Israeli paratroopers broke through Jerusalem’s Lion’s Gate on Wednesday morning, June 7, 1967, nineteen years after the Jordanian army had captured the Old City. The Lion’s Gate was the easternmost entrance to the old city. From there the soldiers tried to make their way to the Western Wall and Temple Mount – but they did not know the way because no Jew had been allowed in this Jordanian-controlled part of the city since 1948. One story is that they reached the Temple Mount only after asking an old Palestinian for directions.
Not far behind the lead tank was General Motta Gur (1930 – 1995), the commanding general of the paratrooper brigade. When he reached the Temple Mount he radioed his famous message to the General Command: “The Temple Mount is in our hands.” Later in the day he issued the following order-of-the-day to his troops:
For some two thousand years the Temple Mount was forbidden to the Jews. Until you came — you, the paratroopers — and returned it to the bosom of the nation. The Western Wall, for which every heart beats, is ours once again. Many Jews have taken their lives into their hands throughout our long history, in order to reach Jerusalem and live here. Endless words of longing have expressed the deep yearning for Jerusalem that beats within the Jewish heart. You have been given the great privilege of completing the circle, of returning to the nation its capital and holy center…Jerusalem is yours forever.
Shortly after ten o’clock on that morning General Gur ordered three paratroopers to climb to the top of the Dome of the Rock to unfurl an Israeli flag. Four hours later Defense Minister Moshe Dayan arrived on the Temple Mount. IDF Chief Prosecutor Meir Shamgar who was in Dayan’s entourage drew his attention to the Israeli flag that had been raised on top of the Dome of the Rock. Dayan immediately ordered that the flag be taken down. Later, when Dayan spotted a paratrooper company that was preparing for permanent deployment in the northern part of the Temple Mount, he ordered them leave the Temple Mount.
Rabbi Shlomo Goren (1917-1994), chief rabbi of the Israel army, appeared on the Temple Mount even before Dayan ordered the removal of the Israeli flag from the top the Dome of the Rock. This is how the chief-chaplain described his own activities on that day in his personal diary:
When we arrived on the Temple Mount, I blew the shofar, fell on the ground and prostrated myself in the direction of the Holy of Holies, as was customary in the days when the Temple still stood. [Afterwards he descended to the Western Wall and prayed the Mincha prayer there – and not on the Temple Mount!]. I then went up again on the Temple Mount. There I found General Moti Gur sitting in front of the Omar Mosque. He asked me if I wanted to enter and I answered him that today I had issued a ruling permitting all soldiers to enter because soldiers are obligated to do so on the day when they conquer the Temple Mount in order to clean it of enemy soldiers and to make certain that no booby traps were left behind. … I took along a Torah scroll and a shofar and we entered the building. I think that this was the first time since the destruction of the Temple almost two thousand years ago that a Torah scroll had been brought into the holy site which is where the Temple was located. Inside I read Psalm 49, blew the shofar, and encircled the Foundation Stone with a Torah in my hand. Then we exited.
Unbeknown to Rabbi Goren (who had gone down to the Western Wall to pray) another group of soldiers had entered the Temple Mount to drive out any remaining Jordanian soldiers. Later a minyan of these soldiers conducted the Mincha payer service inside the Dome of the Rock!
Later in the afternoon of the same day that the Temple Mount was recaptured, Rabbi Goren sent his military aide Menahem Hacohen and his jeep to invite four senior rabbis to pray at the Western Wall – at this time the only way to reach the Western Walls was by crossing the Temple Mount. Among those invited were the two Chief Rabbis of Israel, Rabbi Issur Unterman and Rabbi Yizhak Nissim, as well as Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook, the head of the Merkaz Harav Yeshiva, and the “Nazir,” Rabbi David Hakohen. These four rabbis had always and continued to prohibit Jews from entering the Temple Mount, yet on this day three of the four rode across the Temple Mount – perhaps they were not aware how they were taken to the Western Wall or perhaps they did so because at this time there was no other secure way to reach the Western Wall.
In a posthumously-published interview General Uzi Narkiss who commanded the Israel army troops that captured the Old City of Jerusalem in the Six Day War recalled that a few hours after the Temple Mount fell into Israeli hands Goren told him “This is the moment to put 100 kg of dynamite into the Dome of the Rock, and that will be it. Once and for all we will be rid of it.” Narkiss replied: “Rabbi, Stop.” Goren persisted: “You will enter the pages of history for such an act. You don’t grasp the very important implications for such an action. This is an opportunity which it’s possible to exploit now at this moment. Tomorrow, it won’t be possible to do anything.” Narkiss replied: “Rabbi, if you don’t stop I will take you from here to prison.” Goren walked away without a word. (Haaretz, 31 December 1997). A different account of this conversation was reported by Rabbi Goren’s military aide; according to Menahem Hacohen, Goren had not suggested blowing up the mosque, but had merely stated that “if, during the course of the war a bomb had fallen on the mosque and it would have – you know – disappeared – that would have been a good thing.” (See also Yoel Cohen, “The political role of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate in the Temple Mount question”, Jewish Political Studies Review 11:1-2, Spring 1999, archived at http://www.jcpa.org/jpsr/s99-yc.htm )
Dayan’s order to take down the Israeli flag flying on top of the Dome of the Rock was only the first of a number of “retreats” that he orchestrated at this time. In his autobiography, Story of My Life, Dayan wrote that on the first Saturday following the war he visited Al Aqsa Mosque where he told the Moslem religious delegation headed by the chief Moslem judge, Sheik Abdel Hamid Sa’iah, that “the war was now over and we had to return to normal life.
I asked them to resume religious services in the mosque on the following Friday. … I said that Israeli troops would be removed from the site and stationed outside the compound. The Israeli authorities were responsible for overall security, but we would not interfere in the private affairs of the Moslems responsible for their own sanctuaries. These were two Moslem places of worship, and they had the right to operate them themselves.”
At the same time Dayan emphasized that from now on there would be unrestricted Jewish access to the compound of Haram esh-Sherif. “This compound was our Temple Mount. Here stood our Temple during ancient time, and it would be inconceivable for Jews not to be able freely to visit this holy place now that Jerusalem is under our rule.”
On that morning he issued the following two orders that would affect the future of the Temple Mount for generations:
 He placed the administration of the Temple Mount under the Muslim Wakf
 Jews, though permitted to enter the area freely, were not to be allowed to pray on the mount.
Dayan explained these decisions by saying, “We should certainly respect the Temple Mount as an historic site of our ancient past, but we should not disturb the Arabs who were using it for what it was now – a place of Moslem worship.” Many have noted that this explanation indicates how little Dayan understood about the meaning and history of this site, Judaism’s most holy site.
Dayan’s decisions to hand the keys of the Temple Mount back to the Waqf were supported by the Israeli government, as well as by many political parties and groups within Israeli society. It was also abetted by the Chief Rabbinate, which posted a sign informing Jews that they were forbidden to ascend or pray on any portion of the Mount. Many, including Rabbi Meir Soloveichik, called this government decision one of the most misguided ones in Israel’s history because it established a policy that resulted in the worst of all possible worlds.
* Meir Loewenberg is Professor Emeritus of Social Work at Bar Ilan University. He is a graduate of Harvard, Columbia and Wayne State. Since his retirement his research has focused on the history of the Temple Mount. He and has family have been living in Israel since 1971.