Jew blows shofar at Kotel 390.
(photo credit: Baz Ratner/Reuters)
In a landmark decision, the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court ruled last week that
police can forbid Jewish worshipers from blowing the shofar at the Kotel
Hakatan, a small part of the Western Wall that is considered the closest point
to the inner sanctuary of the Temple Mount.
The case stemmed from an
incident on Rosh Hashana in 2006, when a group of worshipers blew the shofar on
the second day of the holiday, which also fell during Ramadan that
year. Police repeatedly asked the man, a 19-year-old yeshiva student
named Eliyahu Kleiman, to stop blowing the shofar. When he refused, police
confiscated his shofar and detained him for questioning at a nearby
station. He was released after threeand- a-half hours under the condition
he not visit the area for 15 days.
Kleiman sued the police for damages
resulting from wrongful arrest and theft of the shofar. After a number of
postponements that stretched for years, the case was finally heard last
week. Judge Shirley Renner found in favor of the police, ruling that they
have the right to stop any religious action they believe will lead to violence
or danger to the public.
“The competing interests – freedom of religion
and observance on the one hand and public security on the other – mean that
different situations may be considered if the action is announced beforehand,”
Renner wrote in the decision. Still, she found that the police had made a
“legitimate” decision by confiscating the shofar.
Mickey Levy, the former
Jerusalem chief of police from 2000 to 2004, welcomed the court’s decision,
which he said was the first official decision delineating shofar use at the
“There is no reason to blow shofar there, there’s plenty
of room at the Western Wall to blow the shofar,” he said. “When the police say
every once in a while, that there’s something in the air or they think something
could happen, it’s their obligation to guard these areas,” he said.
stressed that the primary responsibility of the police is protecting the
delicate balance between different groups in the Old City. This can
include prohibiting entry to specific holy sites or preventing rituals such as
Jewish prayer at the Temple Mount in the interest of maintaining public
order. “If the police don’t guard the calm, it could explode very
quickly,” he said.
But the decision drew the ire of right-wing activists,
including those at Koteleinu, a group that advocates for the Kotel
“The fact that an Israeli citizen has to sue… over the violation
of freedom of prayer and humiliation at a holy site… it’s a very shameful
thing,” said Bracha Slae, a Jerusalem resident who has been active with
Koteleinu for seven years.
Slae said that the police do a good job of
keeping the area safe and orderly, but she worried about their unchecked
authority. She has previously been denied entry to the area due to security
Daniel Luria, executive director of Ateret Cohanim, an
organization devoted to the revival of Jewish life in the heart of Jerusalem,
had harsher words for the court decision. He said it reminded him of “the dark
days” under the British government, when Jews were forbidden to blow the shofar
at the Western Wall.
“I think in some ways we have a little bit still of
the ghetto mentality that is dictating our decisions at a national level,” he
said. “To think [that at] the holiest place in the world, a Jew is not allowed
to pray... The logic is that aggression, violence and threats of violence work,
and that’s something that shouldn’t take place.”
Attorney Daniel Robbins,
who is representing Kleiman pro bono, said he planned on appealing the
“The court says Jews’ right to pray at the Western Wall is
limited,” he said, echoing the belief that the Kotel Hakatan is a continuous
part of the Western Wall. “The court decision says more about the court [and]
has nothing to do with the spirituality of the site.”
The Kotel Hakatan
is a nondescript, crumbling stone wall in a 20 square meter courtyard just a few
steps away from the Iron Gate entrance to the Temple Mount. The courtyard is
surrounded on two sides by apartments inhabited by Muslim families. It is
considered to be the holiest place in Judaism outside of the Temple Mount, as it
is the part of the Western Wall that is closest to the Holy of
Previously, Koteleinu activists had complained that the area was
filled with trash and used as a latrine by area residents. Due to the sensitive
location of the site, authorities are loathe to alter any aspect of the Kotel
Hakatan for fear of disturbing the delicate status quo. Moves in 1999 and 2005
to install a hand-washing station in the courtyard were met with violence and
Small groups can bring Torahs and gather for prayer events in
coordination with police and the Western Wall Heritage Fund. However, no ritual
objects can be installed permanently at the site, such as chairs, a cabinet to
hold prayer books or a Torah ark.
Security forces at the Iron Gate always
have the right to deny entrance to Jews wishing to pray at the Kotel Hakatan,
especially during sensitive events and holidays or times when there is a threat