A Proper Distance

Rabbi Chaim Ozer Chait

Founder, HarHabayit.org

Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Hacohen Kook ZT”L was one of the most outstanding Gedolim of the last century. He was born in 1865. At a young age he was recognized as a very special student. Before he was twenty he received Smicha from Rav Yichiel Michel Halevi Epstein the author of the Orech Hashulchan. In 1904 he immigrated to Israel and in 1921 was elected the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Palestine. He was a prolific writer and amongst his many writings he compiled Mishpat Kohen, dealing with laws applicable to Eretz Yisroel. One section is devoted to Hilchos Beis Habechirah, where he suggests a novel explanation of the opinion of the Ra’avad (see last week's article). The Ra’avad takes issue with the Rambam and according to most authorities he permits one who is a Tmei Ha’met (impurity by contacting the dead, cemeteries, etc.) to enter the Azara (the zone of the Temple Mount that is distinguished by its sanctity). There exists many Gemaras that support this idea.

For example the Gemara at the end of Makos and the Yerushalmy that we quoted in last week's article. The Gemara in Berachos on page 30a states: 

“If one is standing outside of Israel, he should turn towards Israel…If he is standing in Jerusalem he should turn towards the Sanctuary. If he is standing behind the Kapores (the covering of the Holy Ark in the western part of the forecourt of the Beis Hamikdash) he should imagine himself to be in front of the Kapores.” 

Where exactly is he standing when it states, “if he is standing behind the Kapores”? Rashi explains he is standing in the eleven Amos that are between the Western Wall of the Kodesh Hakadoshim and the western wall of the Azara. That would mean that he is standing in the Azara. Rashi then disagrees with the Rambam and holds that a Tmei Met may enter the Azara and agrees with the Ra’avad. This is what the Meerie means (see last week's article) when he says, “the accepted practice is to enter there” i.e. the Azara. The Ra’avid therefore is not a unique opinion, but many Rishonim supported his idea that today it is permitted to enter the Azara (Note: Rambam has a different text in the Gemara in Brachos [see Hilchos Tefilah Chapter 5 Halacha 3]) . 

Rav Kook maintains that if you look closely at the closing argument of the Ra’avad he states, “There is no Kares” meaning but there is a prohibition from the Torah to enter the Azara (Rambam Hilchot Beis Habechira Chapter 6 Halacha 14 [see Mishpat Kohen Siman 96 Sif 6,7]).  Therefore according to Rav Kook there exists three major opinions regarding entering the Azara: 

1) Rambam who holds today it is prohibited incurring Kares 

2) Ra’avad who holds it is prohibited by Biblical law but no punishment of Kares 

3) Rashi, Meeri and others who hold it is permitted 

Furthermore, there is another point that we must take into consideration.  Many of our early Rishonim who are Halacha-oriented did not write on topics dealing with the Beis Hamikdash, as access to the Beis Hamikdash was not available to us during the long period of Galus, exile. Most of the Jewish population lived too far away to travel. Those that did live in Israel—and it was available to ascend the Har Habayit—nevertheless it was under the terms of the ruling authority. For this reason the Rif, the Rosh, the Tur and many others did not write on these topics. Consequently, there is no standard Shulchan Aruch on these topics, making a halachic decision more difficult. Whenever we find a psack Halacha by one of our accepted Achronim in these areas, it carries much weight. Magen Avraham (Rebbi Avraham Ben Chaim Halevi 1634-1682) became accepted as one of the great commentators of the Shulchan Aruch. His work is standard on every printed Shulchan Aruch today. In Siman 561 Sif 2 of the Shulchan Aruch on Orech Chaim, Magen Avraham  Sif Katan 2 makes it very clear that the Halacha is like the Rambam in the debate between the Rambam, the Ra’avad and the other Rishonim. He  concludes that whoever enters the Azara and is a Tamei Mes (as we are today) is Chayav Kares, meaning outside of the Azarait is permissible. The Mishna Berura ibid. Sif Katan 5 concurred with the Magen Avraham (see also Biur Halacha Siman 94 Sif 1 Paragraph “He was standing”). Note, Magen Avraham explains the Gemara in Berachos that states “If he is standing behind the Kapores'' to mean if he is standing further west of the Beis Hamikdash i.e. outside of the Azara.

In conclusion it is clear that the Halacha is like the Rambam; meaning entering the Azara today is asur from the Torah and carries the punishment of Kares. However, it is equally clear that one may walk up to the Chel (a level promenade or a rampart ten amos high running around the Azarah, a safeguard put there by the Chachamim to prevent people from inadvertently entering the Azara.) Therefore, entering the Har Habayit today is permissible as long as one does not cross the Chel, and one then fulfills the Biblical Mitzvah of Mikdashe Terau.

That is why HaRav Moshe ZT”L doesn’t even mention the isur of Rav Kook in his teshuva on the Har Habayit (see Igros Moshe Orech Chaim Chelek 2 Siman 113, last paragraph), because the Halacha is clear, up to the Chel it is permitted to enter. However, he does bring the concerns of the Brisker Rav, because the Brisker Rav is trying to identify the correct Western Wall, whereas Rav Kook is placing a new ban on entering the Har Habayit and this we cannot do. 

Furthermore, we can understand the point of Rav Kook who added the Ra’avad to those whose opinion is that a Tmei Met cannot enter the Azara, albeit without an isur of Kares. Rav Kook, however, must admit that up to the Chel it is permissible for a Tmei Met  to enter. So why then did he place a ban on entering the Har habayit? To be continued.


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NOTE: One should not ascend the Temple Mount without proper Rabbinical instruction:

1) You should be informed of the various routes that are available according to the different Rabbinicial opinions.

2) You must immerse in a Kosher Mikvah that meets the standards to be kosher med’oriasa.

3) You must receive instructions for the proper preparations for the Mikvah (Chafifah)