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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Hero with a shofar

Last Sunday, the second day of Rosh HaShanna, 20-year old Eliyahu Kleiman was arrested for blowing the shofar at the "Kotel haKatan," a small portion of the Western Wall that is visible in the Muslim Quarter, north of the area that most of you think of as the Western Wall.
. . . . The worshipers said that the police had apparently been called by an Arab woman who said the sound of the ram's horn disturbed her children.

A Jewish resident of the Old City told Arutz-7, "How ironic. The loud Arab weddings and nightly prayers by the muazzin [over a powerful loudspeaker] at 4:30 AM disturb our sleep every night." Similar complaints are heard from Jews living near Arab villages in Judea and Samaria.
It's not just in Judea and Samaria - we hear the prayers from the muazzin in the Arab village next to us every morning, about ninety minutes before sunrise (sunrise today was 5:33 AM).

The arrest brought back memories of one of the uglier aspects of the British Mandate: restriction on Jewish prayer in the Old City of Jerusalem:
In August 1929 an instigated Muslim crowd rioted among the worshipers and destroyed ritual objects. . . . The British set up a committee of inquiry (the Shaw Commission) to determine the causes of the riots and subsequently an international committee . . . [The Jews] asked only that there would be enforcement of the written intent of the Mandate: "according to Article 15 of the Mandate, the Mandatory Power shall guarantee the Jews free exercise of worship at the Wall in the form prescribed by the ritual of their religion without any interference whatever from the Arabs or the adherents of any other religion."

The Arab respresentatives made it difficult for the Commission because they refused to recognize the authority of the British Mandate. They stated, and it is quoted in the Commission's report, "The Palestine Arab nation have rejected continually and in every opportunity the British Mandate over Palestine, and therefore they cannot be bound by any arrangement or regulation derived from that." The Arabs further asserted that, it is the "Balfour Declaration that has incited the Jews to claim certain rights which in reality do not exist" and to generally insist on continued Arab control of all sites in Jerusalem that the Arabs considered sacred.

In December 1930 the Commission concluded that the Muslims had absolute ownership of the Wall and adjacent property. However, the Jews were to be given free access to the Western Wall for the purpose of devotions at all times subject to explicit stipulations that allowed Jews to come to the Kotel only in small groups and forbade them to pray there on Muslim festivals and on Fridays. In addition, Jews were also forbidden to bring Sifrei Torah to the Kotel, to place any chairs in front of the Wall or to blow the Shofar, lest it offend the Arab population.

The Jewish authorities agreed to this unfair verdict, except for the prohibition of the Shofar, considering it a humiliation. The Arabs rejected the report. The Betar Youth Movement organized Plugut Hakotel, a special unit of young men who would "illegally" blow the Shofar at the Wall on Yom Kippur to stir and arouse the Jewish people and fulfil the commandment of blowing the Shofar. Their activities would always lead to the intervention of the British police.
Today, Haaretz reports that there are contradictory versions as to what happened last Sunday:
Kleiman said that the officers stopped his and his friends' prayer and dragged him away. His story is supported by more than one witness.

The prayer was over, say the police, but Kleiman insisted on staying and continued blowing the shofar. At the same time, according to the police, a group of Muslim worshipers made their way back from Ramadan's morning prayer at the Temple Mount's mosques. Kleiman, the officers explained, was removed to prevent friction between the two groups of worshipers.

The rabbi of the Western Wall, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovich, is certain he can explain the contradiction: "I checked," he said. "The police officers don't even know when the prayer starts and when it ends. They did not understand that there are several waves of shofar blowing. In the service the police interrupted, the worshipers also blew [it] during the Amida Prayer. This is a very grave incident, and it is reminiscent of a different time."
Haaretz notes that the incident highlights the ongoing argument over rights to pray at the Kotel HaKatan:
The Kotel Hakatan, 20 meters long and its plaza, four meters wide of (the same width of the Western Wall plaza before 1967), is located 175 meters north of the open prayer plaza. The site has been recognized for many years, and throughout the generations it has seen many distinguished visitors, among them Rabbi David Ben Zimra (the Radbaz), Rabbi Shmuel Salant and Rabbi Yehoshua Leib Diskin (the Maharil Diskin). The Torah sages of our generation have also recognized its importance. Two years ago rabbis from all the Orthodox movements signed a declaration calling for the public to come pray by it.

The lion's share of the Kotel Hakatan extends hundreds of meters to the north, but is hidden underground or by houses. The name "Kotel Hakatan" was reserved early last century for another segment of the Western Wall, the one at the basement of the Al-Mahkame Building. This name later passed on to stone work found close to the Iron Gate Street.

Each one of the two courses of stone of the Small Kotel are about a meter tall. These two courses continue northwards, but their extensions are not visible since the houses of the Muslim Quarter hide them. Some of the original courses' stones have fallen off and smaller stones have filled their spaces.

The Kotel Hakatan has been proposed as an alternative prayer space for the Women of the Western Wall and the Reform movement. The Women of the Western Wall rejected the proposal (which was discussed by the Supreme Court, since the compound is is in heart of the Muslim quarter.

Throughout the years, and even after the Six-Day War, Muslims have thrown waste and garbage into the Kotel Hakatan plaza, between the scaffolds that were placed at the site. The area has no formal signs leading to the Kotel Hakatan, while its holiness is no lesser than that of the famous Western Wall, and perhaps surmounts it: The Kotel Hakatan lies in front of the putative site of the Holy of Holies on the Temple Mount.

This peculiar state of one of the holiest sites to the Jewish people is a result of the status quo the police seek to maintain at the site. That is the reason that the Kotel Hakatan has not been declared a holy place to this day. The Religious Affairs Ministry and the East Jerusalem Development Company, which had considered investing in the site, have steered clear of it due to Muslim sensitivity about the place. The rabbi of the Western Wall, Rabbi Rabinovich, would like to have responsibility over it, but the state will not allow it. This place has no guardian, and that is how it looks.
Meanwhile, Kleiman was taken to the police station in the Old City and told that he would be charged with attacking a police officer, interfering with a police officer in the line of duty, and disturbing public order. He was also banned from walking freely around the Old City for 15 days. The restrictions on Kleiman were removed on Friday. The police did not object. And in the absence of any news to the contrary, I assume that Kleiman blew the shofar again at the Kotel HaKatan at the end of Yom Kippur last night.


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