Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Kriah at the Kotel

By: Rabbi Ari Enkin

There is a widespread custom to tear kriah upon seeing the Temple Mount, as well as any of the ancient cities of Judea.[1] While there is a view that kriah should be performed when seeing all cities of ancient Israel,[2] the consensus among the authorities is that only the cities of Judea are 'special enough' to warrant it.[3] The tear is usually made on the left side of one’s uttermost garment. Even among those whose custom it is to perform kriah it is generally only done upon seeing Jerusalem and the Temple mount.

There are quite a number of authorities, however, who argue that in our in our day and age when Jerusalem is under Israeli sovereignty there is no longer any requirement to tear kriah for Jerusalem. Indeed, there are some authorities who hold that all the Judean cities under Israeli control are exempt from kriah.[4]It is a matter of dispute between the halachic authorities whether one is required to perform kriah when seeing Judean cities that have been transferred to Arab control, such as Beit Lechem and most of Hebron.[5] Most authorities, however, require one to tear upon seeing the Temple Mount even today.[6]

There is a way for those whose custom it is to tear separate kriahs for Jerusalem and the Temple Mount to avoid doing so twice. This can be accomplished by arranging to catch a glimpse of both the Old City of Jerusalem and Temple Mount at once. This can be done by looking down at Jerusalem and the Temple Mount from atop Mount Scopus or the Mount of Olives.[7] When one tears kriah at that time, the kriah will serve to cover any obligation of kriah for Jerusalem as well as the Temple Mount. For some authorities it is adequate to merely see the Dome of the Rock without having to actually see the grounds of the Temple Mount.[8] Those who wish to observe the kriah ritual in compliance with all opinions should be sure to do it from a place where the Temple Mount grounds can be seen.[9] The kriah procedure should be repeated each time one has gone over thirty days without seeing Jerusalem.[10]

Although those who neglect to rip their clothes when first seeing Jerusalem and even the site of the Beit Hamikdash may not be conducting themselves properly, nevertheless they should not be rebuked.[11] In fact, even those who are negligent with all other zecher l'churban customs should not be rebuked, either.[12]

There is an innovative yet legitimate method to exempt oneself from having to perform kriah on one’s clothing. This can be done by arranging to first visit the Kotel area or Temple Mount on a Shabbat or even a Friday afternoon. This is because performing kriah as well as all mourning practices are forbidden at these times. In fact, doing so even eliminates any future requirements to perform kriah upon one's next visit to these places as long as each visit is within thirty days of the previous one.[13] Alternatively, one can ensure to wear simple, old, or inexpensive clothes on the day of one’s visit to Jerusalem in order to discharge any kriah requirements obligations on such garments. One who is blind is not obligated to perform kriah.[14]


[1] Moed Katan 26a, O.C. 561:1
[2] Tur O.C. 561
[3] Bach O.C. 561
[4] Igrot Moshe 5:37, Hamoadim B'halacha 2:442, Mekor Chaim 59
[5] See Gray Matter II, by Rabbi Chaim Jachter with Rabbi Ezra Fraser, Yashar Books, 2007 for more on this issue.
[6] Igrot Moshe 4:70. Among the reasons for this is the uncertainty of the exact borders of the various cities. So too, one usually visits Jerusalem before any other cities in ancient Judea, such as Bethlehem or Hebron. The ripping done over Jerusalem, the holiest of all cities, suffices when visiting cities that have a lesser holiness.
[7] Bach 561
[8] Teshuvot V'hanhagot 1:331
[9] Bnei Banim 2:24
[10] O.C. 561:5, Be'er Heitev 561:5, Sha'arei Teshuva 561:2
[11] Mishne Halachot 6:110, Be'er Heitev 561:1, Bnei Banim 2:24, Moadim U'zmanim 7:211
[12] Minhag Yisrael Torah 560:3
[13] Piskei Teshuvot 561:3
[14] Tzitz Eliezer 16:39

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