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Cover up when you're at the Kotel

by michael May 02 2008
Municipal news


The Western Wall, a cross-free zone


As a group of prominent Irish clergymen recently discovered, it's not just heads, knees, shoulders and breasts that have to be safely hidden away from the the Lord's penetrating gaze at the Western Wall. The clergymen were turned away by authorities at the Wall because they refused to cover up the crosses they were wearing.

Roman Catholic Cardinal Sean Brady, Church of Ireland Archbishop Alan Harper and Presbyterian and Methodist Moderators John Finlay and Roy Cooper arrived at the wall, Judaism's holiest prayer site, without giving prior notice to Israeli authorities, Brady told the Irish broadcast network RTE.

"We encountered some difficulty in gaining access. There was a difficulty about us wearing our crosses," he said. "We were under constraints of time ... and we decided to move on."

Shmuel Rabinowitz, the rabbi of the Western Wall, said that while the site is open to all faiths, worshippers are expected not to offend the sensitivities of Jews by displaying symbols of other religions.

"They were asked to remove the crosses, but they refused," he told The Associated Press. "I think it is important that they visit the Western Wall, but they should have covered up the crosses to respect the place, just like Jews wouldn't wear their ritual prayer shawls when entering a Christian holy place."

Perhaps Mr. Rabinowitz has a point; due to the contentious relationship between Christianity and Judaism in the past, the cross is a loaded symbol for many Jews - and Christian and Muslim holy sites in the Old City and elsewhere require, as the Western Wall does, that visitors defer to the practices of the religious group in charge (visitors to churches must bare their heads; non-Muslims are barred from praying atop the Temple Mount). However, this no-cross policy is, as far as Jerusalemite knows, completely unwritten, and completely erratically enforced. Dozens of crucifix-wearing Christians probably visit the Wall on an average day, without causing offense and without calling down fire and brimstone from the heavens.

If the Rabbinate truly wants a cross-free environment at the Wall, it has to state its policy as clearly as the no-cameras-on-Shabbat rule, writ in large letters on a sign visible upon entering the plaza. But considering how many Christian visitors may well have their feathers ruffled by the enactment and enforcement of such a policy, the Rabbinate has to ask itself: are the potential feelings of a few Jewish worshipers at the Wall worth all the PR damage?

After all, nobody is hassling the Waqf for blasting the adhan five times a day from the minarets atop the Temple Mount, and the glittering, eye-catching Dome of the Rock is surely a more visible symbol of another faith's presence in a site holy to Judaism than a cross necklace. Tolerance, however often it may fray and tatter, is ultimately all that holds Jerusalem together, and a little bit extra is never amiss.

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