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A decade ago, I visited the Western Wall in Jerusalem with Nosson Tzvi Finkel, a widely respected rabbi in Israel. As we approached one of the holiest sites in Judaism, the rabbi halted about 10 yards away as a crowd of admirers gathered nearby. I beckoned him further.

"I’ve never been closer than this," the rabbi told me. Astounded, I asked why.

"You go," he said. "I’m not worthy."

Web edition of "America Deserves a Servant Leader", a The New York Times op-ed by Howard Schultz, August 6, 2015.

Of course anyone can feel unworthy to approach the Wall, and of course anyone can be too much in of awe of it to approach it — which is much the same thing when it comes down to it. But I wonder what precedent there is for such a thing. Do we know of people who would not approach within some distance of the Temple Mount (which the Wall is the wall of) when the Temple was standing? Do we know of people in earlier generations who would not approach within some distance of the Wall? How prevalent has this been? What is its earliest known instance? (I mean to ask about the practice of avoiding approaching within some distance, whether for the reason quoted above or for any other Judaism-based reason.)

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    I don't know how far away he stayed, but II Chronicles 27:2 says that King Jotham never entered the Temple. Since his father Uzziah was smitten with leprosy there, he might have thought he "was unworthy" to enter it...or afraid to...or just plain humble. – Gary Aug 9 '15 at 7:07
  • @Gary, thanks. Note that it says he didn't enter the hechal, which IME usually means the main building of the Temple itself (though I didn't check commentaries to figure out what it means in that verse); the Western Wall, OTOH, was a wall of not the hechal nor the Temple (azara) that contained the hechal but the Temple Mount around the Temple. – msh210 Aug 9 '15 at 7:13
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    A meaningful gesture is not predicated upon precedence. In fact, precedence can remove the personal element of such a gesture. – mevaqesh Aug 9 '15 at 7:30
  • @mevaqesh, I don't disagree with what you said, but are you trying to propose an answer, seek clarification of the question, improve the question, or what? See also judaism.stackexchange.com/help/privileges/comment. – msh210 Aug 9 '15 at 7:42
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    Assuming that what the Rabbi said was his only reason, I don't know of a source. However he could of had other reasons that he would not have stated. One that could explain his actions is a halachic issue of standing close to the wall. Rav Moshe Shternbuch discusses this in Teshuvos Ve'Hanhagos. I don't remember which one but maybe someone can find it by using the index. The rabbi might have wanted to use a personal reason so as not to stop the other person from approaching since it seems to be a chumrah not to come close to the wall. – Gavriel Aug 9 '15 at 18:25
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There is such an idea from the Shu"t Bais Ridvaz siman 38 where he holds that the western wall is part of the Azarah,like the shitta of the Radvaz.

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The Chachmas Adam Shaarei Tzedek Mishpatei Ha'aretz also held the same:

שערי צדק שער משפטי הארץ חכמת אדם פרק יא סעיף יג

ח) צריך לזהר מאוד שלא יכנס במקום המקדש שכולנו טמאים מתים, והנכנס בטומאה חייב כרת, דאפילו למאן דאמר קדושת הארץ בטלה אבל קדושת המקדש לא בטלה, ולכן כשהולך למקום המקדש צריך שיהיה לו הר הבית במזרח, והוא יעמוד במערב פנים למזרח דהיינו למקדש, כי הכותל מערבי הנשאר, רוצה לומר כותל העזרה שהיתה לאחורי קדש הקדשים י"א אמה, ולכן מותר לילך סמוך לה, אבל ממזרח הר הבית למערב אסור:

However, the Igros Moshe is pondered by this and says it is the wall from the Har Habayis and is mutar.

וכמדומני שבס' שאילת דוד להגאון ר"ד מקרלין מסתפק בהכותל איזה הוא. ואולי זהו טעם הגאון רי"ז מבריסק זצ"ל שאמרו עליו שלא הלך אל כותל המערבי מחשש טומאה. אבל אני תמה כי מקום שמתפללין שם הוא ודאי קבלה מדורות רבותינו הראשונים שמותר לילך לשם ואיך שייך לחלוק עליהם. ידידו מוקירו, משה פיינשטיין

  • English translation would be helpful – Josh Jun 18 '17 at 23:12

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