Julie Stahl | Jerusalem Bureau Chief | Monday, December 19, 2005
Israel's Postal Authority delivered several hundred of those letters, written in many languages, to the Western Wall in Jerusalem this week ahead of the upcoming Christmas and New Year's holidays.
For the last few centuries there has been a Jewish tradition of inserting small notes with prayers on them into the cracks of the Western or Wailing Wall in Jerusalem.
About two years ago, the Postal Authority began taking letters addressed to God and handing them over to the rabbi at the Western Wall, who inserts them into the crevices between the giant stones there, said Yitzhak Rabihiya, Israel Postal Authority spokesman.
This is a "very unique service in all the world," said Rabihiya. "We are delivering the letters especially before the Christian holidays of Christmas and New Year."
"All the letters that have no [deliverable] address come to this department," said Rabihiya, speaking at the postal facility in Jerusalem.
A handful of postal workers was busy sorting mail by hand last Wednesday, when one worker found a letter addressed in Hebrew simply to "The Western Wall, Jerusalem." It arrived just in time to be ferried with the others to the Wall.
"[The workers] take those letters and try to track down an address. They are entitled to look at the letters," said Rabihiya.
Among that mail, they receive about 1,000 letters a year addressed to "God," "Jesus of Nazareth," "King of Kings," "King of the Universe" and various other titles, said Avi Yaniv, manager of postal department that handles undeliverable mail.
The letters arrive from countries around the world and from people of different religions. Most arrive without a return address. For the first time, two letters were sent from Muslims countries -- Indonesia and Malaysia, he said.
"We are the postmen of God," said Yaniv.
Although the contents of the letters are considered private and most remain unread, some of them have been opened over the years for various reasons.
There are three categories of prayers, said Yaniv. The first is for spiritual requests: a good life, happiness, good health, he said.
The second category includes requests for material things such as a new car, a good husband, a lot of money; and the third category includes people seeking forgiveness.
"A lot of people are very desperate," Yaniv said.
This time, Rabihiya and Yaniv handed about 300 letter-prayer requests to Rabbi Shmuele Rabinowitz, the rabbi of the Western Wall, something they do two or three times a year.
The Western or Wailing Wall is the last remnant of the retaining wall around the temple that King Solomon began to build in 954 B.C. It was destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D. Jews have prayed at the wall for centuries because it was the place closest to their holy temple.
But Rabinowitz said it does not matter if the requests come from a Jewish person or someone of another religion.
When Solomon dedicated the Temple, the Bible says he prayed that it would be a place where God would hear and answer the prayers of all people, not just Jewish people.
Later the Prophet Isaiah said that God's Temple was to be a "house of prayer for all nations," said Rabinowitz.
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