Tradition says it was the site of the even sh’tiyyah, the foundation stone of the world (Yoma 54b).
That foundation stone is the centre of civilisation.
It is where Adam was born and where he built an altar to God. It is where Noah built his altar after the Flood. It is where Abraham was prepared to offer up Isaac. It is also the site of the Holy of Holies, the most central sanctity in the history of Jewish devotion.
Jacob called it Bet El, the House of God, and this is how it has been seen in Jewish tradition from the beginning of time.
Jewish law insisted upon correct behaviour on the Temple Mount. It was not permitted to treat it with levity, use it as a short-cut or even spit there (Ber. 9:5).
After the destruction of the Temple the site remained sacred, according to Maimonides (Mishneh Torah, Bet HaB’chirah ch. 6) and most other authorities.
The Me’iri reports that in his time there was a “widespread custom to enter there”, but this was probably without rabbinic sanction.
Because the Temple Mount was holy, the Caliph Omar prayed there on a spot where the al-Aqsa mosque was later built. About 50 years later another caliph began what became known as the Dome of the Rock.
When the Crusaders conquered Jerusalem the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa were turned into churches, but the buildings became Muslim places of worship again at the time of Saladin.
The status of the Temple Mount is fraught with difficulty. The Jewish place of pilgrimage is the Western Wall, and there never was such a spiritual and emotional thrill in nearly two millennia as when in June, 1967, it became Jewish again.
Whatever deal is eventually made between Israel and the Palestinians, there must be guarantees that sacred spots will not become battle-fields.
Holy places, and those who come there to worship in an appropriate mood of humility and serenity, must be and remain inviolate.