Blind and visually impaired Jews who use guide dogs to get around can now rejoice at a new ruling that paves the way for them to visit the Western Wall with their canine companions in tow.
For years, the status quo at Judaism’s holiest site has been that all animals are forbidden from entering the Western Wall plaza. But when Rabbi Benjamin Lau of the Israel Democracy Institute heard of a tour of 60 blind Jews who traveled to the Western Wall and were turned away because of a ruling from Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, who claimed that Jewish law forbade the presence of their guide dogs, he looked into the issue.
In October, Lau wrote an article in The Jewish Week, assailing Rabinovitch’s decision and imploring him to alter the ruling. “Religious leaders the world over allow guide dogs to enter churches. Judaism, like all religions, must adapt to evolving social norms while adhering to tradition,” he wrote, adding, “It is sad that in the State of Israel, at the site most sacred to the Jewish people, religious arguments are used to exclude believers from participating in public prayer because of their physical disability.”
Lau and Rabinovitch then met and together examined the Jewish laws surrounding the issue. Rabinovitch was eventually persuaded to amend his ruling.
A new decision has now been issued, and visually-impaired worshippers are free to walk right up to the wall and touch the holy stones with their dogs alongside them.