Sunday, September 29, 2019

We Blew It: On The Prohibited Sounding of the Shofar

These names might not be recognizable to most:

Eliel Lofgren. Charles Barde. C.J. Van Kemken. Stig Sahlin.

Those were the three members of a committee that reviewed the issue of the Western Wall following the August 1929 riots, and its coordinating secretary

Matson Collection

In a short 2010 blog post I recalled their activity and I want to return to them and that period, as has been noted, we will soon be marking 90 years to the ban on the blowing of the shofar at the Western Wall by the British, which was vigorously protested by the Chief Rabbis immediately on the day following Yom Kippur 1929:


I need present some necessary history and will use material from the Report of the that three-man Commission which had been appointed by His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, with the approval of the Council of the League of Nations, to determine the rights and claims of Moslems and Jews in connection with the Western or Wailing Wall at Jerusalem.  

As shown, there was a constant struggle of Jews against attempts by the Moslems to deny any legitimacy to customs and even simple decency of comfort of Jewish worshippers:
On 19th February, 1922, the acting Governor of Jerusalem received a letter from the Supreme Moslem Council, asking for the removal, according to the Palestine Government's previous instructions, of seats and benches from the Wall. As the Jews had again begun to place the seats there, the Council wrote again to the Governor on 16th April, 1922, asking him to restrain the Jews from bringing benches or seats to the place. Then the Council, at the request of the inhabitants of the private dwellings near the Pavement, in a letter dated 8th January, 1923, complained of a repeated trespass on the part of the Jews in the same respect. A reply was given by the acting Governor on the 3rd February, 1923, informing the Council that orders had been given for due observance of the earlier instructions.
That was 1922-1923.

Next, 1925-1926
After a certain time had elapsed the guardian of the Waqf of the Moghrabis protested again against the Jews for precisely the same reason and on that account in a Ietter dated 28th September, 1925, the Council lodged a complaint with the Governor, referring to the promise contained in his letter of 3rd February, 1923. As the Council did not receive any written answer for some time, they wrote again to the Governor on the 7th June, 1926, asking for a reply and entreating him to prevent the Jews "from repeating this act of theirs so as to abide by the status quo." Along with the said letter, however, there was enclosed a copy of a petition from the guardian of the Moghrabi Waqf, in which complaints were made "that Jews place benches, mats, tables, chairs, and lamps when they have not been previously allowed to do so." The guardian of the Waqf goes on to say that "this has caused a nuisance to passers by, as the road leads to the houses of the Waqf. They have therefore trespassed on part of the Waqf land, because the width of the passage does not exceed 2-1/2 metres. We are in continual quarrels with them as they insist on placing these things."
In other words, the Moslems, who built houses right up to the wall, leaving but a dozen feet or so for Jewish worshippers, then get upset they cannot walk by.

To continue:
Upon an answer being received from the Governor's Office dated the 28th of June, 1926, to the effect that "the matter was under investigation," the Council through their President wrote again on 20th July, 1926 repeating its request of 7th June, but without mentioning any particular appurtenances. As the result of the promised investigation was not forthcoming, the President of the Council sent a letter to the Deputy District Commissioner on the 4th of August, 1926, informing him that the Jews were again endeavouring to put out seats at the Wall. This information, he stated, had reached the Council from the guardian of the Moghrabi Waqf and his repeated request for action on behalf of the Council was dictated by those complaints. This time, however, the Council concluded their letter by saying: "The aim of the letter dated 20th July, 1926, was that the necessary steps be taken to prevent the Jews from putting anything in the Buraq, especially on Saturdays and Jewish feast days." On 25th August, 1926, the District Officer wrote to the President of the Council in reply to the above letter as follows: "That the measures referred to in the last paragraph of your quoted letter have been taken, and that no change in the status quo will take place."
And you wonder where Moshe Dayan got his idea about a "status quo".
After that nothing of any special interest happened up to the beginning of November, 1926, at which date the inhabitants of the Moroccan Quarter complained to the Supreme Moslem Council about the Jews bringing "small portable chairs" to the Wall, under the presence that they had been promised leave to use such chairs by the District Police Officer. Quarrels had arisen between the Moroccans and the Jews on account of that, and the guardian of the Waqf asked that the Jews might be prevented from placing anything there that was not sanctioned by old practice. The said petition caused the Council to write to the Deputy District Commissioner on 7th December, 1926, informing him about the quarrels that had just arisen about the small chairs which were " contrary to the ancient usage and practice," and he concluded his letter in the following way: "We do not believe that the Government desires to alter the ab antiquo state which has been enforced on to the present." (Italics inserted by the Commission.)
On to 1927-1928:
At the end of 1927 the Deputy District Commissioner advised the President of the Supreme Moslem Council that, in his opinion, it was desirable in the interests of public security that during certain hours of the day when Jews were wont to congregate at the Wall for praying purposes, tourists should not be permitted to go there. He, therefore, proposed to give orders to the policemen stationed near the Wailing Wall to refuse admission to tourists during those particular hours of the day.

This letter was written on the 2nd of December, 1927, and was answered very fully by the President of the Council, on the 15th of January, 1928. The Council objected to prohibiting tourists from approaching the Pavement, because any such prohibition amounted to "granting the Jews new rights in the same place, and, moreover, would arouse the feelings of the Moslems." In this letter the view was consequently advanced which came to light later in the proceedings before the Commission, viz., that "several incidents and many problems caused by the Jews around the question of the Buraq plainly indicate that they have laid down a plan of gradually obtaining this place.

Thereafter, the Deputy District Commissioner by letter of 30th March, 1928, informed the President of the Council that he would post a notice in the area of the Western Wall for the information of the tourists stating the special hours of prayer and "requesting the public to respect the privacy of those engaged in prayers at such times." In his answer to that letter on the 3rd of April the President of the Council stated that he could not agree to that notice being put up and repeated his assurance that every attempt by the Jews to extend their claims in the Buraq would be received with the utmost anxiety by the Moslems and would be flatly refused.

Not until the 24th of September, 1928, i.e., on the same day as the disturbances described in the Shaw Commission Report (page 29) took place, did the President of the Moslem Council himself make a direct and detailed protest against the Jews' habit of bringing appurtenances of worship to the Wall. He then specified "a wooden room covered with cloth, screens, mats, a large table in the middle and also the Ten Commandments placed on a chair which should not be there."

There is more but the above is more than sufficient. And it is important to see the development of the issue. The Mufti had his eye on turning the conflict into a religious one early on, prior to 1928 and "Jewish provocations".

The prohibition on sounding the shofar was already in place for Yom Kippur 1929, some two months after the riots, as reported in the Yiddish newspaper the Grodna Express:

and thanks to Bella Bryks-Klein for confirming my presumption that that what was reported.

The Committee concluded in its Report in connection with the shofar sounding:
It forms a part of the Jewish service in the Synagogue to blow the Shofar (ram's horn) on New Year's Day and on the Day of Atonement and the Jews have claimed the right on the said occasions to carry out this ceremony of theirs in front of the Wall too.

That is a claim that has not been recognised in the present administrative regulations or otherwise in actual practice, and the Commission has not found any sufficient reason for assenting to it.
And decided:
The Jews shall not be permitted to blow the ram's horn (Shofar) near the Wall nor cause any other disturbance to the Moslems that is avoidable;
Jews didn't have a chance with the Mandatory Government:

Already, back on November 28, 1928, the British published a 'forgotten' White Paper that was issued after the infamous "Prayer Partition" incident to re-established the principle of a status quo at sacred sites which included that 
a protocol could be mutually agreed upon between the Moslem and Jewish authorities regulating the conduct of the services at the Wall without prejudies to the legal rights of the Moslem owners and in such a way as to satisfy normal liturgical requirement and decencies in matters of public worship.
In that White Paper, it was made clear as reported in the Palestine Post of December 5, 1928, anything the Moslem Waqf and the Supreme Muslim Council considered as an act that infringes on the status quo would be opposed:
His Majesty 's Government regard it as their duty and it is their intention, to maintain, the established Jewish right of access to the pavment in front of the Wall for the purpose of their devotions and also their right to bring to the Wall those appurtenances that they were allowed to take to the Wall under the Turkish regime. It would be inconsistent with their duty under the Mandate were they to endeavour to compel the Moslem owners of the pavement to accord any further privileges or rights to the Jewish community. 
A previous post of mine on the subject.

Some other historical background here


P.S. Despite the ban, from 1930 until 1947, members of Betar, Brit Habiryonim and the Irgu blew the shofar, some being subsequently detained for up to 6 months in prison. In 1944, the Irgun warned the British not to think of coming into the alleyway in front of the Wall, a suggestion with which they complied.



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