The Fallen Kosel Stone:  A Halachic Analysis

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By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for 5tjt.com

This past Sunday morning, a stone from the Kosel fell down. Thank G-d, no one was hurt.  It fell in the section that was designated for the Reform prayer group. Some have said that the falling stone is a sign of Divine anger about the fact that this area was designated for a prayer group that does not follow Halacha. What concerns us, however, is the halachic status of this stone.

STONES ARE ENDOWED WITH KEDUSHA

The stones of the Kosel, of course, are endowed with kedusha – holiness.  The Meiri writes in Kiryas Sefer, Hilchos Beis HaBechira in chapter five that the entire Har haBayis is mekudash lashem.  The Rambam (Hilchos Korban Pesach 9:1) explains that the thickness of the wall has the status of inside the area. (See responsa of Rav Yitzchok Herzog zt”l- Heichal Yitzchok OC #18).

MONTEFIORE ERA STONES

The great British financier and philanthropist, Moses Montefiore (1784-1885), however, did add stones to parts of the Kosel.  Rav Herzog writes that the stones that he added, although important, are not endowed with Kedushah.  The reason for this is that there was no period of time or building that these stones could have taken on Kedushah because when they were added – it was already after the use of har habayis.

NO CHIPPING

Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l (YD IV #63) writes that there is certainly a very serious biblical prohibition in chipping any stone of the Kosel aside from the general prohibition of Meilah.  This serious prohibition is called “Lo saasun kain lashem elokecha. This is a verse in Sefer Dvarim (12:3-4).

But what if the stone came off by itself – like in our case?  Now the stone is no longer attached to the ground or the wall.  Does it still have Kedushah to it?

It seems that this very question is a debate among the Achronim.  These halachic views are cited in the joint work of Rav Yisroel Yoseph Bronstein and Rav Shmuel Rabbinowitz on the Kosel HaMaarivi.

MOGAIN AVROHOM’S VIEW

The Mogain Avrohom (OC 152:6) cites the Maharam Padua (siman 65) that the prohibition of taking off stone [of a shul and, it would seem, of anything holy]  is only when it is mechubar – connected to ground.  Rav Shmuel Kelin haLevi, (1724-1806) the author of the Machtzis HaShekel [named for the abbreviation of the author’s name] explains that it is based on the pasuk in Dvarim that contrasts Hashem’s Mizbeach to that of. Lehavdil, Avodah Zarah.  Just as the obligation of destruction is only when the Avodah Zarah is connected to the ground – lehavdil, so too is the prohibition only when the stones are still connected.

CHASAM SOFER’S VIEW

On the other hand, Rav Moshe Sofer – the author of the Chasam Sofer, (1762-1839) a student of the Machatzis HaShekel, writes in his responsa (OC 32) to Rav Wolf Chajes, the Av Beis Din of Palata that the Mogain Avrohom’s words are wonderous, because they seem to contradict an explicit Gemorah in Makkos 22a!  There, the Gemorah states that those who utilized wood from the Mikdash in order to cook with it were in violation of “Lo saasun Kain.”  No one uses wood that is still attached to the ground in order to cook with, so we see that the prohibition exists even when it is no longer attached.   He explains that the Maharam Padua was in all probability referring to the keilim in the shul rather than the part of the shul itself.

CONCLUSION

So what should be done with the rock that fell?  Of course, the Gedolei haPoskim should be consulted on this, as with any issue pertaining to the Kosel and Har HaBayis. It would seem that we should consider the view of the Chasam Sofer stringently because the underlying issues are quite serious.

The author can be reached at yairhoffman2@gmail.com.

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4 COMMENTS

  1. If we assume that the pile of stones that lay below the platform are, as the archeologists believe, stones from the Beit HaMikdash that were cast down by the Romans during Chorban HaBai’is, then surely they would also have kedushah?

  2. When I was a bocher, I asked my RY if I was permitted to touch the Kosel. He told me not to, since, as mentioned in Rav Hoffman’s halachic summary the Rambam’s view was that the kedusah extends the entire thickness of the stone. Based on what I was instructed, I have never actually touched the Kosel wall itself. And yet, I see so many frum people doing so. I was wondering on which piskei halacha they are relying on. And why aren’t people machmir on this, in the same matter that they won’t go up to the Temple Mount itself.

  3. KShomron, I don’t believe there is an issur to touch something that has kedushah. There is an issur for someone who is tamei to be in a place that has (certain levels of) kedushah.
    If there is any potential issue, it may be a problem of putting one’s fingers into the crevices.
    Even that is mutar according to most because the fact that the stones have kedushah does not make the area the wall stands on part of har habayis.

  4. As far as I understand in general with the issue of these stones, there are two questions:
    1] Is it permissible to take them for oneself or to derive benefit from them?
    2] Is it permissible to destroy them?

    Taking them for oneself or deriving benefit would be me’ilah according to all opinions; the dispute between Magen Avraham and Chasam Sofer would not affect that.

    Destroying them would be subject to the dispute Rav Hoffman cites between MA and CS.