The Western Wall belongs to everyone

There is no other place in Israel that has over ten million visitors, worshipers and pilgrims every year.

November 4, 2013 22:15
3 minute read.
A Women of the Wall Torah reading

A Women of the Wall Torah reading. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)

No one would question the truthfulness of the sentence that titles this article. The Western Wall belongs to each and every member of the Jewish nation, and to all of humanity, as it is written, “For My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations.”

However, this title has two different and inherently opposite meanings.

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What does it mean for the Western Wall to “belong to everyone”? Many interpret this sentence as an expression of the individual’s right to actualize his traditions, desires and wishes at the Western Wall Plaza. If the Western Wall belongs to everyone, it belongs also to me, and therefore it is my full right to claim my place, and recognition of me and of my way.

In this discourse of the rights of the individual, it is easy to cling to a narrow topic and use it to clash with the delicate fabric painstakingly attained at the Western Wall Plaza.

The administration of the Western Wall is continuously attacked for the different directives customary at the Western Wall, with each person demanding that the Western Wall make room for his needs and desires. You see, the Western Wall is his.

This perspective led to the tension which has poisoned the Western Wall Plaza in recent years. In a reality where one says “this is all mine,” and the other says, “this is all mine,” there is no way to reach fulfillment, but rather only insult and harm.

The Western Wall really does belong to everyone. But the meaning of this, in my humble opinion, is that when you come to the Western Wall, you must remember that the Western Wall belongs to everyone – not only to you and those like you.

The Western Wall belongs to the strict as well as to the lenient, to the close and to the far, to men and also to women. The Western Wall belongs to everyone, and therefore, do not come in the name of your rights and demand the ability to harm others so that you can actualize your desire. The Western Wall belongs also to them.

Maintaining the balance among thousands of needs, wants and difficulties faced every day at the small Western Wall Plaza is a delicate task performed by the dedicated staff of the Western Wall with maximum attention and sensitivity.

Do we always succeed in balancing desires and sensitivities? I wish.

There are many people whose rights have been harmed in one way or another, and I wish I could personally apologize to each and every one of them.

But there is no other place in Israel that has over ten million visitors, worshipers and pilgrims every year – people of every nation, sector, opinion and faction – and manages to exist in brotherhood and friendship like the Western Wall.

To all those who want to demand the ability to practice their traditions, to those who want to change the face of the Western Wall, to those who do not want to reach a compromise at the Western Wall – I call to all those who are sharpening their critical pens – before you rush to judgment looking through the narrow slit of individual rights, remember how many individuals there are, and how many rights are crowded into the small Western Wall Plaza.

Even if your claim is true in and of itself – the Western Wall belongs to everyone. “The built-up Jerusalem is like a city that was joined together within itself.”

Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz is the rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites.

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