On Sunday afternoon, conservative firebrand Ben Shapiro, an observant Jew, ascended to the Temple Mount to pray with his parents and others. The visit followed his address to 2,500 people last Wednesday at a conference of conservatives in Tel Aviv.
Shapiro’s group was escorted by five Israeli police officers with one Jordanian Waqf guard watching at a distance.
“The Israeli police protects us from Islamic extremists, for which we are grateful,” said Melissa Jane Kronfeld, founder of High on the Har, a group that prays daily on the Temple Mount.
While on the Temple Mount, Shapiro and his group recited afternoon prayers, and his father said Kaddish for his grandmother, who passed away less than a year ago. During prayers, the group was repeatedly interrupted by Israeli police, who rushed them through their visit.
Shapiro first visited the Temple Mount during Sukkot in 2019, a visit that cut short after someone in his group was found to be carrying a willow branch in his pocket.
Rabbi Yehuda Levi, co-founder of High on the Har and American director for Yeshivat Har Habayit, led both of the Shapiro’s tours. He stated that through the efforts of his group and others, Jewish worshippers have pushed the status quo enough to pray with a minyan without being arrested. While prayer typically does not result in arrest anymore, non-Muslim worshippers must pray discretely and are forbidden from prostration.
“The first time Ben came to the Temple Mount, the situation was much more difficult, as the police were much stricter and on the lookout for religious infractions,” said Rabbi Levi. “We barely were able to mumble the Mussaf prayer and had to pretend that we were having a conversation with one another because if they suspected that we were praying, they would have been all over us.”
Many Orthodox Jews do not visit the Temple Mount because they want to avoid walking where the Temple once stood and are uncertain of the precise location; many rabbis explicitly forbit their followers from ascending. Rabbi Levi’s group and others rely on the tradition that the Temple was located at the site of the Dome of the Rock and therefore they take a route that avoids the elevated platform where the golden dome building sits.
“When Ben returned this time, he was able to see the major difference in the attitude of the police and our abilities to serve G-d in our holiest of sites,” said Rabbi Levi.
The Temple Mount is under the administration of the Jordanian Waqf, with security provided by Israel. Most Muslims are permitted to enter the Temple Mount from eight of the nine gates without restriction.
Depending on the security situation and holidays, non-Muslims are only allowed to enter Sunday to Thursday from 7 to 11 am and 1:30 to 2:30 pm after going through security and metal detectors at the Mughrabi Gate, a wooden bridge connecting the Western Wall Plaza to the mount.
Non-Muslims are forbidden from bringing religious books or symbols with them and from prostrating at the risk of arrest. Groups of religious Jews are also prohibited from entering the Temple Mount without a security escort and must remain on a route permitted by police.
“Up until a few months ago, non-Muslims were not allowed to drink water from the water fountain and sinks,” but this changed after several activists continued to purposely get arrested for drinking the water to highlight their opposition to the restriction, said Rabbi Levi.
Kronfeld said that bringing Shapiro to the Temple Mount was important because it brings necessary attention to what she called the “most important civil-right issue facing the Jews.”
“Fighting for equal rights and access for Jews on Har HaBayit is the most fundamental movement for the Jewish people today,” she said. “Ben’s homecoming is a reminder that all Jews should be able to access the spiritual power that comes with going to Har HaBayit if they choose.”