The U.S. ambassador to Israel David Friedman took part in a prayer service at the Western Wall Sunday, contrary to Health Ministry regulations barring public prayer as part of emergency measures to stop the spread of coronavirus. The U.S. Embassy responded that Friedman had been present at the Priestly Blessing service on the invitation of the Western Wall rabbi, Shmuel Rabinovitz.
At least 13 participants attended the service while government regulations allow for a gathering for prayer of no more than ten people. The regulations also state that the rabbi of the Western Wall may permit prayer by “ten regular participants who live in the vicinity of the site," while Friedman lives about two kilometers from the Western Wall. According to procedure, the Western Wall rabbi is to submit to the health minister the names of the people whose participation he approved before the service.
A U.S. Embassy spokesperson responded: “Ambassador Friedman’s participation in the Priestly Blessing was in accordance with the Government of Israel’s social-distancing regulations. He attended the service at the invitation of the chief rabbi of the Western Wall. At the end of the service, the rabbi added a prayer for those in America suffering from COVID-19.”
The Western Wall Heritage Foundation responded: “It was decided beforehand that at the Priestly Blessing a special prayer and blessing would be devoted to the health of the residents of New York, the United States and the whole world, as a gesture of Israel to the citizens of the United States and President Donald Trump in their time of difficulty. The arrival of the ambassador to the event as the representative of the American people was coordinated ahead of time with the Israel Police and his participation in the minyan [quorum of 10 men required for public Jewish prayer in Orthodox tradition] was according to the Health Ministry’ directives on social distancing and protection."