Is There An Issur Kares To Ascend To Har Habayis?

by Beis Hashem Staff

May 12, 2023
Sign from the rabbinate forbidding Jewish entry to the Temple Mount

The most common question (or accusation) that arises when discussing the topic of aliya l'Har Habayis is: How can it be muttar to enter the Har; aren't we all tamei and isn't there an issur kares to enter the Har when we are tamei?

Yes, it is true that we are all tamei mes, and yes, it is true that there is a certain area within the Har Habayis that a tamei mes is assur to enter into with a chiyuv kares, namely the location of the Beis Hamikdash itself.

Once one examines the sugya thoroughly, it will quickly become clear that the entire area where the Beis Hamikdash once stood comprises a tiny fraction of the entire Har Habayis, totaling roughly 13% of the complex. The rest of the 87% of the har is muttar lehalacha for a tamei mes to enter into, provided that one is toivel in a mikva to remove any tumah shayatza min haguf prior to entry and by following the halachos of moreh mikdash.

We must also point out that should one who is tamei with a tuma shayatza min haguf enter into the Har b'meizid without going to a mikva, chas veshalom, they will be over a lav with malkus, not kares. While we all agree that this must not be done, as we never play around with lavim, still, lmaan hasugya, we can also objectively agree that the issur is not as severe.

In this series of articles, we will attempt to take a thorough look through the sugya, lmaan hatorah, without agendas or politics. Lehagdil Torah Ulhaadirah. Let's get started! (links to the next article in the series will be posted at the end of each article when they become available.)

The Gimmel Machanos

The Mishna in Kaylim (1:8-9) tells us that there are nine zones of kedusha in the greater Yerushalayim area. Depending on the zone, certain restrictions will apply, including banning certain types of tumah, impurities, from entry. The rule of thumb is: the holier the zone, the more severe the restrictions:

לִפְנִים מִן הַחוֹמָה [ירושלים] מְקֻדָּשׁ מֵהֶם, שֶׁאוֹכְלִים שָׁם קָדָשִׁים קַלִּים וּמַעֲשֵׂר שֵׁנִי .הַר הַבַּיִת מְקֻדָּשׁ מִמֶּנּוּ, שֶׁאֵין זָבִים וְזָבוֹת, נִדּוֹת וְיוֹלְדוֹת נִכְנָסִים לְשׁם. הַחֵיל מְקֻדָּשׁ מִמֶּנּוּ, שֶׁאֵין גּוֹיִם וּטְמֵא מֵת נִכְנָסִים לְשָׁם. עֶזְרַת נָשִׁים מְקֻדֶּשֶׁת מִמֶּנּוּ, שֶׁאֵין טְבוּל יוֹם נִכְנָס לְשָׁם, וְאֵין חַיָּבִים עָלֶיהָ חַטָּאת. עֶזְרַת יִשְׂרָאֵל מְקֻדֶּשֶׁת מִמֶּנָּה, שֶׁאֵין מְחֻסַּר כִּפּוּרִים נִכְנָס לְשָׁם, וְחַיָּבִין עָלֶיהָ חַטָּאת. עֶזְרַת הַכֹּהֲנִים מְקֻדֶּשֶׁת מִמֶּנָּה, שֶׁאֵין יִשְׂרָאֵל נִכְנָסִים לְשָׁם אֶלָּא בִשְׁעַת צָרְכֵיהֶם, לִסְמִיכָה לִשְׁחִיטָה וְלִתְנוּפָה. בֵּין הָאוּלָם וְלַמִּזְבֵּחַ מְקֻדָּשׁ מִמֶּנָּה, שֶׁאֵין בַּעֲלֵי מוּמִין וּפְרוּעֵי רֹאשׁ נִכְנָסִים לְשָׁם. הַהֵיכָל מְקֻדָּשׁ מִמֶּנּוּ, שֶׁאֵין נִכְנָס לְשָׁם שֶׁלֹּא רְחוּץ יָדַיִם וְרַגְלָיִם. קֹדֶשׁ הַקֳּדָשִׁים מְקֻדָּשׁ מֵהֶם, שֶׁאֵין נִכְנָס לְשָׁם אֶלָּא כֹהֵן גָּדוֹל בְּיוֹם הַכִּפּוּרִים בִּשְׁעַת הָעֲבוֹדָה

כלים פרק א׳ משנה ח׳-ט׳
  1. Yerushalayim is holier than other walled cities [in Eretz Yisrael], for it is there that kodshim kalim (lower-tiered korbanos) and maaser sheini may be eaten. 
  2. Har Habayis is holier than Yerushalayim, for zavim, zavos, niddos, and yoledos may not enter it. 
  3. The Chel [an inner area within the Temple Mount that surrounded the Beis Hamikdash] is holier than the Temple Mount, for neither non-Jews nor a tamei mes may enter it. 
  4. The Ezras Nashim (Women’s court) is holier than the Chel, for a tevul yom may not enter it. 
  5. The Ezras Yisrael (Israelite court) is holier than the Ezras Nashim, for one who has not yet offered his obligatory korbanos may not enter it. 
  6. The Ezras Cohanim (Priestly court) is holier than the Ezras Yisrael, for a Yisrael may not enter unless for a purpose of korbanos, such as semicha, shechita, or tenufa.
  7. The area between the Mizbeach and the Heichal (Temple building) is holier than the Ezras Cohanim, for a Cohen that had a blemish or unkempt hair may not enter it.
  8. The Heichal is holier than the area between the Mizbeach and the Heichal, for a Cohen whose hands or feet are unwashed may not enter it. 
  9. The Kodesh Hakadashim (Holy of Holies) is holier than the Heichal, for only the Cohen Gadol on Yom Kippur may enter it specifically at the time of the avodah.

These zones are tied to the zones of kedushah that the Bnei Yisrael followed when they traveled in the Midbar after leaving Mitzrayim on their way to Eretz Yisrael. During their travels, they camped around the Mishkan. The Torah tells us that there were three camps: Machaneh Yisrael (Israelite camp), Machaneh Leviah (Levite camp), and Machaneh Shechina (Camp of the Devine Presence). {see illustration} 

The Three camps in the desert where the Jews camped around the Tabernacle
The gimmel machanos in the midbar © Rabbi Yehuda Levi

The Torah warns us that certain types of tumos, ritual impurities, are not permitted in respective camps:

צַ֚ו אֶת־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל וִֽישַׁלְּחוּ֙ מִן־הַֽמַּחֲנֶ֔ה כָּל־צָר֖וּעַ וְכָל־זָ֑ב וְכֹ֖ל טָמֵ֥א לָנָֽפֶשׁ׃ מִזָּכָ֤ר עַד־נְקֵבָה֙ תְּשַׁלֵּ֔חוּ אֶל־מִח֥וּץ לַֽמַּחֲנֶ֖ה תְּשַׁלְּח֑וּם וְלֹ֤א יְטַמְּאוּ֙ אֶת־מַ֣חֲנֵיהֶ֔ם אֲשֶׁ֥ר אֲנִ֖י שֹׁכֵ֥ן בְּתוֹכָֽם׃ וַיַּֽעֲשׂוּ־כֵן֙ בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל וַיְשַׁלְּח֣וּ אוֹתָ֔ם אֶל־מִח֖וּץ לַֽמַּחֲנֶ֑ה כַּאֲשֶׁ֨ר דִּבֶּ֤ר יְהוָה֙ אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֔ה כֵּ֥ן עָשׂ֖וּ בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃

במדבר פרק ה׳ פסוק ב׳ - ד׳

Command the Bnei Yisrael that they should send out of the Machaneh: every Mitzorah (leper), every Zav, and every person that is Tamei Mes. Remove Man and Woman alike; put them outside the machaneh so that they do not defile the camps in whose midst I dwell. The Bnei Yisrael did so, sending them outside the camps; as Hashem had spoken to Moshe, so the Bnei Yisrael did.

Rashi explains that this isn’t a commandment to send all three types of impurities out of all three camps. Rather, specific tumos are not allowed in certain machanos but may be allowed in other machanos:

וישלחו מן המחנה. שָׁלֹשׁ מַחֲנוֹת הָיוּ שָׁם בִּשְׁעַת חֲנִיָּתָן, תּוֹךְ הַקְּלָעִים הִיא מַחֲנֵה שְׁכִינָה, חֲנִיַּת הַלְוִיִּם סָבִיב כְּמוֹ שֶׁמְּפֹרָשׁ בְּפָרָשַׁת בְּמִדְבַּר סִינַי, הִיא מַחֲנֵה לְוִיָּה, וּמִשָּׁם וְעַד סוֹף מַחֲנֵה הַדְּגָלִים לְכָל אַרְבַּע הָרוּחוֹת הִיא מַחֲנֵה יִשְׂרָאֵל; הַצָּרוּעַ נִשְׁתַּלַּח חוּץ לְכֻלָּן, הַזָּב מֻתָּר בְּמַחֲנֵה יִשְׂרָאֵל וּמְשֻׁלָּח מִן הַשְּׁתַיִם, וְטָמֵא לָנֶפֶשׁ מֻתָּר אַף בְּשֶׁל לְוִיָּה, וְאֵינוֹ מְשֻׁלָּח אֶלָּא מִשֶּׁל שְׁכִינָה, וְכָל זֶה דָּרְשׁוּ רַבּוֹתֵינוּ מִן הַמִּקְרָאוֹת בְּמַסֶּ' פְּסָחִים (דף ס"ז)

רש״י ד״ה וישלחו מן המחנה
  • A Leper was sent out of all three camps; 
  • A Zav was permitted to remain in the Machaneh Yisrael and was removed from Machaneh Leviah and [by extension] Machaneh Shechina; 
  • A Tamei mes was permitted to stay in Machaneh Leviah and was only removed from Machaneh Shechina.

The Gemara (Pesachim 67a) explains this as well: 

אֵיתִיבֵיהּ: מְצוֹרָע שֶׁנִּכְנַס לִפְנִים מִמְּחִיצָתוֹ — בְּאַרְבָּעִים. זָבִין וְזָבוֹת שֶׁנִּכְנְסוּ לִפְנִים מִמְּחִיצָתָן — בְּאַרְבָּעִים. וּטְמֵא מֵת מוּתָּר לִיכָּנֵס לְמַחֲנֵה לְוִיָּה, וְלֹא טְמֵא מֵת בִּלְבַד אָמְרוּ, אֶלָּא אֲפִילּוּ מֵת עַצְמוֹ, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״וַיִּקַּח מֹשֶׁה אֶת עַצְמוֹת יוֹסֵף עִמּוֹ״ — ״עִמּוֹ״ בִּמְחִיצָתוֹ

פסחים ס״ז עמוד א׳

A metzorah who entered into machane yisrael gets malkus. A zav and zavah who entered into machane leviah gets malkus. A tamei mes is permitted to enter machaneh leviah. Not only may he enter [machaneh leviah], but even the corpse itself may be brought into the Levite camp, as it says: “And Moshe took the bones of Yosef with him” (Shemos 13:19), the words “with him” implying that the bones were taken within his boundary. (i.e., Yosef’s coffin was found in the same area in which Moshe lived. Moshe was a Levi).

The three camps where the Jews camped around the tabernacle in the wilderness
The gimmel machanos in midbar and where each corresponding tumah is not allowed © Rabbi Yehuda Levi

The Gemara (Zevachim 116b) states that these zones also apply nowadays in Yerushalayim:

תַּנְיָא: כְּשֵׁם שֶׁמַּחֲנֶה בַּמִּדְבָּר - כָּךְ מַחֲנֶה בִּירוּשָׁלַיִם. מִירוּשָׁלַיִם לְהַר הַבַּיִת - מַחֲנֵה יִשְׂרָאֵל, מֵהַר הַבַּיִת לְשַׁעַר נִקָּנוֹר - מַחֲנֵה לְוִיָּה, מִכָּאן וְאֵילֵךְ - מַחֲנֵה שְׁכִינָה וְהֵן הֵן קְלָעִים שֶׁבַּמִּדְבָּר

זבחים קט״ז עמוד ב׳, תוספתא כלים א׳:י״ב

Just as there were camps in the wilderness, so too, there is a corresponding camp in Yerushalayim: 

  • The area from the walls of Yerushalayim to the Temple Mount has the status of machaneh yisrael. 
  • The area from Har Habayis up to Shaar Nicanor has the status of machaneh leviah.
  • From that point onward [i.e., from the entrance to the azarah to the back of the heichal building,] has the status of machaneh shechina.

Rambam (Bias Hamikdash, 3:2,4) paskens this lehalacha: 

לְפִיכָךְ מְשַׁלְּחִין אֶת הַמְצֹרָע חוּץ לִשְׁלֹשָׁה מַחֲנוֹת שֶׁהוּא חוּץ לִירוּשָׁלַיִם... וּמְשַׁלְּחִין זָבִין וְזָבוֹת נִדּוֹת וְיוֹלְדוֹת חוּץ לִשְׁתֵּי מַחֲנוֹת שֶׁהוּא חוּץ לְהַר הַבַּיִת... טְמֵא מֵת אֲפִלּוּ הַמֵּת עַצְמוֹ מֻתָּר לְהִכָּנֵס לְהַר הַבַּיִת שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (שמות יג יט) "וַיִּקַּח משֶׁה אֶת עַצְמוֹת יוֹסֵף עִמּוֹ" עִמּוֹ בְּמַחֲנֵה הַלְּוִיָּה

משנה תורה, ביאת המקדש פרק ג׳ הלכה ב׳-ד׳
  • “Therefore, a person who is afflicted with tzara'as is sent outside of all three camps, i.e., outside of Yerushalayim.
  • Men with a zav condition, women with a zavah condition, who are a niddah, or who have just given birth are sent outside two camps, i.e., outside Har Habayis.
  • A tamei mes - and even a corpse itself - is permitted to enter the Temple Mount. [This is derived from Shemos 13:19]: "And Moshe took the bones of Yosef with him.” “With him” [implies] into machaneh leviah.
Jerusalem with the three camp statuses
The gimmel machanos in Yerushalayim and where each corresponding tumah isn't allowed © Rabbi Yehuda Levi

In conclusion: While Har Habayis is indeed holier than Yerushalayim, only a tamei mes who chas veshalom enters into the area of the azara is chayiv kares. There is also an issur derabbanan for a tamei mes to enter inside the area of the chel. The only way for a tamei mes to purify himself and be permitted to enter the areas of machaneh shechina would be if he is first sprayed with the mei chatas of the parah adumah (which we, unfortunately, do not have nowadays). However, a tamei mes is FULLY PERMITTED TO ENTER MACHANEH LEVIAH, i.e., any area of Har Habayis that is not machaneh shechina.

One who is impure from any of the tumos that come from bodily fluids must not enter into Har Habayis until they are purified. If they chas veshalom do so, they will be chayiv malkus. The only way to purify oneself is to first immerse in a Mikva for those tamei from zavah, niddah, yoledes, or keri. A zavah gedolah also requires zayin nekiem prior to going to the mikvah. A man who is tamei from tumas zav (a condition known as gonorrhea or prostatitis) must be tovel in a spring or mayim chayim following his keeping of zayin nekiem. (we will discuss the complete halachos of how to prepare to enter Har Habayis in a separate article.)

The gimmel machanos in Yerushalayim © Rabbi Yehuda Levi

As such, in order for us to know where we, as tamei meisim, may enter on Har Habayis, we first need to determine where the Beis Hamikdash stood on Har Habayis. If we can pinpoint that location, we will know where machaneh shechina is, i.e. where IT IS STRICTLY FORBIDDEN TO ENTER, and by extension, where machaneh leviah is, i.e. where it is fully permitted for a tamei mes to enter. In the next article, we will explore whether or not we can locate where the Beis Hamikdash stood on the Har.


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