Rabbi David Lau, Israel’s chief Ashkenazi rabbi, and Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, Israel’s chief Sephardi rabbi, both issued religious edicts on Thursday instructing Jews to obey all instructions issued by Israels health officials’ instructions concerning the coronavirus. This included instructions to avoid visiting the Western Wall.
“No halachic instruction exists that would overrule the instructions of the Health Ministry,” wrote Rabbi Yosef. “The halachic instruction is to obey absolutely all the instructions of the Health Ministry without exception, and every order produced by them is a halachic order for all intents and purposes.”
Quoting what he called a “police request,” Rabbi Yosef instructed observant Jews to “avoid visiting the Western Wall and holding mass prayers there. Every man and woman should pray near their homes until the crisis passes and mercy comes from Heaven.”
“Large synagogues will also refrain from holding prayers in large gatherings, but will divide the praying public so as to abide by Health Ministry guidelines,” Yosef wrote.
Rabbi Laucited the rabbinic injunction that the “requirement to take care of yourself in order to avoid hurting a fellow person supersedes even the requirement to take care of yourself for your own sake.”
“The coronavirus can pass from a completely healthy person to someone else and endanger that second person. That means absolute obedience to the instructions [of health officials] is required, even if they are difficult and inconvenient,” he wrote.
“Someone in quarantine or who is at high risk [from the virus] must pray in their home, and try to time their prayer to coincide with the public prayer,” he wrote.
Both rabbis also suggested that weddings and other religious events be held on a small scale. The rabbis also ruled that the commandment to visit the sick and elderly was also suspended for the duration of the crisis.
The rabbinic ban did not cover the Temple Mount and, in fact, more Jews ascended to Judaism’s holiest site than ever before. Elishama Sanderman, head of the Yera’eh Temple Mount advocacy group, noted a rise in 14 percent of the Jews who ascended to the Temple Mount this week.
“In any case, police restrict Jewish groups to less than 100,” Sanderman pointed out. “Jews are restricted to open areas on the Temple Mount so there is no danger of infection.”
The rise in Jewish visitation to the Temple Mount was not due to the rabbinic prohibition against visiting the Western Wall which is, in fact, the retaining wall for Judaism’s holiest site.
“The world is in a crisis and in times of need, Jews naturally turn to where the Temples once stood,” Sanderman explained. “Though we are still not permitted to gather in prayer, the Jews who ascend of course pray to Hashem (God, literally, ‘the name’) to send a cure to all the people suffering in the world.”
Sanderman noted that many of the Jews who ascended to the Temple Mount recited Pitum Ketoret, the section of the Torah describing the composition of the 11 ingredients of the incense that was used in the Tabernacle and Temples.
“This is known as an aide in times of trouble and disease,” Sanderman explained. “This is especially true on the Temple Mount, which King David acquired to remove the plague that killed 70,000 people.”
And David built there a mizbayach to Hashem and sacrificed burnt offerings and offerings of well-being. Hashem responded to the plea for the land, and the plague against Yisrael was checked. II Samuel 24:25
It should be noted that last Saturday night, Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu acknowledged that he had avoided a political deal that could have potentially given him a victory in the election because it would have brought Jewish prayer to the Temple Mount.
“The Bible showed time after time that Jewish service at this site could help in dire situations of plague,” Sanderman noted. “We are trying to recreate this aspect of the Temple as much as possible given the official restrictions. Thi is precisely the Jewish function in the Temple: to act as Kohanim (priests) for the entire world.”
Sanderman emphasized that Jews may only ascend to the Temple Mount after ritual immersion and may not wear leather shoes. In addition, he noted that it is important to obey police instructions while on the site.
Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount was legally mandated in a 2015 Jerusalem magistrate court decision but a clause in the ruling permitted the police to enforce the law based on security considerations. For the last four years, the Israeli police have cited Palestinian Islamic violence as a reason to prevent Jews from praying at the site.
Trump’s recently proposed Deal of the Century puts theTemple Mount under Israeli sovereignty, stating, “People of every faith should be permitted to pray on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, in a manner that is fully respectful to their religion, taking into account the times of each religion’s prayers and holidays, as well as other religious factors.”