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On night before Yom Kippur, pandemic lockdown keeps Western Wall mostly empty

Prayer service before holiday usually draws hundreds of thousands; but health regulations restrict this year’s pilgrimage to Old City residents who live within a kilometer

  • Jewish men pray for forgiveness (selichot), at the Western Wall, in Jerusalem's Old City on September 26, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
    Jewish men pray for forgiveness (selichot), at the Western Wall, in Jerusalem's Old City on September 26, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
  • Jewish men pray for forgiveness (Selichot), at the Western Wall, in Jerusalem's Old City on September 26, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
    Jewish men pray for forgiveness (Selichot), at the Western Wall, in Jerusalem's Old City on September 26, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
  • Tens of thousands pray at the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem in Selichot (forgiveness) prayers, early on September 27, 2019. (Mendy Hechtman/Flash90)
    Tens of thousands pray at the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem in Selichot (forgiveness) prayers, early on September 27, 2019. (Mendy Hechtman/Flash90)
  • Jewish men pray for forgiveness (Selihot), at the Western Wall, in Jerusalem's Old City on September 26, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
    Jewish men pray for forgiveness (Selihot), at the Western Wall, in Jerusalem's Old City on September 26, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
  • Jewish men pray for forgiveness (Selichot), at the Western Wall, in Jerusalem's Old City on September 26, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
    Jewish men pray for forgiveness (Selichot), at the Western Wall, in Jerusalem's Old City on September 26, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

With the country under lockdown to stem the pandemic, the Western Wall hosted just 200 worshipers on Saturday night for the penitential pre-Yom Kippur prayers, a ritual that usually draws hundreds of thousands.

The selihot prayers are traditionally said in the days leading up to the High Holidays. The Saturday night service was the last before the Day of Atonement, which begins on Sunday night and ends Monday night.

Under the tightened lockdown rules, which went into effect on Friday afternoon, only residents of Jerusalem’s Old City who live within a kilometer were permitted to visit the Western Wall, as well as the country’s chief rabbis.

The Kan public broadcaster, which streamed the service live, said that in the absence of tourists and pilgrims, the Old City’s street lights were shut off.

Thousands attend forgiveness prayer (Selihot), at the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem early on October 8, 2019, prior to the upcoming Jewish Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Some critics angered by the government’s closure rules juxtaposed images of the empty Western Wall plaza alongside the thousands of protesters gathered outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem, who were allowed to rally after lawmakers on Friday failed to approve regulations limiting protests.

In a rebuke of the protesters, who are rallying against his corruption cases and handling of the pandemic, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also shared the composite photo, writing: “Dear citizens of Israel, With all of the difficulty it entails, I very much appreciate the cooperation of most citizens of Israel. We must stop the chains of infection, heed the instructions for the sake of all of our lives.”

אזרחי ישראל היקרים,עם כל הקושי שבדבר אני מאוד מעריך את שיתוף הפעולה של רוב אזרחי ישראל. חייבים לעצור את שרשרת ההדבקה, שמרו על ההנחיות למען חיי כולנו.

פורסם על ידי ‏Benjamin Netanyahu – בנימין נתניהו‏ ב- יום שבת, 26 בספטמבר 2020

The government introduced tighter lockdown rules last week as the number of daily virus cases soared, reaching over 8,000 on Friday.

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