Historic letter against Kotel division

In light of new Reform prayer space, letter from top rabbis in early 1970s published, revealing fierce opposition to division into sections.

Hezki Baruch ,

The Western Wall (Kotel) and Temple Mount
The Western Wall (Kotel) and Temple Mount
Flash 90

In light of the decision by the government to create a new egalitarian prayer space for Reform and Conservative Jews at the Western Wall (Kotel), a letter from the 1970s on the topic by the leading rabbis of the previous generation was published on Thursday evening.

The new prayer space adds to a previous non-Orthodox space built in 2013, and has raised the anger of Palestinians who reiterated ahistoric claims to the site. On Monday Dr. Eilat Mazar of Hebrew University's archaeology institute warned Arutz Sheva that the new prayer space ramp will cover the last remaining site testifying to the destruction of the Second Temple.

In context of the controversial move, the letter sent by leading rabbis to then Prime Minister Golda Meir in the early 1970s was published, showing how they fiercely opposed the division of the Kotel into separate prayer spaces.

The rabbis emphasized the halakhic (Jewish legal) status and holiness of the southern part of the Kotel as opposed to the northern part where the Kotel Plaza currently is found. The new prayer space is to be built in the southern part of the Kotel, which itself is a remaining outer wall from the Second Temple on the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism.

The letter was sent to Meir given that the question of conducting archaeological excavations in the southern part of the Kotel was being raised to the government at the time.

Signing the letter were Rabbi Ya'akov Betzalel Zulti, Rabbi Shaul Yisraeli, Rabbi Yisrael Grossman, Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, Rabbi Yitzhak Arieli, Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach and Rabbi Eliezer Goldschmidt.

"According to historical testimonies (Jews) prayed next to the Western Wall up to the southwestern corner throughout all historical periods, up until 150 years ago," wrote the rabbis in the letter.

They noted the declaration of the Chief Rabbinate council, according to which "the Kotel is holy for prayer throughout its entire length," and therefore they ruled that "it is unthinkable to divide the Kotel and the land adjacent to it into a section of prayer and holiness, and a section of excavations and secular activity where it will not possible to pray."

Attached to the letter was the position of Rabbi Isser Yehuda Unterman, then Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Israel, who wrote that "the domain of the Kotel continues without stopping from the furthest point in the north until the furthest point in the south," indicating the entire length of the wall.

The historical documents can be viewed below.