Maariv's Publication of Barack Obama's Western Wall Note Spurs Outrage, Boycott

The rabbi who supervises Jerusalem's Western Wall condemned the removal of a prayer note purportedly written by Sen. Barack Obama, saying the action was "sacrilegious."

The U.S. presidential candidate visited the site early Thursday and placed a note in the cracks of the wall, as is customary.

The note was subsequently removed from the wall, according to the daily Maariv, which printed what it said were the contents of the prayer. Maariv said a religious student gave the note to the newspaper.

Obama's senior strategist Robert Gibbs told CNN: "We haven't confirmed nor denied" that the note is from the Illinois senator.

The notes are supposed to be removed twice a year, on the eve of Rosh Hashanah and Passover, and placed in a repository "to keep them hidden from human eyes," said Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, who supervises the Western Wall.

"This sacrilegious action deserves sharp condemnation and represents a desecration of the holy site. Notes placed in the Western Wall are between the person and his Maker. Heaven forbid one should read or use them."

Asked what he wrote, Obama declined to answer, saying it was a private conversation between him and God.

"Anybody who goes to the Western Wall and places a note there does so under the assumption that it's a private communication, and there are rabbinic decrees against reading anybody else's private communications," said Jonathan Rosenblum, director of the Orthodox Am Ehad think tank.

Obama reportedly wrote in the note: "Lord - protect my family and me. Forgive my sins, and help me guard against pride and despair. Give me the wisdom to do what is right and just. And make me an instrument of your will."

Jerusalem lawyer Shahar Alon asked Attorney General Menachem Mazuz yesterday to order a police investigation into the removal and publication of Obama's note.

"By making the note public," Alon wrote to Mazuz, "Maariv violated the law protecting holy sites, several clauses in the penal code and also infringed upon the basic rights of a person's honor and freedom."

Alon also initiated a boycott of the newspaper. In a published letter, he called on all who felt that Maariv desecrated the holiness of the Western Wall, or felt that Obama had been personally disrespected, to refrain from purchasing the newspaper or cancel their subscriptions.

Speaking with Haaretz yesterday, Alon said "if no one prevents people from opening notes written at the Western Wall, the wall will turn into a marketplace instead of a place for prayer. It is important the Maariv understands that it violated the holy status of the Western Wall. Every person has the right to write a note based on the knowledge that it won't be read by the public."

"The boycott will be lifted," he added, "after the newspaper publishes a notice, both in Hebrew and in English, apologizing for its lack of sensitivity and for its violation of Senator Obama's privacy and honor."

Maariv's response: "Obama's note was published in Maariv and other international publications following his authorization to make the content of the note public. Obama submitted a copy of the note to media outlets when he left his hotel in Jerusalem. Moreover, since he is not Jewish, there is no violation of privacy as there would be for a Jewish person who places a note in the wall."

On Friday, the BBC reported that senior rabbis had also become outraged by publication of the note, saying its content was a private matter between Obama and God.