Halacha expert slams ban on visiting Kotel on Shabbat

Senior haredi adjudicator recently prohibited visiting Western Wall on Shabbat due to halachic problems with the security cameras.

December 17, 2010 02:57
2 minute read.
Security cameras at the Western Wall (Kotel)

Kotel (Western Wall) security cameras 311. (photo credit: Daniel Cohen)

Senior haredi Ashkenazi adjudicator Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv recently prohibited visiting the Western Wall on Shabbat due to halachic problems with the security cameras there. However, one of the leading experts on Halacha and technology is calling the demand part of the “endless pursuit of stringencies in Elyashiv’s court.”

An announcement in last weekend’s Yated Ne’eman newspaper cited sources close to Elyashiv as prohibiting visits to the Western Wall on Shabbat in the rabbi’s name.

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“Recent publications claim that while the Mabat-2000 program is active, Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv permits visiting the Western Wall on Shabbat,” the paper said. “It is hereby announced that there is currently insufficient supervision to ensure that the program is indeed active, and so long as matter is not resolved, it is Rabbi Elyashiv’s opinion that one should not go to the Western Wall on Shabbat.”

Western Wall and Holy Sites Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz issued a statement regarding the program, which involves security cameras that are not motion-sensitive and do not focus on objects, enabling passage through the Old City on Shabbat and holidays.

“In Rabbi Elyashiv’s opinion, there is a problem in the supervision of the program used on Shabbat, and together with the police we are working to fix the issue,” he said.

The Jerusalem Police spokesman said they were open to suggestions.

But Rabbi Yisrael Rozen, head of the Tzomet Institute, said Thursday that “whoever wants to prohibit the Western Wall cameras will have to order religious people to stay away from yeshivas, hotels, banquet halls and public areas, all of which use online security cameras.”

Rozen, whose institute is one of the leading establishments in developing solutions for the use of modern technologies in accordance with Shabbat observance, was involved in the consultations for the original use of the cameras around the Western Wall.

“There are two problematic aspects to being filmed on Shabbat. The first is the digital changes your image creates on the screen, but the more serious one is having the filmed materials saved,” he explained.

Since the images are deleted within a limited period after they are recorded, the major halachic obstacle is resolved, enabling the cameras to be used on Shabbat.

“The permit for using such online cameras was given even to those that temporarily save the information recorded in case a crime was committed.

Security cameras are in use all over the country, including in yeshivas and hotels, not to mention sensitive places such as settlements, Jerusalem and the Western Wall,” he continued.

“Cameras like these that broadcast online were permitted by all the leading adjudicators, including people representing Rabbi Elyashiv,” Rozen said. “Articles about that were also published in the [Tzomet Institute’s annual] Techumin journal, including by Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz and others from the haredi sector.”

Apparently, Elyashiv’s people wanted the additional measure of having the materials recorded on Shabbat erased in a shorter period, and the utilization of that specific program is probably what is not being supervised, Rozen said.

“There is an endless pursuit of stringencies in Elyashiv’s court,” Rozen charged. “This is a demand that exists nowhere else. Its implications are not just for the Kotel, but for half the country.”

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