Monday, April 30, 2007

In January I blogged about the Kotel ha-Katan, a little-known part of the Western Wall that is even closer to the holiest part of the Temple.

Earlier, I had blogged an extremely disturbing story about someone who was arrested for blowing the shofar at the Kotel ha-Katan last Rosh Hashanah - by Israeli police.

It looks like it is finally starting to receive the attention it deserves.
From Arutz-7:
Unknown to most visitors to the Western Wall, the remnant of the Holy Temple compound extends to the north far beyond what they can see - and a campaign is underway to publicize this.

The Western Wall is a supporting wall of the Temple Mount complex, on which the two Holy Temples were built approximately 2,850 and 2,350 years ago, respectively. Though it is technically outside the Temple area, it has special sanctity; the rabbinic Sages taught that the Divine Presence would never leave the Western Wall.

Of the nearly 500 meters of length of the Western Wall, roughly 200 meters of the southern end [to the right of the worshipers] are easily accessible today - but the remainder is just as sacred. Another 100 meters or so are included in a tour of the Western Wall Tunnels. Above these tunnels, near the Iron Gate entrance to the Temple Mount and on Temple Mount floor level, is an open area facing a short segment of the Wall. This is the area known as the Kotel HaKatan.

One Would Not Know It
Though it is off the beaten track, the Kotel HaKatan is actually slightly more holy than the familiar Western Wall plaza, because of its closer proximity to the Holy of Holies of the ancient Temples. However, one would not know this upon visiting it - for it is hard to get to, has no trappings of a holy site, and is not even protected 24 hours a day.

An ad-hoc committee named Kotleinu, "Our Wall," is working to promote and improve conditions at the Kotel HaKatan. The committee comprises mostly residents of the Old City of Jerusalem who are concerned that the area is not treated with the respect it deserves.

The group says that of late, for the first time ever, the Tourism Ministry department in charge of Holy Sites has committed to upkeep the Kotel HaKatan. Deputy Director-General Rafi Ben-Hur acknowledged that the Ministry is responsible for the area, but said that special budgeting must be obtained before this responsibility can be actualized.

Despite this, some recent improvements at the site include a police presence during daylight hours, a security camera monitoring the area and the access road, municipality-provided street-sweeping - and even a sign that says "Do not litter."

"A no-littering sign is an improvement," an active Kotleinu member told Arutz-7, "but what we really want is a sign saying that this is a holy site and that it should be treated appropriately."

Prayer Services and Arab Bicycles
Yeshivat HaKotel maintains a daily afternoon prayer service there, and other groups and yeshivot also pray there on Shabbatot. This, despite the fact that there are no chairs or prayer stands at the site; even prayer-books cannot be stored there, as there is no security at night. Sometimes, Arab children pass through there with their bicycles, or Arab women with their shopping bags - reminiscent of the scene of the "regular" Western Wall up until several decades ago.

"If the Ministry sees that tourists from both in and out of Israel frequent the place and are interested in it," Kotleinu feels, "this will provide an incentive to upgrade it. This is why we have started a letter-writing campaign to this effect."

Kotleinu asks concerned citizens and tourists to join the campaign for improving Kotel HaKatan conditions by visiting the Small Wall and by writing to or faxing (02-6496157) Tourism Minister Yitzchak Aharonovitch. A recommended sample letter can be seen here.


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