary itself, but Him who commanded that we revere it.

What does reverence entail? That one might not enter the Temple Mount with his staff, or with his sandals on his feet, or in his undergarment, or with the dust upon his feet, or with coins wrapped up in his kerchief; and needless to say, it was forbidden to spit any place in the Temple Mount. If one found it necessary to spit, one had to absorb the spittle in his cloak. Nor might one use the Temple Mount to shorten his way by going in through one entrance and going out through the opposite entrance; rather, one had to circumvent it from the outside. One may not enter it at all except to perform a religious duty.

 

The Rambam adds the last line, according to which even a ritually clean person is forbidden to enter the Temple Mount, if not for the sake of a mitzva. There does not seem to be a source in the Gemara for what the Rambam says here. The Kesef Mishneh directs us to the laws governing a synagogue:

 

And that which he wrote: “One may not enter it at all except to perform a religious duty” – in chapter Benei ha-Ir (Megilla 28b) we say this about a synagogue. All the more so should this apply to the Temple.

 

Regarding the sanctity of a synagogue, the Mishna states (Megilla 28a):

 

Rabbi Yehuda said further: If a synagogue has fallen into ruins, it is not right to deliver funeral orations therein nor to wind ropes nor to spread nets nor to lay out produce on the roof [to dry] nor to use it as a short cut. As it says: “And I will bring your sanctuaries into desolation” (Vayikra 26:31), [which implies that] their holiness remains even when they are desolate. If grass comes up in them, it should not be plucked, so as to excite compassion.

 

Regarding this Mishna, the Gemara says:

 

For instance, Ravina and Rav Ada bar Matana were once standing and asking questions of Rava when a shower of rain came. They went into the synagogue, saying: “We have not gone into the synagogue because of the rain, but because the discussion of a legal point requires clarity, like a clear day.”

 

It follows from this passage that one is forbidden to enter a synagogue for extraneous purposes. The Kesef Mishneh invokes a kal va-chomer, arguing that a similar prohibition applies to the Temple Mount. But this argument is by no means simple. If we understand, as did the Ramban, that the sanctity of a synagogue derives from the fact that it is used for the performance of a mitzva (tashmish mitzva), similar to the strings of tzitzit – then the prohibition is on an entirely different level, for the sanctity of the Temple Mount is not based on tashmish mitzva. Thus, when the Torah writes, “And you shall revere My sanctuary,” which, according to the Rambam includes the Temple Mount – it imposes prohibitions upon the Temple Mount which are entirely different than those imposed upon synagogues. If, however, we understand that the sanctity of a synagogue is similar to consecration, i.e., the consecration of an object for its value, kedushat damim, it is then possible to compare the prohibitions applying to the synagogue to those applying to the Temple Mount. Even then, however, the comparison is not so simple, for it is not clear that the Temple Mount falls into the category of consecrated property by virtue of monetary ownership.

 

            It may be suggested that the Rambam understood by way of logical reasoning that the command to revere the sanctuary, which applies also to the Temple Mount, includes the prohibition of needless entry. Thus, one is only permitted to enter the Temple Mount for the sake of a mitzva. It should be noted that since the Rambam understood that the mitzva of revering the sanctuary applies also to the Temple Mount, it follows that the prohibition to enter the Temple Mount for no reason is by Torah law.

 

It may further be suggested that, according to the Rambam, the prohibition of needless entry to the Temple Mount is based on the mitzva of safeguarding the sanctuary. This mitzva is explicitly stated in Parashat Korach (Bamidbar 18:1-7):

 

And the Lord said to Aharon, You and your sons and your father’s house with you shall bear the iniquity of the sanctuary: and you and your sons with you shall bear the iniquity of your priesthood. And your brethren also of the tribe of Levi, the tribe of your father, bring you near with you, that your sons with you shall minister before the tent of the Testimony. And they shall keep your charge, and the charge of all the tent: only they shall not come near the vessels of the sanctuary and the altar, that neither they, nor you, die. And they shall be joined to you, and keep the charge of the Tent of Meeting, for all the service of the tent, and a stranger shall not come near to you. And you shall keep the charge of the sanctuary, and the charge of the altar: that there be no wrath any more upon the children of Israel. And I, behold, I have taken your brethren the Levites from among the children of Israel: to you they are given as a gift for the Lord, to do the service of the Tent of Meeting. Therefore, you and your sons with you shall keep your priest’s office for everything that concerns the altar, and within the veil: and you shall serve: I have given your priest’s office to you as a service of gift: and the stranger that comes near shall be put to death.

 

The Rambam, based on the mishnayot dealing with this mitzva, rules in Hilkhot Beit ha-Bechira 8:8 that the mitzva applies also to the Temple Mount:

 

Where did the Levites keep guard? At the five gates of the Temple Mount; at its four corners inside; at the four corners of the Azara outside, since it was forbidden to sit within the Azara; at the five gates of the Azara outside the Azara, since the priests kept guard [within] at the Gate of the Hearth and at the Gate of the Flame. There were thus eighteen posts.

 

It is possible to argue that there is no proof from here that the mitzva of safeguarding the sanctuary applies also to the Temple Mount. It may indeed apply only to the Azara, but practically speaking the safeguarding of the Azara must be executed at the gates of the Temple Mount. On the other hand, it is entirely possible to understand that the mitzva of safeguarding the sanctuary applies even to the Temple Mount. If that is the case, the Rambam may have reasoned that if there is a mitzva to safeguard the Temple Mount, then certainly it must be forbidden to enter the Mount for no reason, and the guards are required to warn those entering the area about this prohibition.

 

II. THE MITZVA OF REVERING THE SANCTUARY

 

            Practically speaking, the mitzva of revering the sanctuary has ramifications regarding the manner in which one is permitted to enter the Temple Mount.

 

            First of all, as we saw above, one is forbidden to enter not for the sake of a mitzva. Obviously, we must clarify the precise definition of “for the sake of a mitzva.” This question arises in various contexts, and in each context, the answer is different. What is the law regarding a person who wishes to enter the Temple Mount in order to experience that unique feeling of intimacy with God? Is such entry considered “for the sake of a mitzva”? It is entirely possible that even such entry is considered “for the sake of a mitzva.” Hence, a person who thinks that visiting the Temple Mount will enhance his fear of Heaven should be permitted to do so. According to this understanding, the prohibition of entering the Temple Mount for no reason applies only to entry for the sake of taking a walk, or the like.

 

            An additional prohibition governing entry into the Temple Mount is the prohibition of entering with one’s shoes, one’s staff, or the like. It may be assumed that the specific restrictions mentioned by the Rambam do not exhaust the mitzva of revering the sanctuary; it would, for example, be forbidden to enter the Temple Mount riding a bicycle, even though such a prohibition is not explicitly stated in the Mishna. It seems, however, that the primary practical prohibition is that which forbids one to enter the Temple Mount wearing shoes.

 

The Ramban writes in his commentary to the Torah that wherever there is a revelation of the Shekhina, one may not go about in shoes, and it is for this reason that the priests would perform the Temple service while barefoot. If the prohibition against entering the Temple Mount with shoes is connected to these words of the Ramban – then it would only be permissible to enter the Temple Mount when one is absolutely barefoot. This, however, is difficult, for the Gemara (Zevachim 24) implies that the priests would serve barefoot only in order to overcome the problem of an interposing substance between their feet and the floor of the Azara, and not because of a prohibition of entering the sanctuary with shoes.

 

Alternatively, we may understand that the prohibition to enter the Temple Mount with shoes stems from the fact that such walking is normal walking, and as such it is inappropriate for the Temple Mount. According to this, it may be permissible to enter the Temple Mount with some type of foot covering that is not a normal shoe. This question was raised by the Minchat Chinukh (commandment 254); he too, however, fails to reach a clear conclusion.

 

III. RITUAL PURITY AND IMPURITY

 

An additional obstacle to entering the Temple Mount is the problem of ritual impurity. The Gemara (Pesachim 67b) implies that the division into three camps has halakhic ramifications regarding banishing those who are unclean:

 

Rav Chisda said: If a leper entered within his barrier (i.e., within the Israelite camp), he is exempt [from lashes], because it is said: “He shall dwell solitary; without the camp shall his dwelling be” (Vayikra 13:46) - Scripture transformed [his prohibition] into a positive command. An objection was raised: A leper who entered within his barrier [is punished] with forty lashes; zavim and zavot who entered within their barrier (i.e., within the levitical camp) are punished with forty lashes; but he who is unclean by the dead is permitted to enter the levitical camp. And they said this not only [of] him who is unclean by the dead, but even [of] the dead himself. For it is said: “And Moshe took the bones of Yosef with him” (Shemot 13:19), “with him” implying within his barrier.

 

A leper, then, is sent out of Jerusalem. What is the law governing one who has become ritually impure through contact with a corpse and other ritually impure people? The Gemara implies that one who has contracted ritual impurity through contact with a corpse (or even the corpse itself) may enter the levitical camp, but may not enter the camp of the Shekhina. It should be noted that this division is by Torah law, whereas by rabbinic ordinance there is an additional boundary, which we shall deal with below.

 

            Today, we are all considered ritually impure because of coming into contact with a corpse, but this does not prevent us from visiting the Temple Mount. Thus, the Rambam rules in Hilkhot Bi’at ha-Mikdash (3:4):

 

It was permissible for one unclean by the dead, and even the dead corpse itself, to enter the Temple Mount. For it is said: “And Moshe took the bones of Yosef with him” (Shemot 13:19) – “with him” into the levitical camp.

 

The problem of ritual impurity only arises in relation to people who are forbidden to enter the levitical camp – those who are ritually unclean because of ritual impurity that originates in their own bodies: a man suffering from gonorrhea (zav), a woman ritually impure because of menstrual (nidda) or other bleeding (zava), and a woman who has recently given birth. In our context, a nidda or a new mother is clearly forbidden by Torah law to visit the Temple Mount before she goes to mikve.

 

            As for men, ziva is a rare phenomenon, and it has no practical ramifications. A question arises regarding a ba’al keri (a man who has emitted semen). The aforementioned Gemara (Pesachim 67b) states:

 

It was said: “And every one that has an issue” is to include a ba’al keri. This supports Rabbi Yochanan. For Rabbi Yochanan said: The cellars [under the Temple] were not consecrated; and a ba’al keri is sent out of the two camps.

 

The Gemara states that a ba’al keri is sent out of the levitical camp. The Rambam, however, rules as follows (Hilkhot Bi’at ha-Mikdash 3:1, 3):

 

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)…

Men and women who had an issue, and women in their menstrual period and after childbirth, were banished outside two camps; that is, outside the Temple Mount. For they convey uncleanness by sitting or lying on an object, even if it is under a stone; whereas [one unclean by] the dead does not convey uncleanness in that way.

 

The ba’al keri does not appear on the list of those who are sent out of the levitical camp. It would appear that a ba’al keri is indeed permitted to enter the Temple Mount, for the Rambam defines “those who are sent out of the two camps” - i.e., the camp of the Shekhina and the levitical camp - as those who render objects ritually impure by sitting or lying upon them, and a ba’al keri does not do this.

 

            From the Gemara, on the other hand, it would seem that a ba’al keri is indeed sent out of the two camps. The Mishneh Lemelekh deals with the difficulty posed by the contradiction between the Rambam and the Gemara. The Gemara’s guiding principle in identifying those who are sent out of the two camps is similar to that set down by the Rambam – those who render objects ritually impure by sitting or lying upon them. But the Gemara reformulates this category as “those whose ritual impurity originates in their own bodies,” who are generally subject to the stringency that they render objects ritually impure by sitting or lying upon them. Once this group has been characterized as a separate group governed by greater stringency, the entire group is banned from the two camps, even if a particular member of the group does not render objects ritually impure by sitting or lying upon them. Specifically, a ba’al keri falls into the category of “those whose ritual impurity originates in their own bodies,” and therefore, even though he does not render objects ritually impure by sitting or lying upon them, he is nevertheless forbidden to enter the two camps.

 

IV. THE RITUAL IMPURITY OF A BA’AL KERI

 

The Tosafot (s.v. ve-itkash) relate to a question that arises in tractate Nidda (22a): When a woman experiences menstrual bleeding, the menstrual blood is indeed an av ha-temum’a – an original source of ritual impurity. But the woman’s impurity does not stem from the fact that her body came into contact with this blood, for were this the case, the woman should only be regarded as a rishon le-tum’a – “the first degree of ritual impurity, and not an av ha-tum’a.” We must, therefore, distinguish between two phenomena: the experience of menstrual bleeding turns the woman herself into an av ha-tum’a, and independent of that, the menstrual blood is also an av ha-tum’a, so that a person who comes into contact with such blood becomes a rishon le-tum’a. We find a similar discussion with respect to a ba’al keri: Does a man’s emission of semen define him as ritually impure, or does his ritual impurity stem from his coming into physical contact with his semen? The Gemara argues that this question has two practical ramifications.

 

1. What is the law governing a man who emitted semen that did not come into external contact with his body? Internal contact is regarded as “impurity in the concealed parts of the body” (tum’at beit ha-setarim), which does not impart ritual impurity. If the impurity of a ba’al keri is based on his experience of emission, such a person should be ritually impure. But if the ba’al keri’s impurity is based on contact with the semen, such a person should not be ritually impure.

 

2. Is a minimum amount of semen necessary? If the ba’al keri’s impurity stems from his experiencing an emission, any amount of semen should suffice. But if his impurity is based on his coming into contact with the semen, a minimum amount of semen must be present.

 

The Gemara draws a connection between these two ramifications. The Tosafot conclude that the ritual impurity of a ba’al keri falls into the category of ritual impurity imparted by contact, and it stems from the ba’al keri’s coming into contact with the semen. This assertion is relevant to two questions that are connected to our discussion.

 

1) What is the status of a ba’al keri? If the impurity derives from contact, he is a rishon le-tum’a; but if the impurity stems from the experience of emission, he is an av ha-tum’a.

 

2) If the impurity derives from contact, a ba’al keri needs only to be sent out from the camp of the Shekhina (i.e., the Temple and Courtyard); but if it stems from the experience of emission, he must be sent out from the levitical camp (i.e., the Temple Mount) as well.

 

The Tosafot conclude that the matter is subject to a dispute between two talmudic passages (Nidda 22a and 42a). However, the Tosafot do not make explicit mention of the first ramification mentioned above, that this disagreement is relevant to the question whether a ba’al keri is regarded as an av ha-tum’a or a rishon le-tum’a.

 

            The Rambam, in his commentary to the Mishna, understands that a ba’al keri is a rishon le-tum’a. It would seem that if he is only a rishon le-tum’a, he should be barred only from the camp of the Shekhina, but permitted to enter the other camps. In the Rambam’s rulings, however, this point is a bit problematic. In Hilkhot She’ar Avot ha-Tum’a (5:1), he writes:

 

Semen is one of the avot ha-tum’a… Whether a man touches it or ejects it from his flesh, he is a rishon le-tum’a by Torah law.

 

The Rambam rules that one who experiences an emission of semen and one who comes into contact with it are both considered a rishon le-tum’a, but he mentions them separately. And indeed, despite the fact that both are a rishon le-tum’a, there is a difference between them regarding the minimum amount of semen that is required in each of the cases:

 

For one who touches it, a lentil’s bulk; for one who ejects it, any quantity whatsoever.

 

We see then that a ba’al keri is a rishon le-tum’a, but he becomes ritually impure with any amount of semen. If we understand that according to the Rambam a ba’al keri is ritually impure because of his having come into contact with his semen, then it is possible that he omitted the law of sending a ba’al keri out of the Temple Mount, because he is merely a rishon le-tum’a, and need not be sent out of the two camps.

 

            Let us summarize, then, that the Rambam’s rulings present two difficulties:

 

1) If a ba’al keri is ritually impure because he came into contact with semen, why doesn’t the Rambam require a minimum amount of semen to impart the impurity?

 

2) How can the Rambam be reconciled with the Gemara that states explicitly that a ba’al keri is sent out of two camps?

 

Practically speaking, we find one commentator – the Mei Nafto’ach (p. 87) – who explains that according to the Rambam, a ba’al keri is only a rishon le-tum’a, and therefore permitted to enter the Temple Mount. This, however, is a solitary opinion, primarily because of the passage in Pesachim that implies just the opposite. Most authorities maintain that a ba’al keri’s entry into the Temple Mount is, at the very least, a possible violation of a biblical prohibition, and therefore stringency must be practiced.

 

Practically speaking, then, a ba’al keri is forbidden to enter the Temple Mount. Obviously, it is possible to cleanse oneself of the ritual impurity of a ba’al keri through immersion in a mikve. Indeed, people who were compelled to enter the Temple Mount – soldiers, and the like – and sought rabbinical direction as to how they should act, were told to undergo immersion prior to their visit.

 

[Ed. note: Another consequence of this is that not only may a nidda or yoledet not enter the Temple Mount, but a woman within 72 hours of intercourse also may not enter the Temple Mount due to the issue of poletet shikhvat zera.]

 

V. TEVUL YOM (ONE WHO HAS IMMERSED HIMSELF DURING DAY)

 

            How much time must the ba’al keri wait following his immersion before he is permitted to enter the Temple Mount? Basically, the impurity of a ba’al keri lasts until nightfall: he undergoes immersion during the day, and achieves purity at nightfall. Is he permitted to enter the Temple Mount following his immersion, but before nightfall? A person who immerses himself, but has not yet achieved purity, is called a tevul yom. The question about his entering the Temple Mount arises on two levels.

 

1) On the Torah level – do we say that those who are ritually impure with impurity that originated in their own bodies and who immersed themselves, are no longer categorized as being “ritually impure with impurity that originated in their own bodies”? In other words, if a ritually impure person underwent immersion, but is still impure, is he now in a separate category governed by its own laws? Or perhaps he is simply not pure yet, and he is governed by the very same laws as one who has not immersed himself at all? If immersion moves a person into a new category, then following immersion he should be regarded as having ordinary impurity that does not originate in his own body, and therefore he should be permitted to enter the levitical camp. Even if we understand that the status of a tevul yom is identical to that of one who has not undergone immersion, it is still possible that the prohibition to enter the Temple Mount only applies when the ritual impurity is in full strength, and not when it is about to disappear on its own. It is also possible that a distinction should be made between a ba’al keri and a zav.

 

2) On the rabbinic level – the Gemara (Zevachim 32b) states that a tevul yom is forbidden by rabbinic decree to enter the levitical camp. The Rambam rules (Hilkhot Bi’at ha-Mikdash 3:6):

 

A person who immersed himself the same day was banished from the Ezrat Nashim (the Court of Women, which is part of the Temple Mount and not the Azara). A person lacking only atonement, however, was not banished; since the sun had already set for him. A person who immersed himself that same day was forbidden to enter the levitical camp by a ruling of the scribes.

 

It should be noted that the prohibition of entry in the case of a tevul yom does not apply to the entire levitical camp, but only to the Ezrat Nashim.

 

VI. The Chail

 

In addition to the prohibition of entry discussed above, there is another rabbinic prohibition of entry – into the area of the Chail (the wall surrounding the Azara). 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. I shall not examine the divergent opinions here.

 

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

 

1) Entry into the Azara 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.

 

VII. Communal Responsibility for the Temple Mount

 

            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 (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, however, the Gemara asserts after a detailed discussion 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 (Hilkhot Bi’at ha-Mikdash 3:1), is the responsibility of the community:

 

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 term that the Torah uses with regard to the prohibition of entering the Temple in a state of ritual impurity – lo tetam’u – is a plural form, but clearly the prohibition applies to each and every individual, just like “You shall not eat – lo tokhlu - on the blood,” or the like.)  The Rambam implies that the obligation devolves 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.

 

viii. The Sanctity of the Temple Mount in our Time

 

            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 (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 as to whether the first and second sanctifications of the Land of Israel (at the times of Yehoshua and Ezra, respectively) 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 sanctification of the Temple Mount did not expire when the First Temple was destroyed, and it sanctified it to this very day. In this regard, there is a distinction between the sanctity of the Temple Mount and the sanctity of the Land of Israel:

 

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. As it says, “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, [after the Bablyonian exile,] 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 settling it. Therefore, every place that was possessed by those who had returned 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:

 

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 second sanctification 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 of the Ra’avad’s position must take a number of considerations into account.

 

First, 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 (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.