Conservative and religious Israeli media on Thursday hailed as a breakthrough a ruling by Jerusalem District Court Judge Bilha Yahalom in which she confirmed that it is neither illegal nor against current police regulations for Jews to quietly pray atop the Temple Mount.
Judge Yahalom was ruling on an appeal by Rabbi Aryeh Lippo against a police ban on his visiting the Temple Mount. Rabbi Lippo visits the holy site daily and quietly prays there with several other men. On Yom Kippur, a police officer spotted the Jewish worshippers and forcibly removed Rabbi Lippo. He was then banned from returning.
After reviewing security camera footage of the incident, Judge Yahalom determined that Lippo was doing nothing to agitate the Muslim authorities that control Judaism’s holiest site, and that his quietly praying in an corner “in itself does not violate police instructions.”
Israeli law protects freedom of religion for all. But in response to local and regional Muslim outbursts of violence over the religious status of the Temple Mount, which they claim is Islam’s third holiest site, Israel does not allow Jews or Christians to openly pray or perform any other religious activities there.
However, in recent months, the police have been turning a blind eye to increasing Jewish prayers atop the sacred plateau. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett sparked a coalition crisis when he responded to this apparent shift in the status quo by thanking the police for “maintaining freedom of worship for Jews on the Temple Mount.”
Public Security Minister Omer Barlev immediately responded that there had been no change in police policy, and later insisted that it remains “illegal” for Jews to pray at the Temple Mount. Bennett’s Islamist coalition partners led by MK Mansour Abbas went further, stating that the Temple Mount is “solely the property of Muslims, and no one else has any right to it.”
This week’s ruling by Judge Yahalom marks the first time an Israeli court has backed the legal right of Jews to pray at the Temple Mount.