Shofar blowing at Western Wall in Jerusalem (Photo: Jack Hazut, JHM Photography)
JERUSALEM — A Jewish man who was barred from the Western Wall after blowing the shofar, or ceremonial ram’s horn, during prayer services for last weekend’s Rosh Hashanah high holiday is allowed to return to the holy site after an Israeli judge yesterday cancelled a police restraining order.
Shmulik Ben Ruby, a spokesman for the Jerusalem Police Authority, told WND earlier the Jewish man, 19-year-old Jerusalem resident Eliyahi Kleiman, was taken forcibly from the Western Wall last weekend for fear the sound of the shofar he was blowing would offend nearby Muslims congregating on the Temple Mount, which is opposite the wall.
“Hundreds of Muslims went up to the Temple Mount. In order to prevent any tensions between the two sides, we asked Kleiman to stop blowing the shofar,” Ben Ruby said. “He continued and so he was removed and detained.”
The shofar traditionally is blown hundreds of times during Rosh Hashanah prayers.
The incident took place Sunday morning, the second day of the two-day Rosh Hashanah holiday, when a group of about 20 Jews gathered at the northernmost section of the Western Wall commonly referred to as the “Small Wall.” The little-known area stands opposite the spot at which the Holy of Holies is believed to have resided and is considered by Jews to be the most holy section of the Western Wall.
Jewish worshippers at Western Wall in Jerusalem
The Holy of Holies is a room within the Tabernacle of the Jewish Temple in which Jews believe God’s presence dwelt. During the First Temple period, from the 10th century B.C. to 586 B.C., the Holy of Holies was said to have housed the Ark of the Covenant, which contained the Ten Commandments.
The “Small Wall” is located within a mixed Jewish and Arab section of Jerusalem and is supposed to be accessible to Jews at all times.
Large prayer services take place at the central section of the Western Wall, where thousands gather for prayers on holidays. Smaller groups regularly gather at the “Small Wall.”
Kleiman says he had attended services at the “Small Wall” annually for several years without incident. He said he prefers the smaller wall because it is less crowded.
After the man began blowing the shofar during last weekend’s Rosh Hashanah service, a nearby police officer asked him to stop, according to Kleiman, the Jerusalem police and several witnesses who spoke to WND.
Kleiman says he continued blowing for about two minutes to finish the section of prayer that requires the sounding of the shofar.
The officer then demanded Kleiman immediately leave the area for his refusal to stop blowing the shofar when asked, Kleiman says.
He says he was in the middle of reciting the Amidah, the central prayer of Jewish liturgy, which according to tradition must be read standing and cannot be interrupted unless there is a risk of life.
“I couldn’t go with (the officer) until I finished the Amidah,” Kleiman says.
The officer called for backup, which Kleiman and observers say arrived several minutes later. Fifteen policemen then dragged Kleiman from the site, observers say.
According to police spokesman Ben Ruby, Kleiman was finished reciting the Amidah at the time he was detained by several officers.
Kleiman and several witnesses said he was removed while still reciting the Amidah, which is elongated on Rosh Hashanah and can take about 20 minutes to complete. They said the police refused to allow Kleiman to finish his prayers.
“They dragged me when I was trying to finish the Amidah,” Kleiman said.
Kleiman was taken to a nearby police station for questioning. He was released after several hours pending an investigation that could see him charged with disturbing public order and disturbing a police officer in the line of duty.
Kleiman was informed earlier this week a police restraining order was imposed to ban him from all sections of the Western Wall for the next two weeks, until the police investigation is concluded. The Jewish holidays of Yom Kippur, Succot, and Simchat Torah take place within the next two weeks.
‘Any debate on case highly embarrassing for Israel’
But yesterday Kleiman, who has no prior police record and is not associated with any Temple Mount group, challenged the restraining order in a Jerusalem court and won the case. The restraining order was cancelled, allowing Kleiman to return to the Western Wall for today’s Shabbat prayers and for upcoming Yom Kippur services, which begin tomorrow night.
A source close to Kleiman’s defense speculated the restraining order was removed “to ensure there is no debate about the case. Any debate about why a Jew was removed from the Western Wall for blowing the shofar on Rosh Hashanah would be highly embarrassing for the state of Israel.”
The source asked that his name be withheld because the case was still ongoing pending the completion of the police investigation.
The judge’s decision for the police to rescind the restraining order did not include any comments on the legality of Kleiman’s arrest.
Police spokesman Ben Ruby says Kleiman was originally arrested because a group of “hundreds” of Muslims had ascended the Temple Mount on the opposite side of the “Small Wall” and may have been offended by the sounding of the shofar.
“Our job is to keep peace in the city and ensure there are no tensions. The shofar may have offended the Muslims and could have started a confrontation.”
Miriam Janoff, a Jew who lives near the “Small Wall,” called Ben Ruby’s contentions “ridiculous.”
“Several times per day the Muslims broadcast prayer services on loudspeakers that can be heard for miles, including every morning at 4 a.m. It is extremely disturbing when you are trying to sleep, but you don’t hear the Jews complain about it,” Janoff said.
“It is the height of absurdity a Jew cannot blow the shofar near our holiest site on one of our holiest holidays because a Muslim is nearby.”
Also, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which started last week, Arabs in Jerusalem’s Old City regularly celebrate after sunset with loud explosions from firecrackers and gunshot blanks.
Temple Mount: No-prayer zone
Jews regularly are banned from the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism. Muslims call it their third holiest site. It is the place Muslims believe Muhammad, the founder of Islam, ascended to heaven to receive revelations from Allah.
Even though the Jewish state controls Jerusalem, the Muslim Waqf, or holy site monitors, serve as the custodians of the Temple Mount under a deal made with the Israeli government when Jerusalem was captured by Israel during the 1967 Six Day War.
The Temple Mount was opened to the general public until September 2000, when the Palestinians started their intifada by throwing stones at Jewish worshipers after then-candidate for prime minister Ariel Sharon visited the area.
Following the onset of violence, the new Sharon government closed the Mount to non-Muslims, using checkpoints to control all pedestrian traffic for fear of further clashes with the Palestinians.
The Temple Mount was reopened to non-Muslims in August 2003. It still is open but only Sundays through Thursdays, 7:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m., and not on any Christian, Jewish or Muslim holidays or other days considered “sensitive” by the Waqf.
During “open” days, Jews and Christian are allowed to ascend the Mount, usually through organized tours and only if they conform first to a strict set of guidelines, which includes demands that they not pray or bring any “holy objects” to the site. Visitors are banned from entering any of the mosques without direct Waqf permission.
Rules are enforced by Waqf agents, who watch tours closely and alert nearby Israeli police to any breaking of their guidelines.