Religious dissent in Israel at Ben-Gvir’s Al-Aqsa compound storming [for strict religious reasons in the first place]

Israeli minister Itamar Ben-Gvir alongside fanatic Jews raid Al-Aqsa Mosque compound with the accompany of Israeli police forces in Jerusalem (Mostafa Alkharouf - Anadolu Agency)

Middle East Monitor  /   January 4, 2023

Leading ultra-Orthodox Jewish figures supporting Israel’s coalition government on Wednesday criticized the storming by a far-right Minister to a flashpoint holy site in Jerusalem, adding internal religious dissent to a cascade of foreign censure, Reuters reports.

One lawmaker accused National Security Minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, of “goading the entire world”.

Ben-Gvir’s storming, on Tuesday, of Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, which Jews revere as the Temple Mount, stirred protests from across the Arab world and Western concern about long-standing understandings on non-Muslim access.

The Minister, himself religious, did not breach an Israeli-enforced ban on Jewish prayer at what is an icon of Palestinian nationalism. But his mere presence at the compound was anathema to more stringently pious and politically neutral Jews.

“It is forbidden to go up to the place of the Holy of Holies,” senior United Torah Judaism lawmaker, Moshe Gafni, said in Parliament, referring to a part of Jewish temples that stood at the site in ancient times and was off-limits to most people.

Gafni said he had advised Ben-Gvir of this.

“Besides the aspect of religious law, there is nothing to be gained from just goading the entire world,” he said.

Al Aqsa compound, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, is Islam’s third holiest site. It is also Judaism’s most sacred site.

It is also a symbol for Palestinian hopes of securing a State, a goal that looks ever bleaker with Ben-Gvir and other far-right allies now in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.

It is located in East Jerusalem, among areas Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war and where Palestinians seek statehood. Israel deems all of Jerusalem its indivisible capital – a status not recognized internationally.

‘Symbol of Sovereignty’

Some sages who promote Jewish visits to the compound argue their route comports with sanctity by steering clear of where they believe that the Holy of Holies had been located.

Citing such rulings, Ben-Gvir retorted to Gafni on Twitter: “The Temple Mount is not just a religious matter … It is also a symbol of sovereignty and governance, and the enemy measures us up in accordance with our conduct there.”

Alongside United Torah Judaism in the government Netanyahu swore in last week is Shas, an ultra-Orthodox Party that draws support from Sephardi Jews of Middle Eastern descent.

The office of Israel’s Chief Sephardi Rabbi, Yitzhak Yosef, said he had sent Ben-Gvir what it called a “protest letter … urging the Minister not to go up to the Temple Mount again”.

“Even if claimed that a rabbinical minority has personally permitted you to do this, it is clear that as a Minister in the government of Israel you must not take action against the instructions of the Chief Rabbinate dating back generations,” said the letter, seen by Reuters.

Although the provocative storming to the site passed without incident, it risked increasing friction with Palestinians after a surge of violence in the Israeli-Occupied West Bank in 2022.

Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist group which controls Gaza, said on Monday that more such behaviour “will bring all parties closer to a big clash”.

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Haredi Jews attack Ben-Gvir after entering Al-Aqsa Mosque

Middle East Monitor  /  January 4, 2023   

The United Torah Judaism political bloc within the coalition government in Israel attacked the Minister of National Security yesterday following his visit to Al-Aqsa Mosque. According to Yated Ne’eman, the mouthpiece of the Degel HaTorah party, one of the two that make up the bloc, Itamar Ben-Gvir’s move was “an unnecessary and dangerous provocation”.

The newspaper saw Ben-Gvir’s intrusion into Al-Aqsa Mosque as “a rejected act that poses a threat to the lives of Jews” and “a useless and foolish act in order to convince the Palestinian crowds that the Jews will move Al-Aqsa from its place and provoke them to carry out retaliatory operations.” However, the newspaper’s editorial was also critical of the Palestinians, claiming that they “incite through their mosque minarets.”

The newspaper asked: “Who allows these people, including Haredi faces, to needlessly pose a danger to the lives of Jews and go against Jewish law? And for what, they do not pretend that they will build the Temple, so what is the value of a victory lap for a few minutes in front of the cameras, other than the hope of reaping media gains?”

In the past, Yated Ne’eman criticized the extremist Jews who stormed into Al-Aqsa Mosque. Today it notes these intrusions take place “despite the strict prohibition by Jewish law, and contrary to the opinion of the chief rabbis and through a security risk. This is a provocation that has brought international condemnation.”

Yesterday, the Chief Sephardi Rabbi of Israel, Yitzhak Yosef, sent a letter of protest to Ben-Gvir, asking him to obey the instructions of the Chief Rabbinate and not to repeat his visit to Al-Aqsa Mosque. “I feel it is my duty to warn of the danger of the prohibition of ascending to Temple Mount [the Noble Sanctuary of Al-Aqsa], and to ask you, in the name of the Chief Rabbinate, to refrain in the future from ascending the Temple Mount, especially after your appointment as a minister in the State of Israel.” Rabbi Yosef added that although a few rabbis allowed Ben-Gvir to storm Al-Aqsa Mosque, “It is clear that as a minister in the Israeli government you should not act contrary to the instructions of the Chief Rabbinate. I hope that you will find a way to rectify this matter.”

However, it does not seem as if Ben-Gvir will refrain from such provocations. He responded to the newspaper’s editorial by tweeting that, “Yated is against a state for the Jewish people and they oppose secular [Jews] living here.”

The Israeli media quoted member Limor Son Har-Melech MK of Otzma Yehudit, the party headed by Ben-Gvir, as saying that the latter’s critics “are also confused, and have lost their way. If Ben-Gvir had listened to all the noise around him, we would not have had a state here.”