Two of the leading figures in the ultra-Orthodox community on Sunday warned against visiting the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem during the approaching Shavuot festival, citing the danger due to violence between the Jewish and Arab populations in the country.
Chaim Kanievsky and Gershon Edelstein, considered top authorities in the Lithuanian-descended community, called for avoiding harm or causing any provocation under the current situation.
Their plea, published on the front page of the Yated Ne’eman newspaper, which caters to the ultra-Orthodox community, came after days of deadly clashes in cities across the country between Jews and Arabs in some of the worst ethnic violence the country has seen for years.
Care is needed in “these days when our enemies are raising their heads, God forbid, and are trying to harm the community in the Holy Land,” the rabbis wrote.
Shavuot, which begins on Sunday night, celebrates the giving of the Torah to the Israelites, as told in the Bible. In Jerusalem, the one-day festival is marked by a pilgrimage of thousands of worshipers who walk to the Western Wall in the pre-dawn hours in order to pray at the holy site.
The two most common routes used both pass through the Old City’s narrow alleyways, with one leading through part of an Arab market where local residents live above the shops. Though closed during those early hours, the passage of worshipers through the market is often accompanied by boisterous singing and dancing.
“It is fitting to not endanger oneself and to not goad by walking on Shavuot to the Western Wall and likewise other places and to be wary of passing through places where there is a concern of danger of goading the nations [non-Jews],” the rabbis wrote.
Kanievsky and Edelstein warned against “God forbid, taking any action that goads the nations, as this is not the way of the Torah.”
They also urged that due to the dangers one should stay away from demonstrations “and places where the haters gather.”
The Western Wall Heritage Foundation, which administers the Western Wall plaza area, said in a statement that it has made preparations with the expectation that many thousands of worshipers will arrive, as is usually the case.
Last year attendance at the Western Wall during Shavuot was greatly limited due to the coronavirus pandemic.
As a remnant of the second of the two Jewish temples which stood on the Temple Mount, the iconic Western Wall is the holiest spot where Jews are permitted to pray.
Tensions between Israel’s Jewish and Arab communities have spiraled into mob violence in recent days, turning some ostensibly ethnically integrated cities into veritable war zones as police have appeared unequipped to handle the most serious internal unrest to grip the country in years.
Arab protests in support of Palestinians in Jerusalem and on the flashpoint Temple Mount holy sites spread across the country at the start of last week, touching off revenge attacks by Jews. Several people have been shot by assailants and others have been beaten by angry mobs on both sides.
The local unrest between Jews and Arabs came amid renewed fighting between Israel and Gaza terror groups, with some 2,500 rockets fired from the enclave since Monday night, killing ten people in Israel. The IDF has responded with airstrikes on Gaza, which have killed over 180 people according to the Hamas-run health ministry. The IDf says that dozens of the Gaza deaths were terrorists.