He was surely not the first man to harbor such a thought, nor will he be the last. (Did you ever wonder why there’s such tight Israeli security for all non-Muslim visitors, Jewish or otherwise, ascending to the Haram al-Sharif/ Temple Mount via the Mughrabi Gate? You get the idea.) The thing about this man is that he was a highly visible and highly influential military and religious leader — and he certainly did not keep his views to himself. What has spurred my posting is the fact that the Israel Postal Company recently issued a stamp honoring RABBI SHLOMO GOREN (1917-1994):
Rabbi Goren, holding the rank of general, was serving as the chief chaplain of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) during the June 1967 Six-Day War. Among the first forces to arrive at the Western Wall, he proceeded to conduct the first Jewish prayer service held on that spot since 1948, his voice going out live by radio to a nation already being swept up in nationalistic euphoria. It was a riveting moment. Thus the stamp’s design features (in addition to Goren’s amassed campaign ribbons, down the left-hand border) the iconic photograph of him in front of the Wall, carrying a Torah scroll and blowing the shofar.
But there’s more. The scene at the Temple Mount on June 7th, 1967 is described by Israeli historian Tom Segev in his excellent book “1967” (pp.378-9). He quotes Gen. Uzi Narkis, who in 1967 was head of the IDF’s Central Command and thus in charge of Jerusalem area operations, including the Israeli assault on the Old City. Narkis was likewise present at the Temple Mount that remarkable day, and years later revealed an unusual verbal exchange he had with Rabbi Goren at the time. (Segev’s source is an interview Narkis gave to Haaretz newspaper, published Dec. 31, 1997):
“The feeling was fantastic,” Uzi Narkis said later. That Wednesday morning at the Temple Mount, he received the first of a series of preposterous suggestions that came up over the next few days and weeks, apparently under the influence of that same “fantastic feeling.” General Goren the chief rabbi of the IDF, told Narkis that this was the moment to blow up the Dome of the Rock. “Do this and you will go down in history,” Goren said, and explained that such a thing could only be done under cover of war: “Tomorrow might be too late.” Narkis threatened to throw the rabbi in jail if he did not drop the idea. [For a fuller account of the exchange, and a rebuttal, see here.]
Goren’s activities in the immediate wake of the war followed in a similar (some would say extreme) religious-Zionist vein. Again, Tom Segev in “1967” (pp 546-7):
One of the most vocal and visible advocates of the imperitive to hold on to the territories was Shlomo Goren, the chief rabbi of the IDF… Equipped with his shofar and military rank, Rabbi Goren traveled the territories sharing with soldiers his belief that the State of Israel existed thanks to an unshakable divine mandate and that the IDF was implementing the prophets’ predictions for the end of days.
“The divine spirit, which has never left the Western Wall, now walks before the armies of Israel in a pillar of fire to light our way to victory,” he said when he reached the wall with the first of the soldiers. Over the next weeks he blew his shofar all over the country, from Mount Sinai in the south to Mount Hermon in the north. On August 10, Goren came to the Temple Mount and found the gates blocked. He and a group of soldiers began to [and did (tp)] break the gates down so they could enter and pray, thus reoccupying the compound from the Muslims.
From the moment Moshe Dayan had been wise enough to order the removal of the Israeli flag from the Dome of the Rock, immediately after the occupation, Israel had in fact conceded the Temple Mount to Muslims. The chief rabbinate ruled that Jews were not permitted to go to the mount lest they accidentally desecrate the site where the Temple had stood, which would be a sin. The government decided that Jews who tried to pray there would be told to move to the Kotel [i.e. Western Wall] square [which had quickly replaced a destroyed Arab neighborhood, the Mughrabi Quarter (tp)]. The ministerial committee in charge of maintaining holy sites asked Dayan to instruct Goren, through [Yitzak] Rabin, to stop trying to take control of the Temple Mount, so as to avoid involving the IDF in a religious conflict.
Still other comments Goren made in the wake of the war leave no doubt as to what he was advocating at the time. For instance, in a speech he delivered in 1967 to a military convention, preserved on audio tape, Goren called it a “tragedy” that Israel had left the Temple Mount in control of the Muslims. On the tape, Goren says: “I told this to the defense minister [Moshe Dayan] and he said, ‘I understand what you are saying, but do you really think we should have blown up the mosque?’ and I said, ‘Certainly we should have blown it up.’ It is a tragedy for generations that we did not do so. … I myself would have gone up there and wiped it off the ground completely so that there was no trace that there was ever a Mosque of Omar there.”
The Wikipedia article on Rabbi Goren has much more on his background. He had served in the army through all of Israel’s previous wars, starting with 1948. Following his military career, he went on to become chief rabbi of Tel Aviv and then of the State of Israel (1973-83). He also founded a Jerusalem yeshiva which he headed until his death. The article expands upon the recurring issue of his radicalism and the highly provocative nature of some of his activities and utterances. (Sample: Goren proclaimed that Halakha — Jewish religious law — made it a “duty” for Jews to kill Yasser Arafat!)
One other highly questionable act Goren was involved in (documented in the Wikipedia article, and here) had to do with the Western Wall Tunnel and a 1983 probe from there underneath the Temple Mount. (This is worth remembering when you hear Muslims express fears about the Jews endangering or digging beneath “al-Aqsa” — their name for the entire platform and compound. It happened!):
In the summer of 1983 Rabbi Yehuda Getz, the former Rabbi of the Western Wall, (he died in 1995) broke through the Western Wall deliberately excavating to the East (at “Cistern 30” [the space behind the blocked “Warren’s Gate” -tp]) in their newly excavated underground tunnel which runs under the old city… Getz hoped to eventually reach the foundation of the Second Temple. During this tunnelling, Rabbis Getz and Goren claim to have seen the Ark of the Covenant according to statements they later made to the press. However the Waqf guards on the Temple Mount discovered the underground activity and soon sent down some young men through cistern entrances above to “discourage” the work. A fist fight ensued and the episode concluded with the sealing of the wall with six feet of reinforced cement.
Below is another interesting photo of Warren’s Gate today, a wide-angle shot showing the entire exposed height of the blocked gate passage and how the modern access is configured: The synagogue space occupies a gallery facing the top of the gate while the visitors route of the Western Wall Tunnels passes below. (Source: found on-line at the “flicker” photostream of “Templar1307”)