Tammuz 5761 – Halachos of the Kosel

1 Tammuz 5761

L’chvod HaRav:

Is one allowed to touch the Kotel? I heard that if one puts their hands in the crevices of the Kotel, it might already be considered Har Habayit, so it may be assur. Also is there any source for putting a kvitel in the Kotel? If you are unable to go to the Kotel yourself, is it not better to ask the person who is going, to daven for you rather than put a kvitel in the Kotel? And finally, isn’t one supposed to take three steps back before turning away from the Kotel? Why do people walk all the way to the end of the Kotel plaza? Is there a source for that, or is it just to be machmir?

Thank you for your help! May we all meet at the Kotel soon! :-)

Name & Seminary withheld upon request

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Dear Name Withheld,

Thank you for your very interesting questions. There actually has been much discussion among our Poskim throughout our history regarding the status of the Kosel HaMaaravi and the Har HaBayis, and there are many varied opinions regarding what is and what is not allowed. The issues involved are whether the Kosel is actually a remnant of the wall of the Azarah, the Chayl (the corridor around the Azarah), or the Har HaBayis, and the resulting opinions vary from it being prohibited to even approach the Kosel, to it even being permitted for some who have gone to the Mikvah to go into the Har HaBayis beyond the Kosel for a specific distance. What I am going to write here is, to the best of my knowledge, the concensus of most Poskim today, and the prevailing Minhag.

The Mishna Berurah (561:5) writes: “Anyone who goes today into the Makom HaMikdash is obligated in Karess, because we all are T’mayei Maysim”. In other words, since we must assume that we have come into contact with dead people, either by actually touching them, being in the same room as them, or even by walking over a grave, we can not become Tohor until we once again have the Poroh Adumah, and can go through the process that once again makes us Tohor. According to Halacha, although someone who is Tomay Meis is permitted on the Har HaBayis, and is only restricted from entering the Chayl (MiDerrabonon) and the Azara (MiD’Oraysoh), there are other forms of Tumah that many of us have that would restrict us from entering even the Har HaBayis, as stated in the Mishna in Keilim 1:8.

Most Poskim today (the Avnei Nezer, the Tzitz Eliezer, Rav Ovadiah Yosef among others) are of the opinion that the Kosel is the wall of the Har HaBayis, and therefore we all may approach and touch the Kosel. The Minhag is also to assume that the Halacha is like the Poskim that say that the walls of the Har HaBayis are not Kadosh, and we may even put our fingers into its cracks. However, many Gedolim have been careful not to do so (e.g. the Chazon Ish and the Steipler Zatza”l, as stated in Sefer Orchos Rabbeinu Vol. II page 149), and therefore someone who wishes to be stringent certainly has what to rely on.

I’m not familiar with a specific source for putting a Kvittel in the Kosel. If you hear of one, or if any of the Jem Sem readers is aware of one, I would appreciate knowing about it.

Regarding whether it is preferred to send a Kvittel or ask the person to Daven for you, all I can say for sure is that we say in Ashrei, “Korov Hashem L’chol Korav, L’Chol Asher Yikra’uhu B’Emes”, so as long as it is a heartfelt Tefillah, whether yours somewhere else or your friend’s at the Kosel on your behalf, you can be assured that HKB”H is listening.

The Kosel Plaza is a place designated for Tefillah, and therefore it has the Halacha of a Beis HaKnesses. The Halacha is that when exiting the door of a Shul (i.e. the sanctuary, where people actually Daven) that you are supposed to back out, to show respect for the Kedushah that is there. The same applies to the Kosel plaza. Those who back out all the way evidently have a special sensitivity to the Kedushah of the Mokom HaMikdash, and wish to avoid turning their back to it as much as possible, which is very praiseworthy.

May we all meet soon on the Har HaBayis!

Take care,
Rabbi Aaron Tendler