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We've all seen the thousands of tiny papers that get shoved in between the bricks of the Kotel. And periodically someone comes around, brushes out the more protruding ones, and sweeps up the mess of them mixed with whatever ones have already fallen. The question is. . .

Is it true that these masses of papers are somehow buried ritually? If so, that would imply they have an elevated level of sanctity. Do they?

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Related: judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/13486 –  msh210 Jan 25 '12 at 21:20

5 Answers 5

Wikipedia actually has a section on this in their kotel article. This is the main source quoted. The bottom line in regards to disposal is that periodically the Kotel is cleaned out and the notes are burned, seemingly because burying them would be too monumental a task and 'traditionally' they have been burned.

In regards to the question of whether or not they are 'Shaimos' (sacred items that intrinsically require ritual disposal), I don't believe they are by the mere virtue of being in the Kotel. If, however, they contain a divine name or a pasuk or some other form of scripture, then they would be. In other words, a letter saying 'Please give me success' would probably not be shaimos, and could be disposed of like regular garbage. A letter saying 'God, please grant me success' would likely require a ritual disposal. For more on shaimos here are some guidelines from shaimos.org.

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No one's really answered the second part of the question:

If [these masses of papers are somehow buried ritually], that would imply they have an elevated level of sanctity. Do they?

I don't know. But some weak evidence to the contrary is in photos of the rabbi of the Wall's allowing the notes to simply lie on the floor.

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I have also heard that they get collected to make room for newer ones and then get buried, but I don't have any proof of that. As far as the elevated lever of sanctity, perhaps because they have been a "part" of the Kotel for so long, we treat them as we would anything else of the Kotel we have now.

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I think it's equally likely that the disposal method may not be absolutely required, but a good idea because a.) no one wants to think that their kvitel wound up in the garbage dump with dirty diapers b.) some of these papers may contain the name of God, requiring their proper disposal -- easier to bury them all rather than sort/read through them! But there is one Israeli rabbi in charge of the kotel -- there's probably a way to contact him and get the real answer. –  Shalom Mar 10 '10 at 15:27
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Shalqm, good point. I didn't think that they might contain the name of God. Burying them sure beats the alternative of them being taken out, read and posted on the internet like what happened to Obama's after his visit to the Kotel before the election last year. –  Ken Mar 10 '10 at 22:47

Yes it is true. At least according to this article (by Rabbi Shraga Simmons):

Because of the great volume, every so often, all the notes are removed from the Wall and buried, along with other holy objects that are not being used anymore.

Not sure about the second part of your question, though.

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We would assume that many of those notes have G-d's name on them, in various world languages, including Hebrew. That is why it is proper to bury them all - because we treat the written form of G-d's name with respect. –  user1095 Mar 22 '12 at 17:31

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