Western Wall Rabbi Forbids Proposed Burning of Prayer Notes

The rabbi of the Western Wall, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, has decided to forbid the proposed burning of prayer notes that millions of worshipers place in the crevices between the stones of the Wall throughout the year. The suggestion of burning the notes was raised due to their tremendous quantities - four times a year the Wall's maintenance personnel transfer hundreds of sacks of notes from the wall for burial on the Mount of Olives. Rabinowitz decided against burning the notes, and to continue with the current practice. This decision is one of many in his recently published book (in Hebrew) "She'elot V'Tshuvot Sha'arei Tzion" (Gates of Zion Questions and Answers), which deals with questions concerning the Western Wall and the holy sites. In his book, Rabinowitz explains that burning the notes could be viewed as degrading to their writers.

In another matter, Rabinowitz refers to an interesting ruling by former chief Sephardic Rabbi Bakshi Doron, who permitted the entry of Jews to the Temple Mount (forbidden by most halakhists - those who decide Jewish law), if such entry is for the purpose of repairing the Western Wall from the inside. Rabinowitz also presents a decree that counters a ruling by another former chief rabbi, Rabbi Herzog.

Herzog ruled that such repairs could be carried out only by a non-Jew. The solution proposed by Rabinowitz, which is often implemented, is to use a crane when making the repairs, so that the workers are in the air the whole time.

Rabbi Rabinowitz also decries a practice followed by a few visitors, who take small stones that have fallen out of the Wall as a souvenir. Rabinowitz states that these small stones bear the same sanctity as the Wall itself and should be buried. Other notes on proper conduct while at the Wall include a prohibition on hanging clothing on protrusions from the wall or leaning against the Wall except during prayer.

The book includes rulings from other renowned halakhists concerning the maintenance of the Wall, to prevent it from crumbling, and the Rabbi of the Wall's directives to workers in this matter. Rabinowitz forbids, for example, the dismantling of cracked stones from the Wall, even if they are not part of the original wall, and states that anyone repairing the Wall should first purify himself in a ritual bath. On the other hand, Rabinowitz permits the spreading and injection of plaster, special resins and other powders to strengthen the stones.

Cleaning the stones is also problematic from a halakhic point of view, such that the removal of blasphemous graffiti once sprayed by an Italian tourist was visible for months until it began to peel away.