Friday, July 11, 2008

Rabbi Tendler and the Temple Mount

I wouldn’t have done it. But Rabbi Moshe Tendler did. On a recent visit to Israel he decided to pay a visit to Har HaBayis – The Temple mount. This is the place where the Beis HaMikdash - the holy Temple - once stood.

Many people have been critical of this visit and have conemned him for it. Just look at the comment section at the Yeshiva World post on this subject. That’s because they believe that the Halacha is very clear. One may not ascend to the Temple mount in our day. That’s because one is not allowed up there in a state of Tumah – ritual impurity.

In our time we are all considered to be in a state of Tumah. That’s because of the relatively common occurrence of coming into contact with an item which transmits it - such as a corpse or some who touched a corpse and then come into contact with you.

The only way to remove this Tumah and become ritually pure is with Mei Chatas which is produced from a Para Adumah - the specially prepared ashes of a burned red cow. Red cows cannot have more than one black hair. If there are two black hairs, it cannot be used for this purpose. Perfectly red cows are very rare. We therefore do not have the means of removing ritual impurities today.

What is not so commonly known is that there are areas of the Temple mount that are not forbidden to tread upon. Even though we don’t know with exact certainty where the actual areas requiring ritual purity are – those areas are a matter of dispute among the Poskim – there are certain areas which are universally accepted as not requiring ritual purity. Nevertheless most Poskim feel that since these areas are not clearly demarcated that it is forbidden to go up there at all lest people will stray into one of the forbidden areas. For the most part Frum people have stayed away.

Many Religious Zionist rabbis disagree with the blanket Issur. They in fact encourage it as a means of showing the Arabs that we do not concede rightful ownership. They have outlined the exact areas of permissibility and tell their constituents to ascend.

I am 100% certain that Rabbi Tendler did not go into any of the areas that are forbidden to us today. He only went to those areas that are permitted.

As I said I wouldn’t have done it because –for me - it is not worth taking the chance that I may wander into one of the forbidden areas. I further see no purpose of asserting our rights to that area. We know who that area belongs to. They know we claim it as our own. We don’t need to assert that in their faces and exacerbate tensions. Why do something that may incite violence? Nothing is gained by going up there now in my view.

I’m not sure what Rabbi Tendler’s motives were. But he decided to go up. And I am a bit surprised that he did. Not because of any Halachic violations but because of the chance that it will incite Muslim violence. They don’t need much of a reason today. We ought to do everything we can to prevent it.

The last prominent person to do something like that was Ariel Sharon. He explicitly stated it was to show our sovereignty over Har HaByis. That precipitated the 2nd intifada. I hasten to add that it probably would have happened anyway. But it was his ascension to the Temple mount that pulled the trigger. Thankfully that didn’t happen this time.

What troubles me far more than his ascension to the Temple mount is the vilification of Rabbi Tendler because of it. It is venomous. He is being accused of violating Halacha and going against the current Psak. And in the proccess some people have brought up the Metzitza B’Peh (MBP) issue - as a means of ‘piling on’. Attacking him there isn’t justified either.

For those who don’t remember the MBP issue Rabbi Tendler advocated outlawing the time honored method of drawing out blood by mouth in the area where the foreskin was cut off in a circumcision. He says that the risk of a health hazard supercedes that tradition in our day. It is all to easy for a Mohel with a disease like Herpes to transmit it to a baby via MPB.

But though it is highly unlikely – it is possible. Rabbi Tendler felt - why take any chance at all?! He was condemned for his advocacy of abolishing MPB by virtually all segments of the Torah world except for modern Orthodoxy. In the Charedi world MBP is almost a universal practice. Chasidim even consider a Bris to be invalid with out it, if I understand correctly.

Without getting into details, I agree with Rabbi Tendeler that MPB is not a Halachic requirement. There are many Poskim who do not require it. Blood can be drawn with a pipette or even gauze. But I would not have done what Rabbi Tendler did. He accomplished nothing and made more enemies in the process. It would have been best if he had limited his Psak to his own constituency.

Nevertheless I truly believe that he was L’Shma there and LShma here. He absolutely believes that MBP is a method that involves Sakana – however minute - and therefore he felt that abolishing MPB would eliminate entirely even the remotest chance of transmitting a disease. Why take any risk at all if Halacha does not require it?!

He certainly does not deserve the vilification he has gotten in the public square. Not for MPB and not for going up to Har HaBayis either.

To me are ulterior motives in play here. All the venom directed at Rabbi Tendler is really a sublimated hatred directed at Modern Orthodoxy. Rabbi Tendler is their symbol for that now. And any time certain Charedim get the chance to bad mouth Modern Orthodoxy they do so with a passion.

That is what I think this is really all about. Had a Charedi Rav gone up to the Temple Mount no one would have said the things about him that they are saying about Rabbi Tendler. Instead they would be asking, ‘I wonder what Heter he found?’