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Jerusalem's Western Wall reopens with social distancing guidelines

Jerusalem's Western Wall reopens with social distancing guidelines
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The Western Wall plaza in Jerusalem, the most sacred place in Judaism, reopened on Tuesday with social distancing guidelines in place to protect worshippers during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Western Wall Heritage Foundation, which operates the holy site, said in a statement that a maximum of 300 people will be allowed into the plaza simultaneously, and only if they are wearing masks.

“Should the prayer areas all get full, worshippers will be requested to wait outside the entrances to the Western Wall, with the required distances between them, until space becomes available.”

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The Jerusalem Post reported that worshippers will have their temperatures checked and their personal details recorded.

Hundreds of thousands of people travel to Israel every year to visit the Western Wall. However, over the last few weeks, only 10 and then 19 worshippers — who were required to live in the Old City — were allowed to be at the Western Wall at any time, and they were required to stay at least 6 feet apart.

Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz and the Israeli Health Ministry have also requested that the public do not kiss the stones at the wall, also known as the Wailing Wall or Kotel.

Workers wearing hazmat suits and gas masks cleaned and sanitized the ancient stones at the end of March. They also removed the prayer notes stuck between the rocks, and the foundation said the messages were placed in designated bags to be buried along with other sacred papers on the Mount of Olives. 

Israel last month tightened quarantine restrictions on several parts of Jerusalem to stem the spread of the coronavirus, severely restricting public observation of numerous religious holidays, including Passover, Easter and Ramadan. 

A government committee voted to restrict movement in and out of numerous largely ultra-Orthodox parts of the city. Residents were only permitted to leave their neighborhoods for medical care or essential work.

Prime Minister Benjamin NetanyahuBenjamin (Bibi) NetanyahuMORE directed citizens to hold Passover seders exclusively with immediate family members who are already a part of their households. 

“I know that this is very onerous but there is simply no choice. We will strictly enforce the lockdown,” Netanyahu said.