Israel’s chief Sephardic rabbi said on Friday that Jews are forbidden from going to the Temple Mount. Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef made the announcement during the funeral of Shalom Aharon Badani, the 17-year-old who died Wednesday after a member of the Palestinian militant group Hamas plowed a van into a crowd of pedestrians waiting for a light rail train in Jerusalem. The attack took place amid growing tensions at the Temple Mount, a holy site for Jews and Muslims alike.
“This is the place to call on the esteemed public to stop this incitement, from here a call is heard, forbidding any Jews from going up to the Temple Mount. From here a call is heard to stop this so that the blood of the People of Israel may stop being spilled,” Yosef said. He added that rabbis who allowed Jews to go to the site were "adding fuel to the fire."
In recent years right-wing rabbis have issued rulings encouraging Jews to pray at the site. Hardline Israeli politicians have also voiced their demands to remove Jewish prayer restrictions at the site. While Ultra-Orthodox rabbis have criticized this stance, Yosef’s statement is the strongest public comments yet.
The Temple Mount is the most sacred spot in Judaism. For Muslims, the spot is called the Noble Sanctuary. It houses the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the golden-topped Dome of the Rock, making it the third-holiest site in Islam. Since Israel gained control of the site in 1967, Jewish worshippers have been allowed to visit but not pray at the site. It is governed by Jordanian authorities.
Economy Minister Naftali Bennett responded to Yosef's statements on Facebook. "That is incorrect," he wrote. "Honorable Chief Rabbi, Jewish blood was spilled because Arabs murdered them," he wrote.
Clashes and attacks have been taking place for months near the site. Some fear it will spark a third Palestinian “intifada” or uprising.
On Oct. 29, American-born activist Yehuda Glick was shot and wounded at the site. The incident ramped up tensions at the site and led Israeli authorities to shut it down for one day. On Monday, a group of Palestinian youths threw stones and set off fireworks at Israeli police officers. The clashes left more than 15 people injured, Israeli police spokeswoman Luba Samri said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Jordanian King Abdullah Thursday afternoon, assuring him security would be restored to the holy site. On Friday, Jerusalem Police restricted Muslim prayer at the Temple Mount; men under the age of 35 were prohibited from entering.
“We have to make every effort to restore calm, quiet and security,” Netanyahu said Thursday. “But I think we have to make that effort throughout the world.”