Chief rabbi slams ‘fool’ Ben Gvir for visiting Temple Mount

Chief Sephardi Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef on Saturday lashed far-right lawmaker Itamar Ben Gvir for visiting Jerusalem’s Temple Mount holy site.

Ben Gvir, an extremist Knesset member from the Religious Zionism party, made a controversial visit to the Temple Mount late last month on Jerusalem Day.

Ultra-Orthodox leaders generally oppose such visits, believing the holiness of the site precludes setting foot there.

“There is one called Ben Gvir who went up to the Temple Mount,” Yosef said in a weekly sermon. “What blasphemy to go against all the true, great men of Israel. Think about it, fool.”

“Going up to the Temple Mount, stirring up the winds and crossing the line of the great men of Israel,” Yosef said.

“Stay away from him,” Yosef said of Ben Gvir, who heads the extreme-right Otzma Yehudit faction of the opposition Religious Zionism party.

The Walla news site said ultra-Orthodox leaders fear some young religious voters are moving from Haredi parties to Religious Zionism. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s ruling coalition has been teetering for weeks and appears to be headed for a collapse, meaning Israel could see new elections soon.

Yosef, as chief rabbi, is forbidden from directly interfering in political affairs, but his attack on Ben Gvir for breaching religious rulings could sway some voters away from Religious Zionism, which is affiliated with the national-religious camp, to the ultra-Orthodox, Sephardi Shas party, the report said.

The Temple Mount is the holiest place for Jews, as the site of the biblical temples, and the compound’s Al-Aqsa Mosque is the third holiest shrine in Islam, turning the area into a major flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The site is administered by the Waqf, a religious trust run and funded by Jordan.

Far-right MK Itamar Ben Gvir makes his way to the Temple Mount during Jerusalem Day celebrations, May 29, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Under an increasingly frayed arrangement known as the status quo, Jews are generally allowed to visit the Temple Mount during limited hours, but not pray there or perform other acts of worship that can be seen as a provocation to Muslims.

For decades, religious authorities forbade Jewish visits to the Temple Mount on the grounds that people could accidentally defile the site. Support for visits to the compound, and for the right to pray there, has been growing in recent years as national-religious activists have pushed the issue into the mainstream.

Some 2,600 Jews were granted entry to the holy site in groups of 40-50 during Jerusalem Day, an all-time record. The influx of visitors, and Ben Gvir’s visit, drew rebukes from Jordan, the Palestinian Authority and the United Arab Emirates.

Though it is a national holiday, Jerusalem Day, which marks Israel’s conquest of the Old City and East Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War, is now celebrated mainly by national-religious Jews. Most prominently, youths parade through the Old City for the contentious Flag March, including through Arab areas of the city.

Late last month, one of the most senior ultra-Orthodox rabbis in Israel, Rabbi Gershon Edelstein, expressed strong opposition to the Flag March and against visiting the Temple Mount, branding such visits a provocation.

Yosef has a history of making provocative comments, including against Reform Judaism, women, the High Court of Justice and Black people.

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