Letters Show Government Sanctioned Use of Screen, Benches at Wailing Wall
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Letters Show Government Sanctioned Use of Screen, Benches at Wailing Wall

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Two government documents, one dated August 11, 1920 on behalf of Sir Herbert Samuel, former High Commissioner of Palestine, showing that the Palestine government considered the question of a screen at the Wailing Wall one to be decided by the rabbis themselves, and another dated August 1921 on behalf of Sir Ronald Storrs, then governor of Jerusalem, declaring that the Arabs do not object to benches at the Wailing Wall, were produced at this morning’s hearings before the Wailing Wall Commission by counsel for the Jews.

The letters were addressed to Rabbi Abraham Schorr, the head of the Ashkenazic chassidic court, who first revealed the letters May 13, 1929 at a session of the Jerusalem Communal Council. The offering of the letters in evidence of Jewish rights at the Wailing Wall appeared to produce a strong impression upon the Commissioners.


Rabbi Schorr was not shaken by a two-hour cross examination by Abdul Auni Bey, Arab counsel. The Rabbi affirmed that the dispute with the Arabs in 1912 over the use of benches for the Jewish worshippers at the Wall resulted in an appeal to Chief Rabbi Nahum of Constantinopole who intervened and the matter of the screen for

often visited the Wall where he saw benches, oil lamps, spice containers and, once, a screen. He declared that he had never seen the Arabs praying at the Wall and stated that he never heard of the Moslems objecting to the Jews praying there and was unaware that the government forbade chairs at the Wailing Wall.


During the afternoon session, Abdul Auni Bey, Arab counsel, concluded a rigorous two hour cross-examination of Zion Ben Itzhack Issachoroff, 60 year old Bukharian Jew who had lived in Jerusalem for 43 years. Issachoroff had melodramatically testified during the first session as to the Moslem desecrations of the Wall.

When Auni Bey had finished with the fatigued witness, Issachoroff turned to the Commission and said, “I am here to speak the truth. If he tortures me any more to get what he wants I will not speak.” Issachoroff reaffirmed that prayer at the Wall, whether individual or congregational, affords the highest degree of meditation.


Auni Bey pressed him to explain whether the services at the Wall were possible without the tablet of the Ten Commandments. The witness replied in the affirmative and reiterated that he knew of no Turkish objection to the use of folding chairs, benches, or the reading table on which the Torah scroll is placed.

Issachoroff explained that he was away from Palestine during the War and that on his return in 1921 he was asked to buy new ones, the old benches having been stolen. He stated that the first conflict over the chairs arose while Sir Ronald Storrs was Governor of Jerusalem, nevertheless, he stated, four years ago the Bukharian Jewish community arranged for a great circumcision ceremony at the Wall at which chairs and the other accessories were used.

Chaim Solomon, a member of the Jewish National Council, who was born in Jerusalem, testified that on Yom Kippur he saw a dense crowd at the Wall which had an awning fastened on it. Commissioner Charles Barde asked whether the chairs are a permanent fixture. separating men and women worshippers was settled with the aid of Henry Morgenthau, former American minister to Turkey.

Auni Bey appeared to score a point when the Rabbi admitted that the Torah scrolls should not be transferred from place to place but the Rabbi then explained that the reading of the Torah was an essential part of the service anywhere, although he himself had scruples against taking it to the Wall without a proper ark in which it could be deposited after the service.

Rabbi Schorr admitted that a congregational service should usually not be held outside of the synagogue but said that the Wall, from whence the Divine Presence never departed, was the most acceptable place for worship.


The witness quoted the Midrash, a part of the Talmud, as saying that the existence of the Wall makes living in Palestine for a Jew the equivalent of the fulfillment of a religious duty. Questioning by Eliol Loefgren, chairman of the Commission, brought out the fact that Rabbi Schorr believed that the bringing of the Torah to the Wall is a recent practice.

M. Loefgren was particularly interested in the dirge described in William Elroy Curtis’ book “Today in Syria and Palestine,” (1903) beginning “for the place that lies desolate”. This afternoon the Commissioners will be shown a film taken in 1910 that shows the benches in use at the Wailing Wall.

Desribing the “interesting and pathetic” services at the Wailing Wall, Richard Hughes, a British Christian who has lived in Jerusalem since 1892, testified at yesterday afternoon’s session of the Wailing Wall Commission that he had

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