Western Wall
Western WallIsrael news photo: Hebron.co.il

“I have to reject 2-3 requests a day for special ceremonies at the Western Wall plaza,” says Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, the Rabbi of the Western Wall and the Holy Sites, explaining why new immigrants will no longer be greeted there.

“The policy at the Western Wall has always been to conduct only religious and military ceremonies, and nothing else,” the rabbi explains. “Ceremonies for new immigrants, with politicians’ speeches and no prayers, need not be held here; they simply disturb those trying to pray.”

“Unfortunately, many Jews do not always remember, when frequenting the Wall, that it is a sacred spot, and they behave and dress inappropriately…"

“The Western Wall is a holy site, not a festivities hall,” he sums up – though military induction ceremonies and memorials will continue to be held “because of long-standing tradition.”

The Jewish Agency has often held ceremonies to welcome new immigrants at the Western Wall, but the latest request to do so – for this afternoon (Wednesday) – was rejected. “It’s not a prayer ceremony,” Rabbi Rabinovitch explained, “and no one wants to pray [at the Wall] with a speech by a rabbi or government minister in the background.”

Rabbi Ratzon Arusi, a member of the Chief Rabbinate Council and Chief Rabbi of Kiryat Ono, agrees. “We must not allow the Western Wall to become a secular site,” the unofficial Chief Rabbi of the Yemenite community told Arutz Sheva’s Hebrew news magazine.

“There are three levels of sanctity [for places] in Jewish Law,” Rabbi Arusi explained. “The highest level is that of a Beit Medrash [Torah study hall], followed by that of a synagogue [a Beit Medrash may not be turned permanently into a synagogue, but a synagogue may be turned into a Beit Medrash - ed.], and lowest of all is a plaza – a public place where public prayers are occasionally recited. The Western Wall plaza today is more like a synagogue – and even more so – in that prayers are constantly being held there, and therefore we must treat it with the sanctity accorded a synagogue, by not holding secular events there and the like.”

Asked if connecting new immigrants with their Jewish roots on the momentous occasion of their arrival to the Land of Israel might not be viewed as a religious ceremony, Rabbi Arusi told Israel National News, “It certainly has that element, but we have to set guidelines. If prayers are not recited at the ceremony, and if it does not have a religious ambience – perhaps some of the new immigrants have come only for financial reasons - then it should not be held at the Western Wall.”

“Unfortunately,” Rabbi Arusi said, “many Jews do not always remember, when frequenting the Wall, that it is a sacred spot, and they behave and dress inappropriately… I am certainly in favor of new IDF soldiers coming to the Wall on the eve of their induction into the army so that they will re-connect with their Jewish roots, but here too, unfortunately, many of the young generation have been detached from Jewish education and they think that this is just another ceremony at an archaeological site. We must pay heed to this sorry state, in order that the sanctity of this site not be desecrated.”