BURN OR BURY
A whole chapter in one of Rabinowitz's books deals with the problem of discarding notes from the Western Wall. "There's an old debate about burning the documents, or burying them," said Rabinowitz. According to Jewish law the destruction of sacred texts is forbidden. Alternatively, books of prayer and scripture are "put" in containers, and mostly buried in Jewish cemeteries.
Yet even before notes were trapped in the Western Wall, it was common for religious Jews to put notes of prayer at the tombs of rabbis deemed to be holy. Those notes are usually burned. Rabinowitz said that burning is a pure way of dealing with the notes but it is more appropriate to bury them according to Jewish practice.
Also with the twice-a-year rabbi cleaning the next one will take place in mid-September before the Jewish New Year finding a snug spot in the wall for a note may be a challenge. Yaniv Artist, 28, who had been leading a tour group visiting the Western Wall, had difficulty positioning his prayer. "It came down from about three positions until I managed to hold it up high in a crack way," he said.
The Western Wall is a vestige of the Second Temple compound which was demolished in 70 AD. It stands today under a holy plaza known to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif and to Jews as the Mount of the Temple. The entire wall spans approximately 500 meters (1.650 feet), though most of it is underground.
The exposed area where people gather to pray is about 50 meters long, and about 15 meters high. In the Middle East War of 1967 Israel took the Western Wall along with Arab East Jerusalem. The practice of leaving notes started almost 300 years ago, when a rabbi sent his students in writing with a prayer because he could not make the trip, Rabinowitz said.
A first time Ukrainian tourist, who only gave his first name, Dmitri, said he could "sense" the place was holy. "I put down a notice demanding good health. I think that's going to help,' he said. A woman, carrying her daughter, managed to cram a note across a partition in a separate women's field, into a crack already overflowing with paper.
"It's for my family member, who couldn't make it here," she said.
The reasoning for the placement of prayer notes in the Wall was related to the Midrashic teaching that the Divine Presence has never withdrawn from the Western Wall, and the Kabbalistic teaching that all prayers ascend from the Temple Mount to Heaven, which the Western Wall abuts.