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Temple Mount
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Temple Mount

The Temple Mount (also called Noble Sanctuary, Hebrew language: Har HaBayit, Arabic language: Al-Haram As-Sharif), is a mostly man-made hill in the eastern part of the Old City of Jerusalem. It was the site of the first and second Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, and since the 7th century has been the site of two major Muslim religious shrines, the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque. It is the holiest site in Judaism, the third holiest site in Islam, and has special significance to Christianity. It is thus one of the most contested religious sites in the world.

Table of contents
1 The religious status of the Temple Mount in Judaism and Christianity
2 The religious status of the Haram al-Sharif in Islam
3 Damage to the site (claimed and real)
4 Management of the Site
5 Claims of Exclusivity
6 Acknowledgements of the bases for its holiness to other religions
7 See Also
8 External Links

The religious status of the Temple Mount in Judaism and Christianity

In the Bible, the Temple Mount first appears as a threshing floor owned by Araunah the Jebusite (2 Samuel, 24:18-25) overlooking Jerusalem, which King David purchased to erect an altar. As his hands were "bloodied," he was forbidden from constructing the Temple there, so this task was left to his son Solomon, who completed the task c. 950 BCE. That First Temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians in 586 BCE. Reconstruction of the Temple began after the 70 year exile to Babylonia.

According to a later rabbinic account, it was from here that God gathered the earth that was formed into Adam (some Christians later chose Golgotha as the site), and it was here that Adam - and later Cain, Abel, and Noah - offered sacrifices to God.

To Jews and Christians (though not Muslims), this is also the site where the biblical patriarch Abraham nearly offered Isaac as a sacrifice.

The Bible and Jewish rabbinic literature state that King Solomon of Israel built the First Temple in Jerusalem about 3000 years ago; it is the holiest site in Judaism. The Temple was the central sites of Jewish worship. The destruction of both temples, five hundred years apart, were central points in Jewish history. Religious Jews have prayed from the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem for the last 2,000 years.

The Samaritans, although their holy book is a slightly different version of the TaNaKh, reject the sanctity of Jerusalem and instead regard Mount Gerizim as the holiest site.

The Western Wall is one remaining wall of the Temple Mount. For all practical purposes this wall is the holiest site in Judaism. Many Jews pray there, and often leave written prayers addressed to God in the cracks of the wall.

The Rabbis have prohibited Jews from entering specific areas (approximately 15%) of the Temple Mount [1] because of the danger of entering the area of the Temple courtyard and the difficulty of fulfilling the ritual requirement of cleansing oneself with the ashes of a red heifer (see Numbers 19), and declared it punishable with kareth, or death by heavenly decree [1]. The boundaries of the areas to be avoided, while having large portions in common, are delineated differently by various rabbinic authorities.

Many Rabbis have "imposed a blanket ban on access for Jews to the entire Temple Mount"[1], given the uncertainty about the location of the permitted areas, an opinion still supported by Rabbis such as Ovadia Yosef, Avraham Shapiro, Eliahu Bakshi-Doron, and Israel Lau. In August 1967, the Chief Rabbis of Israel, Isser Yehuda Unterman and Yitzhak Nissim, in concert with other leading rabbis, asserted that "For generations we have warned against and refrained from entering any part of the Temple Mount."

However, many other Rabbis, including Maimonides, Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook z"l, Rav Shlomo Goren z"l Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rav Chaim David Halevi, and Rav Mordechai Eliyahu have "strongly encouraged" Jews to visit the permitted sections of the Temple Mount. [1]. During Maimonides' residence in Jerusalem, a synagogue, where Maimonides, prayed stood on the Temple Mount alongside other structures.

See also Jerusalem, Jews and Judaism.

The religious status of the Haram al-Sharif in Islam

Aerial view of Temple Mount, with the Dome of the Rock in the center and the Al Aqsa Mosque on the upper left of the compound

After the Muslim conquest of this region, the Temple Mount became known to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif الحرم الشريف (the Noble Sanctuary); it is traditionally regarded by Muslims as the third most important Islamic holy site, after Mecca and Medina.

Islam respects David and Solomon as prophets, and on that basis alone regards the Temple (mentioned in Quran 17:7, and described in much more detail in the noncanonical Qisas al-Anbiya) as one of the earliest and most noteworthy places of worship of God. (The Kaaba's sanctity has a similar basis in the Islamic tradition that it was built, or rebuilt, by Abraham.) When Muslims first entered the city of Jerusalem, according to Arab historians of the time (eg Mujīr-ud-Dīn[1]) as confirmed by the medieval Jewish Geniza documents[1], the ruins of the Temple were being used as a rubbish dump by the Christian inhabitants, in order to humiliate the Jews and fulfill Jesus' prophecy that not a stone would be left standing on another there; the Caliph (and companion of Muhammad) Umar ibn al-Khattab, horrified to see it in such a state, ordered it cleaned and performed prayer there at once.

In addition to this, the "farthest Mosque" (al-masjid al-Aqṣa) in verse (17:1) of the Qur'an is traditionally interpreted by Muslims as referring to the site at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem on which the mosque of that name now stands, though some historians consider this interpretation to be historically invalid; see Al-Aqsa Mosque regarding this interpretation.

In 690 CE, after the Islamic conquest of Palestine, an octagonal Muslim shrine (but not a mosque) was built around the rock, which became known as the Dome of the Rock (Qubbat as-Sakhra قبة الصخرة). In 715 CE the Umayyads built a mosque on the Temple Mount; they named this Mosque al-Masjid al-Aqsa المسجد الأقصى, the Al-Aqsa Mosque or in translation "the furthest mosque". It has been destroyed several times in earthquakes; the current version dates from the first half of the 11th century. Both buildings are considered holy to Muslims and make Jerusalem the third-holiest city, after Mecca and Medina.

The mosque and shrine are currently administered by a Waqf (an Islamic trust) that has been granted almost total autonomy starting in 1967.

Damage to the site (claimed and real)

In recent years many complaints have been voiced by Jews about Muslim construction and excavation on and underneath the surface of the Temple Mount and by Muslims about Israeli excavations, two under the Temple Mount, the rest around it[1]. Some claim that this will lead to the destabilization of the retaining walls of the Temple Mount, of which the Western Wall is one, and/or the al-Aqsa Mosque, and allege that one side is doing so deliberately to cause the collapse of the sacred sites of the other. 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[1]. See below for details.

Since the Waqf is granted almost full autonomy on the Islamic holy sites, Israeli archaeologists have been prevented from inspecting the area; they have, however, conducted several excavations under and around the Temple Mount.

Damage to existing structures

In 1968-69, Israeli archeologists carried out excavations at the foot of the Temple Mount, immediately south of the al-Aqsa mosque and opened two ancient Second Temple period tunnels there that penetrate five meters and 30 meters beneath Al-Aksa Mosque in the area of the Hulda and Single gates, penetrating five meters into one and 30 meters into another. "At the Temple Mount's south wall digging took place to uncover the Arabic Umayyad palaces and Crusader remains." [1]

Over the period 1970-1988, the Israeli authorities excavated a tunnel passing immediately to the west of the Temple Mount, northwards from the Western Wall, sometimes using mechanical excavators under the supervision of archeologists. Palestinians claim that both of these have caused cracks and structural weakening of the buildings in the Moslem Quarter of the city above. Israelis confirmed this danger:

"The Moslem authorities were concerned about the ministry tunnel along the Temple Mount wall, and not without cause. Two incidents during the Mazar dig along the southern wall had sounded alarm bells. Technion engineers had already measured a slight movement in part of the southern wall during the excavations...There was no penetration of the Mount itself or danger to holy places, but midway in the tunnel's progress large cracks appeared in one of the residential buildings in the Moslem Quarter, 12 meters above the excavation. The dig was halted until steel buttresses secured the building." - Abraham Rabinovitch, The Jerusalem Post, September 27, 1996[1]

In 1982, Rabbi Yehuda Meir Getz, the rabbi of the Western Wall, had workmen open the ancient gateway, known as Warren's Gate, between the tunnel leading north from the Western Wall and the innards of the Temple Mount itself. Arabs on the Mount heard excavation noises from one of the more than two dozen cisterns on the Mount. Israeli Government officials upon being notified of the unauthorized tunneling hastily ordered the Warren's Gate resealed. It remains closed today.

In 1996, Israel completed a second tunnel beside the Temple Mount, which Palestinians say trespassed on Waqf property.

Archeologist Leon Pressouyre, a UNESCO envoy who visited the site in 1998 and claims to have been prevented from meeting Israeli officials (in his own words, "Mr Avi Shoket, Israel's permanent delegate to UNESCO, had repeatedly opposed my mission and, when I expressed the wish to meet with his successor, Uri Gabay, I was denied an appointment"[1]), accuses the Israeli government of culpably neglecting to protect the Islamic period buildings uncovered in Israeli excavations. More recently, Prof. Oleg Grabar of the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton University has replaced Leon Pressouyre as the UNESCO envoy to investigate the Israeli allegations that antiquities are being destroyed by the Waqf on the Temple Mount.[1] Initially, Grabar was denied access to the buildings by Israel for over a year, allegedly due to the threat of violence resulting from the al-Aqsa Intifada. His eventual conclusion was that the monuments are deteriorating largely because of conflicts over who is responsible for them, the Jordanian government, the local Palestinian Authority or the Israeli government.

In autumn 2002, a bulge of about 700 mm was reported in the Southern retaining wall part of the Temple Mount. It was feared that that part of the wall might seriously deteriorate or even collapse. The Waqf would not permit detailed Israeli inspection but came to an agreement with Israel that led to a team of Jordanian engineers inspecting the wall in October. They recommended repair work that involved replacing or resetting most of the stones in the affected area which covers 2,000 square feet (200 m²) and is located 25 feet (8 m) from the top of the wall. [1] Repairs were completed before January 2004. The restoration of 250 square meters of wall cost 100,000 Jordanian dinars ($140,000).[1]

On February 11, 2004, the eastern wall of the Temple Mount was damaged by an earthquake. The damage threatens to topple sections of the wall into the area known as Solomon's Stables. [1]

On February 16, 2004, a portion of a stone retaining wall supporting the ramp that leads from the Western Wall plaza to the Gate of the Moors (Arabic Bab al-Maghariba, Hebrew Sha'ar HaMughrabim) and on the Temple Mount collapsed. [1]

Damage to adjoining areas

In 1967, Israel razed the entire historic medieval Moorish Quarter (Harat al-Magharbah) of the Old City, immediately adjacent to the Temple Mount, to the ground in order to build a new plaza in front of the Western Wall and a yeshiva[1]. Many consider this to have severely damaged the historic context of the area.

Damage to antiquities

Beginning in 1996, the Muslim Waqf has been constructing a series of works on and under the Temple Mount. The construction has been carried out without any archeological supervision. Material has been removed using bulldozers and other earth moving equipment.

In 1996 the Waqf began construction in the structures known (inaccurately) since Crusader times as Solomon's Stables, and in the Eastern Hulda Gate passageway, allowed the (re)opening of a mosque called the Marwani Musalla (claimed by Israel to be new, by Palestinians to be restored from pre-Crusader times) capable of accommodating 7,000 individuals. Many Israelis regard this as a radical change of the status quo under which the site had been administered since the Six-Day War which should not have been undertaken without consulting the Israeli government; Palestinians regard these objections as irrelevant. Though the building was built at the same time as the Al-Aqsa Mosque, whether the building had been a mosque before Crusader times or not is unknown:

"The underground area used today as the Marwani Mosque appears to have been built at the same time as the Al-Aksa Mosque in the 8th century and may have been renovated in the 10th century, but there is no evidence that the area was ever used as a mosque." Israeli archeologist Jon Seligman [1]

In 1997, the Western Hulda Gate passageway was converted into another mosque. In November 1999, a buried Crusader-era door was reopened as an emergency exit for the Marwani Mosque, opening a excavation claimed by Israel to be 18,000 square feet (1,700 m²) in size and up to 36 feet (11 m) deep. According to The New York Times, an emergency exit had been urged upon the Waqf by the Israeli police, and its necessity was acknowledged by the Israeli Antiquities Authority[1]. However the method of excavation–bulldozers without any archeological overseers–was against the recommendations of all archeologists, including Waqf archeologist Yussuf Natshe. Approximately 200 truckloads of fill from the site were dumped into the Kidron Valley, and an Israeli archeology student, Zachi Zweig, claims to have found artifacts dating as early as the First Temple period in the fill dumped there; the period of these has been authenticated by Jon Seligman, though their provenance (if they came from the Temple Mount at all, which of course cannot be proved) has been destroyed by their removal from the site. Palestinian sources deny that this material came from the Temple Mount. Since the discovery of the fill in the Kidron Valley, Seligman and his peers at the Antiquities Authority have recovered additional material from the dumped fill.

"The earth of the Temple Mount, then, contains relics from all these periods. "It's the number-one archeological site in the country,"; Seligman says, but because of the political and religious sensitivity of the place, it never has been excavated. Now, Seligman says, by scooping up the dirt blocking the archways and dumping it randomly - the first piles even were mixed with trash - the Wakf has forever destroyed the archeological story it might tell. The nails, glass, and pottery shards - including some relics from the time of the Second Temple and even a few pottery shards from the first - that Seligman has collected in his office are useless without the evidence provided by their relation to other objects in the same or surrounding strata." — Jon Seligman, Jerusalem region archeologist for the Israel Antiquities Authority [1]

"I don't understand it, either it's based on ignorance and a lack of appreciation, or it's just vandalism."—Jon Seligman

In early 2001, Israeli police said they observed bulldozers destroying an ancient arched structure located adjacent to the eastern wall of the Temple Mount in the course of construction during which 6,000 square meters of the Temple Mount were dug up by tractors, paved, and declared to be open air mosques, which is assumed to have intermixed the underlying strata.[1] The earth removed, claimed to have contained artifacts, was dumped in the El-Azaria and in the Kidron Valleys.

Management of the Site

A Muslim Waqf has managed the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif continuously since the Muslim reconquest of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Since taking control of the area in the Six-Day War, Israel has not changed this state of affairs.

On the 7th June 1967, immediately after the fighting had died down in Jerusalem, the then Prime Minister, Levi Eshkol, convened the spiritual leaders of all the communities in Jerusalem and assured them that "no harm whatsoever shall come to the places sacred to all religions", and that contacts should be maintained in order to make certain that spiritual activities of the religious leaders in the Old City may continue. He also mentioned that upon his request the Minister of Religious Affairs had issued instructions according to which arrangements in connection with the Western Wall, Muslim Holy Places and Christian Holy Places should be determined by the Chief Rabbis of Israel, a council of Muslim clerics and a council of Christian clergy respectively. Together with the extension of Israeli jurisdiction and administration over east Jerusalem, the Knesset passed the Preservation of the Holy Places Law, 1967, [1] ensuring protection of the Holy Places against desecration, as well as freedom of access thereto.—Jerusalem–The Legal and Political Background Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Government of Israel [1]

Claims of Exclusivity

Jewish Claims of Exclusivity

Muslim Claims of Exclusivity

Acknowledgements of the bases for its holiness to other religions


Jews do not in general believe that the Isra and Miraj occurred, and in many cases believe that even if they did occur neither involved the Temple Mount (see discussion at Al-Aqsa Mosque). Therefore, they do not regard that reason for the Temple Mount/Haram al Sharif's holiness in Islam as historically valid. They do, however, unanimously regard it as the site of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem first built by Solomon, whom Islam regards as a prophet. The Government of Israel, and most Jews, recognize that Muslims regard the site as holy based upon their beliefs, and have maintained Muslim access to the site since capturing it in the Six-Day War


The main reason that the Temple Mount is holy in Judaism is that it was the site of the Temple. This fact provides a major reason for its holiness in Islam; it is still considered to be the orthodox Islamic position. A Brief Guide to al-Haram al-Sharif, a booklet published in 1930 by the "Supreme Moslem Council", a body established by the British government to administer waqfs during the British Mandate period, states:

"The site is one of the oldest in the world. Its sanctity dates from the earliest times. Its identity with the site of Solomon's Temple is beyond dispute. This, too, is the spot, according to universal belief, on which David built there an altar unto the Lord, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings." A footnote refers the reader to 2 Samuel 26:25. [1]

More recent examples include a fatwa issued by the Saudi Sheikh M. S. al-Munajjid, quoted on IslamOnline, 18 March 2001, stating that:

Al-Aqsa Mosque (in Jerusalem) was the first of the two qiblahs (prayer direction), and is one of the three mosques to which people may travel for the purpose of worship. And it was said that it was built by Sulayman (Solomon, peace be upon him), as stated in Sunan an-Nasa’i and classed as authentic by al-Albani.[1]

Since the beginning of Islam, this has been the orthodox position. Starting in the nineties, however, some people, including the PA-appointed Sheikh Ikrima Sabri, chairperson of the Palestinian Higher Islamic Commission and Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, have denied that the site is connected with Solomon, and that it had any history involving the Jews[1].

See Also

See also: Temple in Jerusalem -Western Wall - Al-Aqsa Mosque - Dome of the Rock

External Links

Archeological controversy