Israel Police and the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) have announced that the Western Wall will not be closed to Jewish worshippers during the Pope’s visit.

The two bodies made the decision, overturning their previous intention, in response to a request by the Rabbi of the Holy Sites, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch.

The original decision had caused a minor uproar among the religious community, hundreds of whose members never miss their regular daily prayer service at the holy site.  Though the Western Wall is merely a retaining wall for the Temple Mount, the most sacred site in the world, it retains its own holy status as the site “never abandoned by the Divine Presence,” in the words of the Jewish Sages.

Pope Benedict XVI is scheduled to visit the Wall on Tuesday morning, May 12, on the minor Jewish holiday of Lag BaOmer. The government had originally intended, for security reasons, to keep the entire Wall plaza closed to worshippers and visitors from the evening prior to the visit.

The pope will first visit the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount, meeting with the Grand Mufti. He will proceed from there to the Western Wall, and from there to meetings with Chief Rabbis Shlomo Amar and Yona Metzger in the building that long housed Israel’s Chief Rabbinate, Heichal Shlomo.  At noon, he will visit the Last Supper Room, known as the Cenacle, on Mt. Zion, in the same building that houses King David’s Tomb. 

The pope, age 82, is visiting Israel, including Bethlehem and Nazareth, as what he has called a “pilgrimage of peace.” His visit to Jerusalem will also include the President’s Residence, a meeting with the Greek-Orthodox patriarch of Jerusalem, and Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum. His predecessor, Pope John Paul II, visited Israel in March 2000.

The Western Wall plaza will remain open prior to the Papal visit, but in the morning hours, worshippers will be directed to the closed Wilson Arch area, alongside the Wall but north of the main prayer area.  Neither the Dung Gate or Hagai Street entrances to the plaza will be closed, but during the visit itself, which will begin at 9:45 AM, visitors from Dung Gate will be detoured to the Hagai Street entrance.