The Temple Mount in Words and Photographs

            January 2013    
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The Sacred and the Profane -
A photo essay of the Temple Mount

By Meir Loewenberg

The Temple Mount is a very small piece of real estate in Jerusalem's Old City. Its total area is less than 37 acres (150,000 m2); to appreciate how small it is, one can compare it, for example, with the 843 acres of New York's Central Park. Yet this small place is considered sacred by the believers of all three monotheistic Western religions -- Jews, Muslims and Christians alike.

For Jews, the entire area of the Temple Mount is holy and cannot be used for secular purposes. Nowadays, observant Jews who do go up enter only those parts that are outside the area where the Holy Temple once stood. Before going up, they go to a mikve (ritual bath) and they do not wear leather shoes on the mount. While on the Temple Mount they are constantly aware that they are standing on the holiest spot of Judaism.

As we walk around the mount, we silently recite psalms and prayers (because the police does not permit us to move our lips!). One of the psalms we recite includes the following line: Walk about Zion, and go round about her; count the towers thereof. (Psalms 48.13). But today we do not see these towers but only the destruction of what once was the center of our faith. We also see other things that are quite disturbing to believing Jews.

Muslims also hold that the entire area of the Temple Mount (or, as they call it, Haram al-Sharif) is sacred and inviolable; nevertheless, they also permit all kinds of secular activities on the mount. When Sheikh Kamal Rian, chairman of the Al Aqsa Committee, a non-profit organization that deals with Islamic holy sites in Israel, was recently asked about this, he replied that children's soccer games on the Temple Mount are of no concern because these did not violate the sanctity of the site. As we will show below, the Temple Mount has become a neighborhood park, probably because there are no green areas in the Old City. But how appropriate are such activities for a most holy site?

The Mishnah (Berakhot 9.5) specifically forbids the use of the Temple Mount as a "shortcut" but for many Muslims this is exactly what the Temple Mount has become.


There are many olive trees on the Temple Mount; the picture below shows Arab women collecting the ripe olives because it would be a shame to let the fruit go to waste. In contrast, Jewish sources forbid anything from the Temple Mount for secular use.

Sheikh Kamal Rian is not concerned that the Temple Mount has become a soccer field because, according to him, already in Muhammad's days children played in the mosque. Nowadays, ballgames are a frequent sight for those who visit the Temple Mount.

Any paved space on the Temple Mount can quickly be converted into a soccer field.

Family picnics are quite common - even if, on the next morning, the Temple Mount is full of garbage.

Usually families picnic in the grassy areas, but on a very hot day the shady covered walk is a preferable site for picnics.

This man is sleeping in the area immediately outside of the Dome of the Rock. Since his face is toward the North, we know that he is not prostrating toward Mecca which is south of the Temple Mount. Jews, on the other hand, are not only prohibited from sleeping on the Temple Mount, they are not even allowed to sit in the holy areas.

The profane use (or misuse) of sacred spaces is not a modern invention. King David wrote about it already several thousand years ago when he said:

    O God, the heathen . have defiled Thy holy temple (Psalms 79.1)

Even while we grieve over the destruction of our Holy Temple and bewail the unseemly behavior that we see on this holy site, we pray for the early implementation of the prophecy of Micah:

    But in the end of days it shall come to pass, that the mountain of the LORD'S house shall be established as the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills; and peoples shall flow unto it. And many nations shall go and say: 'Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths'; for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. (Micah 4.1-2)

NOTE: All of the photographs were taken by Meir Loewenberg between 2006 and 2012 and may not be used without permission.


from the January 2013 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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