Police Arrest, Release Youths for Lighting Menorah Outside Har HaBayis

View of Har HaBayis. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Police on Sunday night arrested six Jewish youths who attempted to light a menorah at the entrance to Har HaBayis. The two separate groups lit the second Chanukah candle at two entrances to Har HaBayis and were detained and taken in for questioning. They were released after police collected information about them.

Gedolei Hador have ruled that Jews are not permitted to enter Har HaBayis at this time, but many Jews come to the entrance of Har HaBayis in order to gaze upon the Makom Hamikdash. Police have occasionally attempted to prevent this as well, but in September, the Yerushalayim District Court ruled that Jews are allowed to pray – and presumably light Chanukah candles – anywhere in the Old City, including in the Muslim Quarter and outside the entrances to Har HaBayis. Police, who have a presence throughout the Old City, are required to protect Jews and their rights to free worship, the court ruled.

Police have tried to ban such activity, calling it a “security risk,” but the court rejected that argument, pointing out that it was the job of police to protect people from such risks. The ruling came in the context of a case against two Jewish girls who attempted to say Tehillim at the entrance to one of the gates of Har HaBayis, and not on the mount itself. As a police ban on prayer by Jews is generally thought to be restricted to Har HaBayis, the two contended that they had been falsely arrested, since the prayers they were saying were not actually on Har HaBayis.

The reason for the ban on prayer there he said, was the same as for the ban on davening on Har HaBayis itself – because it could endanger the peace. But according to Judge Ron Alexander, police had no right arrest or even forcibly distance Jews who sought to pray anywhere in the Muslim Quarter, even if there was, as police claimed, a “security risk.” In order to detain or distance someone, a crime had to be committed, “and a court in Israel is not going to rule, directly or indirectly, that prayer is a crime,” said Alexander.

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