Beliefnet

JERUSALEM, August 4 (AP)--Israel's top rabbis will for the first time give a formal hearing to a potentially explosive proposal to build a synagogue on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, next to Islamic holy sites, an official of the Chief Rabbinical Council said Friday.

An attempt to build a synagogue on the Temple Mount, known to Muslims as Haram as-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary, would likely spark violence between Israelis and Palestinians and incur the wrath of the Islamic world. In 1996, 80 people died in rioting after Israel opened a tunnel alongside the compound.

However, the plan has little chance of being approved because of religious constraints in Judaism, rabbinical officials said.

The Chief Rabbinical Council, made up of leading rabbis from around the country, will discuss a proposal to build a synagogue in a corner of the Temple Mount at its monthly meeting Monday.

The Temple Mount, a raised, walled platform, sits on the fault line of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The issue of control over Jerusalem and its holy sites scuttled a Mideast peace summit last month between Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

The al-Aqsa mosque in the sacred compound is the third holiest site of Islam. One side of the complex is lined by the Western Wall, a remnant of the Jewish Temple destroyed in 70 C.E. and Judaism's holiest shrine.

Shaika Rosenfeld, spokesman for Israel's chief rabbi, Israel Meir Lau, said the council was unlikely to approve the proposal, made by the top rabbi of Haifa, Shaar-Yeshuv Hacohen.

Last month, the council reaffirmed a long-standing religious ban against Jews setting foot on the Temple Mount at all, Rosenfeld said. The council is the top policy-making body for Orthodox Judaism, the dominant religious stream in Israel.

There are strict biblical regulations covering Jews entering the Temple area, including purification ceremonies that cannot be carried out today. That has led most rabbinical authorities to forbid Jews from entering the area.

But some rabbis disagree with the ban. In the 1980s, then-Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren ruled that one part of the Temple Mount is not subject to the restrictions, and that a synagogue could theoretically be built there.

Successive Israeli governments have kept Jews from praying on the Temple Mount, to avoid provoking the Muslims.

Also Friday, the militant Islamic group Hamas, which opposes peace talks with Israel, denounced Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's endorsement of the right of Jews to pray at the Western Wall.

Visiting Yemen recently, Arafat said that Palestinians respect the right of Jews to pray at the Wall, but that he would insist on full control of Islamic and Christian holy sites.

The Hamas statement said the Wall is part of al-Aqsa. "The Muslims alone have ownership of the Western Wall," Hamas said in a statement.

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