On the Shofar, from the Wall to the Mount

Yisrael Medad,

לבן ריק
לבן ריק
צילום: ערוץ 7
Yisrael Medad
I am a resident of Shiloh, with my wife and children, and now grandchildren, since 1981, having come on Aliyah in 1970. I have served in a volunteer capacity as a Yesha Council spokesperson, twice a member of Amana's secretariat, Benjamin Regional Council plenum member and mayor of Shiloh. I was a parliamentary aide for Geula Cohen and two other MKs, an advisor to a Minister, vice-chairman and executive director of Israel's Media Watch and was Information and Content Resource coordinator for the Begin Heritage Center. I am now Deputy Editor of the critical edition in anthology of Jabotinsky's writing in English.

In issue 8 of the new Hebrew-language magazine Gal-Einai (גלעיני) spreading the teaching of Rav Yitzhak Ginsburg, there appears an item on the blowing of the shofar after the British ordered that it be prohibited to be done so at the Western Wall by Aviel Halevi.  It is copied at the HaKol HaYehudi site as well.

Halevi summarizes the information provided by historian and translator Ze'ev Golan, whose book on the shofar blowers, mainly members of Betar, the Brit Habiryonim and later, the Etzel (Irgun Tzvai Leumi) who purposely broke the law and blew the shofar every year after the ban until 1948 is a must-read.  There is a video clip on the subject, Echoes of a Shofar, too.

The article claims that it was only after the riots of August 1929 - לאחר מאורעות תרפ"ט - that the British banned the blowing of the shofar.  It also has it that Rav Moshe Tzvi Segel, the first Betari to protest that ban (and be arrested), by blowing the shofar at the end of the ne'ilah service of Yom Kippur, did so in the year תר"ץ, which is wrong, perhaps a typo.  Yom Kippur 1930 was actually in תרצ"א.

The history is slightly different.

Already in November 1928, after the first violent contretemps at the Kotel, and based on nthe background on what occured in 1925:

In 1925, Jewish religious offcials attempted to use benches and seats during their worship at the Wall, but the British administration upheld Muslim objections and the Jewish officials acquiesced. In 1926, Zionists objected to Muslim actions arrecting the Wall, including clearing weeds from the interstices of the Wall’s stones, and requested that it be put under the control of the Government Antiquities Department.  Disputes over construction, repairs, and religious practices continued during the 1920s, and in September 1928 matters were infamed when a British policeman provoked a confrontation by removing a screen erected to separate men and women during Yom Kippur services. 

we learn:

British Police Interfere with Jewish Worship at Wailing Wall, Yom Kippur
Jerusalem (Sep. 25) - Palestine Jewry felt highly indignant today as the news spread throughout the country that in the midst of the Yom Kippur prayers before the Western Wall of the Temple, commonly known as the Wailing Wall, the British police of Jerusalem appeared at the Wall and interfered with the services.
Several persons were hurt, including an American Jewish woman, when the worshippers withstood the attempt of Police Inspector Duff, on duty at the Wailing Wall, to remove the screen put up for the services so as to separate the men and women worshippers in accordance with Jewish custom. The congregation assembled before the Wall, a thousand strong, protested against the unexplainable order and clung tenaciously to the screen, as it was forcibly removed. The screen was torn. The interference caused great excitement and the news spread rapidly throughout the Holy City.
Dr. Judah L. Magnes, formerly Rabbi of Temple Emanu-El, New York City, and now Chancellor of the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus, and Mr. Ben Zvi, labor leader, visited the District Commissioner of Jerusalem, Keith Roach, asking for an explanation of the interference. The Commissioner declared that the police acted at his order, because “the arrangements to convert the Wailing Wall into a synagogue is in contradiction to an existing agreement.”
The Jewish Telegraphic Agency correspondent learns that the attempt to remove the scren was due to the protest of the Moslem Supreme Council, a religious body which looks askance at Jewish access to the sacred wall.
Col. Frederick H. Kisch, political representative of the Zionist Executive in Jerusalem, called on the Acting High Commissioner H. C. Luke, Monday evening after sunset and lodged a formal protest against the action of the police. The Acting High Commissioner promised to order an inquiry upon receipt of a report from the District Commissioner.

and this follow-up

Jerusalem (Sep. 25) - The Chief of Police in Jerusalem, when interviewed this morning by the representative of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency expressed his profound regret at the incident which occurred Yom Kippur morning at the Wailing Wall.  “The police only carried out the order of the District Commissioner. They were compelled to use force because the crowd opposed them. I regret that some persons were hurt,” he stated.
The Executive Committee of the Vaad Leumi, National Council of Palestine Jews, has convened a special meeting to consider the matter. A protest was also issued this morning by the Chief Rabbinate of Palestine.

the British Government had issued a little-know White Paper on Wailing Wall.

From the JTA report:

London (Nov. 27) – Asserting that the status quo, as established under the Turkish regime, was infringed by the Jewish worshippers at the Jewish Holy Site on September 24, the Day of Atonement, the White Paper of the British Government concerning the Wailing Wall incident, made public today, contains a statement of the facts and a declaration that the administration of Palestine intends to maintam the established Jewish right of access to the Holy Site.

The White Paper, written by Col. Leopold H. Amery, Secretary of State for the Colonies, refers to the communique of the Palestine Government dated the 26th of September and explains that the intervention of the police was caused, as the Jewish action constituted an infraction of the status quo of the Wall. The paper further explains the Jewish rights to the Wall during the Turkish regime, underlining the ruling of 1912 prohibiting Jews to erect a screen on the wall pavement. The White Paper emphasizes this year’s innovations at the Wall on Yom Kippur were made the cause of the complaints of the Mufti in charge of the Wakf (Moslem religious property) to the Palestine Government necessitating immediate action, according to the practice not to create precedent contradictory to the status quo the Palestine government is obliged to maintain under the terms of the mandate.

Concerning the complaint that no Jew was among the police executing the order, this happened because, upon the urgent request of the Chief Rabbinate, all Jewish policemen had been released from service for the Yom Kippur holiday. In future, steps will be taken insuring a Jewish officer’s presence at the Wall on all such occasions. The further complaint that the Palestine government should have consulted Jewish authorities before taking action, is not substantiated, because if the infringement of the status quo was committed with the knowledge of these authorities, they were aware of the possible consequences from the experience on Yom Kippur, 1925. If, however, the Jewish authorities were ignorant of the innovations introduced, they cannot reasonably expect the Palestine government’s countenancing the unauthorized act of subordinates.

The British Government regards it as their duty and have the intention to maintain the established Jewish right of access to the pavement in front of the Wall for the purposes of devotion. They are also entitled to bring appurtenances as permitted under the Turkish regime. It is inconsistent, however, with the duties of the Mandate, to endeavor to compel the Moslem owners to accord extended privileges.

The chances are also lessened for a mutual arrangement between Jews and Moslems because public opinion in Palestine has removed the incident from the religious orbit into a political and racial question, which has intensified the difficulties. Nevertheless, the Palestine Government has approached the Zionist Executive, as well as the Moslem Council, suggesting that they agree on a mutual protocol regulating the conduct of services in a manner satisfactory to the normal liturgical requirements without prejudice to the legal rights of the Moslems. In this connection the government has also instructed the senior officer to feel out the ground with both parties as to whether an arrangement is possible which, if achieved, the British Government would cordially welcome as preventing a recurrence of the unfortunate incident, the White Paper declared.

Two weeks earlier, there was a parliamentary question tabled in London.

From the Hansard Report:


HC Deb 12 November 1928 vol 222 cc471-3 471

§16. Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies if he is aware that the Moslems in Jerusalem are erecting masonry constructions on top of the Wailing Wall; why this is being permitted by His Majesty's Government in Palestine, especially in view of the action taken by the authorities in Jerusalem to enforce the removal of temporary screens placed by Jewish devotees against the wall as infringing the status quo; and if he will give instructions that the status quo is to be preserved and that this new construction on this ancient wall should be forbidden?

§Mr. AMERY The matter to which the hon. and gallant Member refers is engaging my close consideration, and I propose to take the highest legal advice open to me before coming to any definite decision.

§Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY Has the right hon. Gentleman in the meantime taken any steps to inform the Administration of Palestine of the very deep feelings that have been aroused by the alleged action of the police in this case, and by the attitude of His Majesty's Government to the Moslems in allowing this building?

§Mr. AMERY The Administration of Palestine is very well aware of the state of feeling in Palestine, and the question whether this building is a violation of the status quo is the very question on which I wish to make quite sure before I come to a decision.

§Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that under the Turkish Government this kind of thing was never permitted, and that this is an entirely new departure?

§17. Mr. FENBY asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he is aware that on 24th September last, being the Jewish Day of Atonement, British police, acting on the instructions of the deputy district commissioner for Jerusalem, broke through the Jewish worshippers at the Kotel Maaravi, generally known as the Wailing Wall, and forcibly removed a portable screen which had been placed there on the previous evening in connection with the Atonement services; and what steps it is proposed to take with a view to enabling Jewish worshippers to conduct their devotions without molestation at this holy place?

§18. Sir FRANK SANDERSON asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether, in view of the action of certain Jews, the Government will take steps to make their intention clear of protecting the Wailing Wall at Jerusalem from acts of aggression, and so remove the cause of what may become a dangerous agitation?

§Mr. AMERY I intend within the next few days to lay before the House a White Paper on the subject of the recent incident at the "Wailing Wall." That paper will deal fully with the events which led up to the intervention of the Police, the position of His Majesty's Government and the Government of Palestine and the steps which have been taken with a view to minimising the risk of the occurrence of a similar incident in future. I do not wish to anticipate what will be said in the White Paper, nor could I do so satisfactorily within the narrow limits of Question and Answer. But I think it necessary to make one or two points clear. In the first place I would explain that the concern of His Majesty's Government and the Palestine Government in this matter is to maintain the satus quo as between Jews and Moslems in strict accordance with Article 13 of the Mandate, and such action as was taken by their representatives on this occasion was solely directed to preserving this delicate equilibrium. At the same time His Majesty's Government deeply deplore the shock which was caused to large numbers of worshippers on a day so holy to Jews. The hon. Member for Darwen is, I think unnecessarily apprehensive on behalf of the Moslems. While it is not contested that those responsible for the arrangement for the conduct of the service at the Wall, acting in defiance of Government instructions, introduced certain innovations involving a departure from the established practice and thus disturbing the status quo I am in a position to give him an absolute assurance that no question as to the ownership of the Wall has been raised by the Jews and that they have no intention of asking for anything inconsistent with the inviolability of the Moslem Holy Places, which is unreservedly acknowledged.
I am satisfied that the question at issue is one which could best be settled by friendly agreement between the two parties and I trust that as excitement on the subject dies down such a settlement, which would be most welcome to His Majesty's Government, will he reached. I need hardly say that His Majesty's Government would be most willing to use their good offices to that end.

§Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY Will the White Paper contain any report of the alleged action of the police, and the alleged brutality that took place among the worshippers?
§Mr. AMERY I think that the hon. and gallant Member will find that the White Paper gives a very full account.
§19. Sir F. SANDERSON asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether any rioting has occurred in Jerusalem; if so, how many arrests have been made; and what sentences have been given?
§Mr. AMERY No, Sir; there has been no rioting in Jerusalem.
§Sir F. SANDERSON Has the Government received evidence of the widespread feeling existing among a large proportion of the Moslem population?
§Mr. AMERY Yes, there is considerable excitement among all sections of the population.
Mr. BECKETT Can the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that the status quo will be maintained?

Was the status quo maintained?

In December 1930, a report was published, of the "Commission appointed by His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and
Northern Ireland, with the approval of the Council of the League of Nations, to determine the rights and claims of Moslems and Jews in connection with
the Western or Wailing Wall at Jerusalem", and it surely did alter the status quo:

...Furthermore, in conformity with practice, each Jewish worshipper shall be entitled to bring a prayer-mat with him or her on the two holy days of the New Year festival and on the Day of Atonement.

It forms a part of the Jewish service in the Synagogue to blow the Shofar (ram's horn) on New Year's Day and on the Day of Atonement and the Jews have claimed the right on the said occasions to carry out this ceremony of theirs in front of the Wall too.

That is a claim that has not been recognised in the present administrative regulations or otherwise in actual practice, and the Commission has not found any sufficient reason for assenting to it.

Save as above provided, it shall not be permissible to bring any appurtenances of worship to the Wall...

...(5)    The Jews shall not be permitted to blow the ram's horn (Shofar) near the Wall nor cause any other disturbance to the Moslems that is avoidable; the Moslems on the other hand shall not be permitted to carry out the Zikr ceremony close to the Pavement during the progress of the Jewish devotions or to cause annoyance to the Jews in any other way

The official banning, it seems, was only decreed after Rav Moshe blew the shofar but the local Mandatory power, one can presume, had already placed the prohibition into practice.

This is not only a matter of history.

The problems we have with Jewish rights, freedom of worship and access, on the Temple Mount stem from that confluence of demands and status during the Mandatory period.

We still need to ascend from the Wall to the Mount, as the sounds of our shofar freely do.