A July 27, 2004 Associated Press article by Dan Waldman about the blocked attempt of an extreme Jewish group to enter the Temple Mount (Har Habayit ) on Tisha B’av, a holiday which commemorates the destruction of the two Jewish temples which stood on that site, misled readers both about the mount’s significance and its history in Judaism.
The article, which was carried on the New York Times Web site, as well as other news outlets, referred to the Temple Mount at various times as “a site taken over by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war,” “a disputed Jerusalem holy site under Muslim control,” an “ancient site,” and the “11-acre elevated plaza known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as Haram a-Sharif.” (Nowhere in the article is the Hebrew name, “Har Habayit” mentioned.)
Waldman fails to make clear that the Temple Mount is actually Judaism’s holiest site, giving that distinction instead to the Western Wall. While the Western Wall is the holiest site where Jews are permitted to regularly pray, it derives its holiness from its proximity to the Temple site.
Jewish reverence for the Temple Mount predates the building of the Muslims’ Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa mosque. In fact, the Temple Mount’s holiness predates even the First Jewish (Solomonic) Temple, which was built, according to Jewish tradition, on the Even Hashtiya, the foundation stone upon which the world was created. According to Jewish belief, this is the epicenter of Judaism, where the biblical Isaac was brought for sacrifice, where the Holy of Holies and Ark of the Covenant housing the Ten Commandments once stood, and where the Temple was rebuilt before being destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE. While Waldman leaves out these fundamental Jewish beliefs, he does write in the third paragraph: “Muslim tradition says the site is where the Prophet Muhammed ascended to heaven.”
The Western Wall is a remnant of the outer retaining wall built by Herod. Jews have prayed at the Western Wall for the last few hundred years because it is the closest accessible place to the holiest site.