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For the week ending 13 August 2005 / 8 Av 5765

Mourning on the Mount

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: Monica in Israel

Dear Rabbi,

During this period of mourning over the destruction of the Temple, I was wondering if it permissible to go up to the Temple Mount in order to enhance our feeling of loss, and also to demonstrate our desire that the Temple be rebuilt. Thank you.

Dear Monica,

I cannot give a definitive halachic answer to your question, but I can bring some sources that will shed light on the matter.

First, we mustn't think that the absence of the Temple is a result of the shortcomings of prior generations, and no fault of our own. The Sages taught, "Any generation in which the Temple is not built, it is as if it had been destroyed in their times" (Yerushalmi, Yoma 1a). The same lack of merit resulting in its destruction has resulted in its not being rebuilt. In fact, the Midrash states a frightening outcome of not yearning for the rebuilding of the Temple, "All the communities that fell, it is only because they didn't inquire after and demand the Beit HaMikdash" (Midrash Socher Tov, Shmuel 31). What can we do to demonstrate our interest in, and increase our merit that the Temple be rebuilt? The Rabbis taught, "Those who study about the Temple, it is as if the Temple was built in their days" (Menachot 111a). Accordingly, the main way to enhance our feeling of loss, and also to demonstrate our desire that the Temple be rebuilt, is through study.

Still, the idea of actually going up to the Mount under very specific conditions is not unfounded. Rambam (Beit HaBachira 7:1-7) enumerates several ways in which one is required to show fear and awe for the Temple: One may not enter with his staff, shoes on his feet, his money belt, dust on his feet, nor spit. He may not use the Mount as a short cut and may not go on the Mount except for a mitzvah. One who has finished his service may not leave with his back facing the Temple, rather he must walk backward toe to heel. He concludes by saying, "Even nowadays that the Temple has been destroyed, one is obligated to act as when it was built: He may not enter except in a place where it's permitted to go, he may not sit in the area of the Azara, and may not act frivolously opposite the eastern gate facing the Holy of Holies." It is explicit from Rambam that it is permitted to go on the Mount. The question is, where and under what conditions?

Since there are different levels of holiness in the Temple, and different degrees of impurity affecting a person, where its permitted or forbidden to go is going to depend on who and where. There are three general areas on the Mount. The innermost, and most holy is the Azara, which includes the Temple building itself and the place of the altar. The next is called the Ezrat Nashim, which is the open courtyard outside the Temple. The least stringent area is called Har HaBayit, which is the open area outside the Temple complex. The consequence of entering any of these areas while in a condition of most types of impurity is extremely serious (1).

However, regarding the impurity resulting from contact or exposure to a dead body (2), even though entering the Azara and Ezrat Nashim is also severe (3), entering the rest of the Mount (the third area) is permitted (Beit HaBachira 7:15, Biat Mikdash 3:4). While this is a surprise to most people, the Mishna (Kelim 1:8) explicitly states that a Tameh Met is allowed on the Mount. In fact, the Bartenura comments that even a dead body itself is allowed to be brought onto the Mount. Tosefot Yom Tov explains that the source of the Bartenura is from the Tosefta on the verse, "and Moshe took the bones of Joseph with him," which explains the verse to mean "with him into the camp of the Levites", corresponding to the Har HaBayit (see also Tiferet Israel who cites Pesachim 67).

Interestingly, the more stringent forms of impurity pose less of a problem than the less severe Tumat Met. This is because even though the other forms of impurity prevent one from going anywhere on the Mount, one can become purified from them, which would enable a person to go on most parts of the Mount. However, regarding Tumat Met, even though one may enter some parts of the Mount, there is currently no way to be purified of it to enter the rest of the Mount.

Therefore, in order to go onto the Mount at all, both men (4) and women (5) would have to be pure from seminal discharge, and in addition women would have to be pure from menstrual impurity (this would generally exclude unmarried women who do not immerse, 6). Even then, the remaining impurity from contact with the dead would prevent one from entering anywhere other than the outermost area described above as Har HaBayit. Also, since there are different opinions about exactly where the Temple was located within the current dimensions of the Mount (see Where was the Temple?), one would only be able to enter areas that according to all opinions were not the location of the Temple. It is only under these conditions that rabbis such as Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, zatzal, (Iggrot Moshe, O. Ch. 1:39, 2:113 (end); Y.D. 4:65) and others (7) permit going on to the Mount.

A point for further study is the idea that for the purpose of building the Temple, one might be able to enter all areas of the Mount, even with Tumat Met, and even in the Holy of Holies. Rambam writes (Beit HaBachira 1:1) that it is a positive Torah commandment to build a house for Hashem that is fitting to offer in it sacrifices. Later (ibid. 7:23) he quotes the teaching of the Sages (Tosefta Kelim 1:9) "When the builders go in to build or repair the sanctuary, it is best that those who enter be unblemished priests. If none can be found, blemished ones enter. If there are no priests, Levites enter. If there are no Levites, Israelites enter. They should be pure, but if there are no pure individuals, impure people enter." Based on this, and coupled with the fact that the law may be less severe when the Temple is in ruins, some authorities maintain that searching, digging, measuring and other pre-requisites for building are considered part of the building process, and would be permitted anywhere on the Mount, even with Tumat Met, when otherwise impossible to purify, for example without the Red Heifer.

We are not advocating going up to the Temple Mount under any circumstances. Since there are many halachic considerations involved, only the greatest rabbis of each generation could make such a decision. In addition, there are security, civil and political ramifications that must be responsibly considered as well. Still, insofar as studying the laws of the Temple catalyze its rebuilding, it is our hope that we have added another stone.

This is in keeping with the words of the Vilna Gaon (in Aderet Eliyahu) that initially we must desire to build the Temple of our own initiative; afterwards G-d will answer our request. Malbim echoes this sentiment when he writes, "We find that David sought to build the Temple himself and didnt wait for a prophet to come to tell him. David learned this from the verse, You shall inquire after His dwelling and come there (Deut. 12:5). Inquiring means probing into the matter oneself until one brings it to fruition. This is the meaning of Sifri 8 'Inquire and find'. It teaches that G-d will not reveal the Temple's location through a prophet until the Jewish people make an effort to inquire and search for it. Only then will he send a prophetic spirit from above to reveal it."


    1. Zavim, zavot, nidot and yoldot: in the Azara and Ezrat Nashim Karet (Beit HaBechira 7:18); Har HaBayit 80 Lashes (Biat Mikdash 3:9-14).
    2. This applies to everyone since it is transmitted not only by contact, but by being in the same building, such as in a hospital.
    3. Tumat Met: Azara - Karet (BM 3:12); Ezrat Nashim - lashes drabanan (Biat Mikdash 3:9); Har HaBayit - permitted (Beit HaBachira 7:15, Biat Mikdash 3:4).
    4. Regardless of the circumstances of the discharge, a man would have to immerse in a proper mikva with all the requirements that a menstrual woman needs, since immersion for this purpose is more stringent than for learning Torah and prayer.
    5. A woman is considered impure from this discharge as long as its viable, up to 72 hours after relations. Only then could she immerse for this purpose.
    6. Nowadays, unmarried women do not immerse after menstruation, even on Erev Yom Kippur, as a precaution against immoral relations. Perhaps an unmarried bride who has immersed in preparation for marriage could go up to the Mount.
    7. Avnei Nezer Y.D. 450; Binyan Tzion 2; Minchat Yitzchak 5:1; Yabia Omer Vol. 5, Y.D. 26-27; Yechave Daat 1:24; Migdal David, Kuntres 1:27

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