Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef

Rabbinic Leadership Split Regarding Visiting Kotel

In the wake of the brutal attack yesterday on a Jewish family on their way to visit the Kotel (Western Wall) by an Arab terrorist who murdered Aharon Banita-Bennett, 21, and Rabbi Nehemia Lavi, 41, and seriously wounded Bennett’s wife and two year old son, senior rabbinic leaders in Israel have issued pronouncements instructing their followers regarding whether or not they should visit the kotel.

Rav Yitzchak Yosef, the Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel, emphatically urged everyone possible to visit the Kotel on the final day of Sukkot and Simchat Torah to pray for the wounded and to fulfill the commandments of the holiday. He added that it is inconceivable for there to be a situation where Jews are afraid to visit the Kotel. His views were echoed by the Rabbi of the Kotel, Rav Shmuel Rabinovits and by the minister of religious affairs MK David Azulai.

Most of the prominent Chassidic Rebbes instructed their followers to refrain from visiting the Kotel.

The Gerrer Rebbe, the leader of the largest Chassidic sect in Israel, instructed his followers not to visit the Kotel until further notice. Other Chassidic Rebbes, including the Boyaner Rebbe and Vishnitzer Rebbe, did the same.

Rav Chaim Kanievsky, considered to be the leader of the Lithuanian (non Chassidic) community, advised that, “One may visit Yerushalayim during Yomtov but one must not come near to the Old City until the situation calms down”.

There was no statement from Rabbi David Lau, the Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Israel, but one would assume that he would agree with his Sephardic counterpart Rav Yosef in encouraging Jews to visit the Kotel.

Thousands of Jews flocked to the Kotel today for Hashana Rabbah prayers. The main routes to the Kotel are heavily protected and deemed extremely secure.

The rabbis who are telling their followers not to visit the Kotel are obviously basing their decisions on their assumption that doing so would be placing your live in danger. But there are certain things that a citizen of a sovereign nation must do to protect the independence and integrity of that nation even if it means risking life to do so. Serving in the army is a primary example of something that “endangers one’s life” but is an obvious requirement in a sovereign state. Well, maybe not so obvious to the rabbis who prohibit their followers from serving.

Not visiting the Kotel because of terror threats is an act of surrender to the enemies of Israel seeking to destroy the Jewish people. Perhaps Jews should stick to the main, secure, routes when walking to the kotel to avoid danger, but staying away out of fear shouldn’t be an option for a free people in an independent state. Staying away out of fear is what Jews would have done (and still do) in the diaspora.

Are some rabbinic leaders still living in exile even in their own sovereign state?

It sure looks that way.

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