Why Did Caphtor Vapherach Not Explicitly Mention the “Dome of the Rock” in contrast to the Disciple of Ramban who lived in the same generation or Rabbi Binyamin of Tudela (a contemporary of Rambam) Who Did Explicitly Mention the Dome of the Rock?

posted in: English Divrei Torah | 0

The fact that the phrase “Dome of the Rock” does not appear explicitly in the writings of the Caphtor Vapherach, is brought by advocates of the Southern Location of the Temple on Mount Moriah as evidence that that Caphtor Vapherach must have argued against the accepted view about the location of the Holy of Holies.

In this article I will offer other explanations as to why Caphtor Vapherach refrained from using the phrase.


  • At the time of Caphtor Vapherach it was common to display the Temple Mount on imaginary maps, and not everyone was used to thinking there was a Dome on the Holy of Holies. Caphtor Vapherach may have wanted to choose a less confusing sign, so he chose the Shushan Gate as a sign of identification where the Temple was situated.
  • Perhaps Caphtor Vapherach feared that again the Crusaders would seize the Temple Mount and he feared that in the next occupation there would be a dramatic change in the outer appearance of the Dome of the Rock or perhaps they would damage the rock, etc.

Therefore, Caphtor Vapherach preferred to link the identification of the Temple’s location to the Shushan Gate rather than the Dome of the Rock.

  • It appears that there is a halachic rule not to use idolatry as a landmark[1]. The Caphtor Vapherach brought in his book a dispute over the status of the Muslims. And so, he writes, in the fifth chapter of his book:

“The Gaon of blessed memory, wrote that the Muslims that we live among, do not congregate for idolatry and one is allow to make a blessing over their fragrant spices, (end of quote). But if you object that he does serve idolatry, that is to say, the Markolis idol as Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra wrote in his commentary to Daniel, nevertheless, he does not libate wine. For wine is abhorred according to his lifestyle. And things that are similar to this, where we have no reason to be suspicious, we indeed are not suspicious”.

So perhaps to satisfy all opinions, Caphtor Vapherach did not want to use the Dome of the Rock, which the Arabs sometimes prayed in as a mosque, as a landmark (although in principle he agreed with the viewpoint of the Gaon cited above).

And it should be noted that I did a search in the Bar Ilan responsa program, and the word mosque does not appear at all, in the entire Caphtor Vapherach book.

And it should be noted that even according to Rambam’s (Maimonides) viewpoint, if we interpret his words according to the simple meaning[2] that the Muslims are not idol worshippers at all, one has to do a thorough investigation if the mosque of Muslims has a law of the house of the Heretics, the Apostates and the impudent Karaites, that according to Rambam even if someone is chasing after a person to kill him and a snake runs after him to bite him,  one should not enter their homes even in times of danger”[3]. And one has to bring a clear proof whether according to his viewpoint one can use a mosque as a landmark.

And even if the claimant, claims that according to Rambam’s viewpoint, mosques do not have the status of houses of idolatry (and could in theory be used as landmarks), nevertheless the Crusaders[4]  definitely did have the status of idol worshippers according to Rambam’s outlook. Now since the Crusaders transformed the Dome of the Rock into a church and since according to Rambam’s viewpoint, a Muslim does not have the halachic power to annul the idolatry of a Catholic[5], it is possible that according to this interpretation, the Dome of the Rock has the status of a house of idolatry according to all opinions (at least according to the perspective of Caphtor Vapherach). Therefore, when there is a choice to identify the Holy of Holies by use of the “Shushan Gate”, perhaps Caphtor Vapherach thought it is forbidden to identify points on the Temple Mount by an idolatry building landmark or by a house of heresy[6].

  • In chapter 6, Caphtor Vapherach records:

In Pirkei DeRabbi Eliezer chapter (28) [35] “This is none other than the house of the L-rd, and this is the gateway to heaven. (Breishit 28:17)”. From here you learn that all that pray in Jerusalem it is as if he prays before the Holy One Blessed Be He and his Throne of Glory, for the Gateway to Heaven is there. And Yaakov returned to gather the stones and found they all become one stone, and he made it into a pillar within that place and oil descended for him from Heaven and he poured oil on top of it. And it is called the foundation stone (“Even Hashtia”) for there is the navel of the earth and from there the Earth sprouted, and there is the Sanctuary (Heichal) of Hashem, for it was stated (there, verse 22) “And this stone”.

From this quotation it is implied that Caphtor Vapherach also understood that the Sanctuary (Heichal) of Hashem is upon the foundation stone “Even HaShtia”. Now perhaps in his days, it was understood by everyone that the foundation stone “Even HaShtia” is the stone that is found in the Dome of the Rock and there was no need to provide more details. The attempt to undermine the association of the rock in the Dome of the Rock with the foundation stone, “Even HaShtia” is a modern development of the modern era and no one was raising such objections in the time of the Rishonim, therefore perhaps it never entered the mind of Caphtor Vapherach to add more details.

[1] That a person should not say, guard for me by the side of a certain idolatry (Sanhedrin 63b); and similarly, Chafetz Chaim brought this as halacha, Sefer Hamitzvot Hakatzar, negative commandment #13


[2] And we don’t say instead that he was using the misleading language that Ulla used to fool a murderer, Nedarim 22a

[3] Responsa of the Rambam, letter #449

[4] Hilchot Avoda Zara 9:4

[5] Hilchot Avoda Zara 8:9 “he who is not an idolater cannot nullify.”

[6]I saw in Shaarei Heichal on Zevachim produced by Machon Hamikdash, chapter 295, an explanation why there are rabbis that are not concerned about using places of idolatry as landmarks. And thus, he states: See Chavot Yair Chapter 1 regarding the prohibition of “it should not be heard upon your mouth”. That the prohibition is only to recall it without a valid purpose … all the more so one should not abstain from writing it in a book, if the purpose is for the sake of clarifying a mitzva. This quote was brought regarding the place in which the ashes of the red heifer were produced on the Mount of Olives – The viewpoint of Rabbi Yonatan Adler, Techumin, Vol. 22. Rabbi Adler uses a church of idolatry as a landmark to identify the place where the ashes of the red heifer were produced.

article by Shlomo Moshe Scheinman