Step one: Elect Donald Trump president of the United States. Step two: Rebuild the Jewish temple destroyed by the Romans in the year 70. Step three: Welcome the Messiah.
At least, that’s the plan according to certain Israeli religious leaders who praised Trump’s election, describing it as a divinely ordained event that could usher in a messianic age.
“He is connected to the Messianic process which is happening right now,” Rabbi Yosef Berger, who oversees King David’s tomb in Jerusalem, told Breaking Israel News, a website of religious views on current events.
Israel’s political right wing has already embraced Trump. The Republican Party platform crafted under his leadership states that Israel should not be pressured to “recognize or support” a Palestinian state. Hawkish politicians have interpreted that as the end of the effort to achieve a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and as license to build more Israeli settlements on contested land.
But he also has fervent supporters in one of country’s most conservative religious camps: the movement that wants to return Judaism to its pre-Diaspora form, which was centered around a priestly class leading animal sacrifice and temple-based festivals.
“I hope that [Trump] will ascend the Temple Mount and, from that source of light and energy in the world, lead us in a dialogue of peace and reconciliation,” Yehuda Glick, a Knesset member and leading figure in the Temple Mount movement, told Israel National News.
The Temple Mount movement seeks to rebuild the Second Temple, constructed in the time of King Herod. The Western Wall, one of Judaism’s holiest sites, is part of what used to be the larger plaza of the Second Temple. Directly above the Western Wall is the area known as the Temple Mount to Jews, which also contains the Dome of the Rock, one of the most sacred sites in Islam.
This is where some want to see a revival of Jewish prayer and build their temple. The Temple Mount movement has long occupied a fringe position in Israeli politics, but has been making inroads into the mainstream. Glick even won a seat in the Israeli parliament this year.
Glick said that he was sending Trump “God’s blessing from Jerusalem.”
Trump has also signaled that he would recognize Jerusalem, not Tel Aviv, as Israel’s capital, and condemned a UNESCO vote that critics claim — despite text to the contrary in the resolution — denied Jewish historical ties to the Temple Mount. Trump also fashions himself as an “anti-globalist,” suggesting to some Temple Mount activists that, as a president, he will be hands-off in his approach to Israel and that their movement can grow without fear of American interference.
Temple Mount activists also see mystical meaning in Trump’s rise.
“When he promised to move the American Embassy to Jerusalem, he attached himself to the power of Moshiach [Messiah], which gave him the boost he needed,” Berger said. “The gematria of [Trump’s] name is Moshiach,” Berger said, referring to the mystical system that assigns numbers to letters and then finds meaning in connecting two seeming disparate words with identical numerical values.
And the so-called Sanhedrin, a self-fashioned duplicate of the tribunal that convened during the time of the Second Temple, called on Trump and Russian leader Vladimir Putin to “fulfill their biblically mandated roles by rebuilding the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem,” Breaking Israel News reported.
“We are poised to rebuild the Temple,” Rabbi Hillel Weiss, a spokesperson for the Sanhedrin told the religious news site. “The political conditions today, in which the two most important national leaders in the world support the Jewish right to Jerusalem as their spiritual inheritance, is historically unprecedented.”
Even before his victory, Trump already had support among the Temple Mount activists.
“Most people in the Temple Mount camp support Trump and buy into his anti-globalist approach,” said David Mark, a Hebron-based writer who runs the blog Israel Rising.
To be sure, it’s unlikely that proclamations from a relatively fringe religious movement have come on Trump’s radar, said Motti Inbari, a religious studies professor at University of North Carolina at Pembroke who has studied the Temple Mount movement and other messianic groups in Israel. “The Temple is not really on Trump’s agenda,” said Inbari.
Still, for activists who believe that the “messianic process” is ongoing and that their actions can help hasten this process — that the political and the mystical are intertwined — the victory of a candidate they see as their own is encouraging.
“I think Trump is going to do anything that he feels can connect his image with the conservative religious movement. He’ll probably end up using Israel in that vein,” said Mark, “and that will make everybody here happy.”
Sam Kestenbaum is a contributing editor and former staff writer for the Forward. Before this, he worked for The New York Times and newsrooms in Sana, Ramallah and Beijing. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @skestenbaum and on Instagram at @skestenbaum.