Mystery surrounds an ancient tunnel uncovered near the Western Wall in the Old City, leading in the direction to the presumed site of the Second Temple. It has sharpened further the dispute between the two Chief Rabbis on the one hand and the National Religious Party Ministers, archaeologists and the academic community on the other.
The news was first made known this morning when Israel Radio reported that Rabbi Yehuda Meir Getz, the rabbi of the Western Wall, had discovered the tunnel a month ago while he was investigating a seepage of water near the ancient wall. He cleared away debris and found the tunnel which is more than five yards wide and 10 yards high.
He claimed that it was one of the entrances to the Temple, possible one used by the Cohanim (priests). He informed Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren, who gave him permission to use Ministry of Religious Affairs workers to clear away the mud and silt. Goren imposed complete secrecy on the operation but later reportedly informed then Religious Affairs Minister Aharon Abu Hatzeira of the finding and the clearing work.
When the report was broadcast, Interior and Religious Affairs Minister Yosef Burg expressed surprise and annoyance that workers from his Ministry were employed by Getz without his knowledge that the tunnel even existed. Education and Cultural Affairs Minister Zevulun Hammer also expressed amazement and anger that the Department of Archaeology and Antiquities, which is under his jurisdiction, had not been informed and had not issued the license required before such work can be carried out. Goren is feuding with both NRP Ministers about his injunction banning work at the City of David dig. Neither Burg nor Hammer have accepted the injunction as the final word on the matter.
Archaeologists, who have not been allowed near the tunnel site, say they have known for some time that such a tunnel existed. It was first charted by a British explorer in the last century and even named on maps after him.
DOUBT TUNNEL WAS TEMPLE ENTRANCE
Most archaeologists say it is doubtful that the tunnel was a Temple entrance. They are united in saying that it is unlikely any remnants of the Second Temple would ever be found because records of that period and subsequent reports show that the entire Temple area was razed to the ground and ploughed under by the Romans.
Goren appeared to agree with some of the archaeologists when he said today that the tunnel was “probably not an entrance but a water conduit or a reservoir” which he said would fill up again with water during the winter rain season. But Goren, who visited the site today, went to the mikvah (ritual bath) before entering the tunnel to recite Psalms.
The Chief Rabbi has barred reporters and archaeologists from the site, saying only Getz can allow visitors since he is the “baal habayit” (owner) there. This has been disputed by Hammer who asserted that any ancient site automatically comes under the jurisdiction of the Antiquities Department, and not the rabbinate.
Mayor Teddy Kollek of Jerusalem has expressed fears of negative reactions by Arabs and Moslems when they learn that the work on the tunnel is proceeding under the Temple Mount and near the foundations of the Dome of the Rock mosque. Some reports note that this fear was the basis for the absolute secrecy imposed by Goren. But some observers say the news has now been leaked to the press to take pressure off the dispute on the City of David dig.
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