Kriah at the Kotel

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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

About Ari Enkin

Rabbi Ari N. Enkin, a resident of Ramat Beit Shemesh, is a researcher and writer of contemporary halachic issues. He is the author of the “Dalet Amot of Halacha” series (8 volumes), Rabbinic Director of United with Israel and a RA"M at a number of yeshivot.

One comment

  1. HaDardai 05/11/2010 04:11 AM
    I note that you cite Teshuvot v’Hanhagot. In his Moadim u’Zmanim, R. Sternbuch includes the obligatory diatribe against the Zionists, noting that Zionist control of holy sites itself warrants keriah. From one extreme to the other, R. Tzvi Yehudah Kook held that one should no longer tear keriah at all over the Temple site, now that it is in Jewish hands. I guess that this is another area where halacha and politics are inseparable.

    I would be circumspect quoting Minhag Yisrael Torah as an halachic source, rather than an interesting source book for dodgey chassidic customs.
    Nachum 05/11/2010 05:27 AM
    As you point out, R’ Zevin, in HaMoadim B’Halacha, states that while the law of tearing over the Har HaBayit still applies, as the Mikdash has not yet been rebuilt, it would seem logical that as the tearing over the cities of Judea is over their status of not being settled by Jews, now, with the restoration of Israel and return of Jews to those cities, the rule of tearing over them no longer applies.

    Infamously, when translating R’ Zevin’s work into English, Artscroll included this view, but omitted the parenthetical “ashreinu shezakhinu l’khakh” that he inserted after the words “creation of the State of Israel.” They were eventually called on it in the pages of Tradition, and offered a very lame excuse which was demolished in the next issue.

    I’ve heard that R’ Schachter tears only when seeing the actual surface of the Har HaBayit, going to the roof of Yeshivat HaKotel to do so. After all, the Kotel doesn’t really signify anything in this regard.

    On the other end of the scale, I’ve seen people making a kinyan on other people’s clothes so they don’t have to do it.
    joelrich 05/11/2010 05:33 AM
    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]

    see here:
    Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz -Ten Minute Halacha – Tearing Keriya at the Kotel
    Most of the standard kulot for not ripping kriah when you see the kotel don’t work – and why would you want to avoid it? People don’t rip Friday pm even though there’s no real reason not to – “it’s the minhag”! [ouch – almost as bad as “it’s mekubal”]

    btw-assuming one could afford a shirt -why would one avoid doing a mitzvah?
    Zevi_R 05/11/2010 05:40 AM
    Rav S.Z. Auerbach zt”l is said to have had an interesting p’sak about kriah for those living in or in close proximity to Yerushalayim.

    He suggested that if one lives close enough to visit the makom hamikdash regularly but does not do so for 30 days, it is a siman that this person does not feel a real connection to Yerushalayim, thus absolving him of his obligation to tear kriah when he sees the mikdash. Only those who live far away and can only make it to the makom hamikdash once in a while need to tear kriah.

    I believe Rav Nevenzah’l shlit”a quotes this p’sak in his sefer on bein ha’metzarim.
    hirhurim 05/11/2010 05:42 AM in reply to joelrich

    I think those who dont do kriah at the kotel have al-ma-lismoch. Calling kriah ‘a mitzva’ is almost as bad as citing Minhag Yisrael Torah as a halachic source… 😉

    Ari Enkin
    Nosson Gestetner 05/11/2010 06:56 AM
    A minhag I’ve frequently see is that people are “koneh” each other’s clothes and then “lend them back” at the same time, so when you go, you can’t do kirah as they’re “not your clothes”.

    Is that minhag hediot then?
    hirhurim 05/11/2010 07:26 AM in reply to Nachum
    A reader sent me a photo of Rav Shachter tearing kriah in hte parking lot.

    Ari Enkin
    Mordechai Tzion 05/11/2010 07:29 AM in reply to Nosson Gestetner
    Shalom Rav Enkin –
    There is a wide spread opinion that there is no obligation at all today to tear Keriah. The Halachah rules that one must tear his garment when seeing the spot of the Temple in ruins (Moed Katan 26a and Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim #561). Rav Yosef Karo, in the Beit Yosef, in discussing the obligation to rip one’s garment upon seeing the cities of Yehudah and Jerusalem in ruins, explained that we hold that “in ruins” means “under non-Jewish control.” The Magen Avraham (#1) and Mishnah Berurah (#2) accepted this view. This means that even if there is a Jewish settlement in the Land of Israel but it is under non-Jewish control, it is still considered in ruins, and one must tear his garment upon seeing it. Our Rabbi, Rav Tzvi Yehudah Ha-Cohain Kook, explained that the same applies for seeing the spot of the Temple in ruins, and just as “in ruins” means “under non-Jewish control” for the cities of Yehudah and Jerusalem, so too does “in ruins” mean “under non-Jewish control” for the Temple Mount. Therefore after the famous call of “Har Ha-Bayit Be-Yadenu – the Temple Mount is in our hands” during the Six-Day War, he ruled that there is no longer an obligation to tear one’s garment when seeing the Temple Mount, even though the Temple is still destroyed. Our Rabbi explained that it is possible to claim that since there is no Temple, one must tear their garment. One must understand, however, why we are prevented from fulfilling the Divine Commandment of “Make for me a Temple” (Shemot 25:8). The Temple Mount is in our hands and our inability to build the Temple is not due to “exile.” We are in control, but are prevented from building the Temple due to halachic and political reasons. These are our reasons, not those of the non-Jews (Sichot Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah – Yom Ha-Atzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim, talk for Yom Yerushalayim p. 90 and Tal Chermon – Moadim, p. 218). Our Rabbi also wrote that we should also be concerned about ripping our garments when not obligated and violating “Bal Tashchit” (wanton destruction of items) when the whole prohibition for tearing when seeing the Temple in a destroyed state is a Rabbinic prohibition.

    In the book, “Mekor Chaim” (2:95 #1), Ha-Rav Chaim David Halevy – former Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv-Yafo for 25 years – wrote that he agrees with our Rabbi’s opinion. He explained that when a close relative dies, we tear our garments when the “dead is before us.” After the mourning, we observe an annual Yahrtzeit. Similarly, when our “dead was before us” – the Temple Mount was under non-Jewish control – we had the obligation to tear our garments. Now that we have control, the dead is no longer before us, and we observe an annual Yahrtzeit: Tisha Be-Av. Despite Ha-Rav Halevy’s agreement, he concluded that in order to exempt us from this obligation, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel must make this decision.

    Rav Aviner’s book “Rabbenu” – On the Life of Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah (p. 211) – relates how our Rabbi, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah, acted on the day when the Temple Mount was liberated: “On the day of the liberation of Jerusalem, our Rabbi and “The Nazir,” Rav David Cohain, were together at the Kotel, and the next day our Rabbi went to him to bring him his book “Le-Netivot Yisrael” volume 1 which was published on that very 28th of Iyar 5727. Our Rabbi said that while standing facing the Kotel, he did not tear his garment upon his seeing the place of the Temple since “it is only considered in a destroyed state when the non-Jews rule over it” (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 561 and Mishnah Berurah #2), and this fundamental principle which was stated regarding the cities of Yehudah also applies to the spot of the Temple. “The Nazir” responded in agreement and added: “Is it not also true that his honor saw that our Master the Rav was there in his Shabbat clothing and he did not tear” (He saw a vision of Maran Rav Kook). All were astounded and all eyes turned to our Rabbi, he also nodded his head approvingly: “Yes, certainly.”

    In the book “Penini Halachah” (end of vol. 1 in the second edition), Ha-Rav Eliezer Melamed – Rav of Har Berachah – writes that our Rabbi, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah, would agree today that one should tear his garment upon seeing the spot of the Temple, after the horrible desecration of Hashem’s Name which have occurred there. I asked Ha-Rav Aviner his opinion regarding our Rabbi’s opinion today and he responded: “Baruch Hashem, the Temple Mount is still in our hands, and with Hashem’s help it will remain so,” i.e. our Rabbi’s ruling still stands that we are exempt from tearing our garments upon seeing the spot of the Temple.

    Yashar Koach on your post!
    hirhurim 05/11/2010 07:33 AM in reply to Nosson Gestetner
    There is a basis for that. A very weak one. But a basis.

    Ari Enkin
    Mordechai Tzion 05/11/2010 07:52 AM in reply to hirhurim
    1 person liked this.
    There is a lot stronger basis for this opinion in Halachah then the heterim that people use to get out of performing Keriah (such as being “Koneh” one’s clothing which Rav S.Z. Auerbach and the Steipler in Tel talpiot chap. 13, Rav Sternbuch in Moadim Uzmanim 7:257 and Shut Peat Sadcha 1:57 are completely opposed to), and tom. when thousands of (Religious) Jews flock to the Old City and do not tear Keriah after not seeing the Makom Har-Ha-Bayit for more than 30 days, we see that this ruling has been accepted by most.
    hirhurim 05/11/2010 07:58 AM in reply to Mordechai Tzion
    WOW! shkoyach.
    Ari Enkin
    Nosson Gestetner 05/11/2010 08:17 AM in reply to Mordechai Tzion
    Thanks for the clarification 🙂
    Mordechai Tzion 05/11/2010 08:21 AM in reply to hirhurim
    By the way, even the heter of being exempt on Erev Shabbat and Yom Tov is opposed by Ha-Rav Elyashiv (Tel Talpiyot p. 76).
    Nachum 05/11/2010 08:58 AM in reply to hirhurim
    Do you mean the Jewish Quarter parking lot? You can see the top of the Har HaBayit (but not the Kotel) from the road running alongside it. Coming from the New City via car or bus, it’s probably the first view you get of it. (Walking, you might see the Har from the top of one of the flights of steps going down, particularly the southern one.)
    Yoni Ross 05/11/2010 09:52 AM in reply to Nachum
    In the picture which accompanies the article, it appears that Rav Schachter is tearing kriyah at the entrance to the Kotel plaza, from where the surface of Har Habayit is not visible.

    Also, it looks like he put a shirt on over his regular shirt (notice his tie disappearing), and he is not tearing what would seem to me to be his outermost garment, i.e., his jacket.
    MP 05/11/2010 10:17 AM
    Thanks, RAH and commenters, for the learned discussion.

    Among my mishpachah, the method of wearing a borrowed garment so as not to be m’chuyav is well-known. When I was last baAretz, I deliberately wore an older shirt of my own in order to be qorei it, and then when I wanted to tear it, I couldn’t, nor could my cousin — as the saying goes, the best of intentions….
    joel rich 05/11/2010 11:06 AM in reply to hirhurim
    R’ Ari,
    You might listen to R’ AL’s short shiur that I linked to -yes there’s al me lismoch but imho if it involved saying a bracha rather than ripping a shirt, everyone would do it.

    Perhaps it’s that I’m in galut that makes me feel that way about it.

    zach 05/11/2010 12:19 PM in reply to Mordechai Tzion
    The Temple mount is in our hands? Me thinks not.
    Mordechai Tzion 05/11/2010 01:26 PM in reply to zach
    Shalom Zach!
    We may not like what is going on there or the Government’s actions towards it, but we decide what is done there. Rav Tzvi Yehudah says that we may have halachic or political reasons for action or non-actions, but we are the decision-maker.
    Shlomo 05/11/2010 02:02 PM in reply to Mordechai Tzion
    Jews can’t pray there. If Israel performs an archaeological dig OUTSIDE of the Temple Mount, but nearby, it becomes a huge international incident and everyone condemns us for it. Meanwhile the Muslims dig up and throw out remains of ancient Jewish buildings on the Temple Mount, and we can’t do anything about it.

    Does this really sound like it’s under our control?
    Anon 05/11/2010 02:43 PM in reply to Shlomo
    Sounds like the Temple Mount is ours in a manner of heter mechira. It’s ours on paper, theirs in practice. (cf: heter mechira = it’s theirs on paper, our is practice)
    Nachum 05/12/2010 02:32 AM
    I wonder what side of the entrance R’ Schachter is standing at. From that spot, as it happens, you can see *both* the Kotel and the Har HaBayit.
    Yoni Ross 05/12/2010 03:24 AM in reply to Nachum
    I think the inside. I don’t ever remember seeing cars parked like that outside the entrance.
    Shlomo 05/12/2010 04:04 AM in reply to Anon
    The only reason heter mechira works (=doesn’t violate lo techanem) is because the fields are still controlled by us. The only thing that becomes non-Jewish is the commercial ownership. If that is your criterion for kriah, we shouldn’t have done kriah even before 1967 (at least, immediately after the churban) because the land of the Temple Mount was still owned by Jews. Clearly that is absurd.
    zach 05/12/2010 08:25 AM in reply to Mordechai Tzion
    You misunderstood me. The Temple Mount is not in Jewish hands. Muslims have de facto control over the Har Habayis.
    Mordechai Tzion 05/12/2010 09:31 AM in reply to zach
    That article saus exactly what I said – the Wakf asked permission from the Government.

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