Sunday, March 26, 2023 -
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Obama has a right to the privacy of his prayers

Imagine you are at the Western Wall. You slip a tiny scrap of paper between the sacred stones and leave, confident that no one will try to read the joys or struggles of your heart. It doesn’t matter whether you are a Jew or non-Jew, pauper or pope. Prayers left at the Kotel are private –– according to Jewish law and the laws of common decency. Unless you happen to be a US presidential candidate a few weeks away from winning your party’s nomination. Sanctity seems to have no place in an open political season.

Last week, a yeshiva student pried out the note that presidential aspirant Barack Obama put in the Western Wall during his trip to Israel and gave it to the press. Ma’ariv printed the note, saying it was approved for publication in the international media “even before he put it in the Kotel.”

The flack is flying, but Obama says nothing.

The Jerusalem Post petitions the attorney general to open a criminal investigation against Ma’ariv’s editor and correspondents.

Obama does not respond.

Ma’ariv says that “since Obama is not a Jew, publishing a note does not constitute an infringement on his right to privacy.”

Throughout the world, rabbis are rightly outraged. According to Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovich, who oversees halachic procedure at the Kotel, notes placed at the Wall “are between the person and his Maker. Heaven forbid that one should read them or use them in any way.” Taking Obama’s note “deserves a sharp condemnation and represents a desecration of the holy site.”

Meanwhile, the student who set off this firestorm tells Channel 2 that stealing the note “was a kind of prank. I hope [Obama} wasn’t hurt.”

Again, no comment from the injured party.

We remember the ethic of reciprocity set forth by Hillel the Elder:?“That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is explanation; go and learn.”

A press release containing black-and-white thoughts scribbled on a piece of hotel stationary is fair game. The act of using the note itself, ripped from its resting place by a yeshiva student no less, is something else entirely. If a teacher catches a kid passing a note in class, appropriates it and reads the contents aloud, this is fair. But when someone passes a note to G-d, the spiritual inheritors of Hillel may not read the note out loud — or read it at all.

We need not interpret Obama’s silence. What’s relevant is the behavior of our people. So we say this for all to hear: “This is hateful, to our fellows, to Torah, and to G-d, and should never happen again.”

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