Praying, yes - begging, no

After years of mounting complaints, beggars banned from Western Wall

kotel western wall 298 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
kotel western wall 298
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Praying, yes - but begging, no. That's the state's decision after years of mounting complaints of aggressive - and often violent - behavior by scores of beggars at the Western Wall. The long-delayed decision to enforce the ruling starting Thursday was taken after groups of beggars disregarded warnings from Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch over the last year not to harass visitors. A year and a half ago, Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz instructed Rabinovitch and police to act against the beggars in accordance with the law. The haredi rabbi first tried to persuade the charity-seekers to change their violent ways, assuring them that if they asked for money in a respectful fashion he would not distance them from the holy site. His pleas fell on deaf ears, and organized groups of beggars continued to come from the central region and violently harass visitors. "They really went overboard and became brutal," Rabinovitch said, adding that he had received thousands of complaints from visitors, some of whom were even deceived into paying admission to enter the site. "It pains me that we have come to this." Jerusalem police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said police were helping to remove violent beggars. But many of the panhandlers vowed not to leave. For years, it has been almost impossible to reach the Western Wall without being accosted by a platoon of beggars rattling change or dangling ribbons for sale. Visitors have been physically assaulted for giving "too little," while a donation - especially a sizable one - to one beggar often results in a swarm of others eager to get their share. On Thursday, the beggars had been distanced from the Wall itself, but were still stopping visitors in the adjacent plaza, with their calls for a dollar or a euro in exchange for a red ribbon or a skullcap. The Jerusalem Municipality has said the beggars usually do not accept assistance offered by city social workers.