For the Emmylou Harris/Linda Ronstadt album, see Western Wall: The Tucson Sessions.
The Western Wall ( הכותל המערבי (help·info), translit.: HaKotel HaMa'aravi), Wailing Wall or Kotel (lit. Wall; Ashkenazic pronunciation: Kosel); (Arabic: حائط البراق, translit.: "Ḥā'iṭ Al-Burāq", translat.: "The Buraq Wall") is located in the Old City of Jerusalem at the foot of the western side of the Temple Mount. It is a remnant of the ancient wall that surrounded the Jewish Temple's courtyard, and is one of the most sacred sites in Judaism outside of the Temple Mount itself. Just over half the wall, including its 17 courses located below street level, dates from the end of the Second Temple period, having been constructed around 19 BCE by Herod the Great. The remaining layers were added from the 7th century onwards. The Western Wall refers not only to the exposed section facing a large plaza in the Jewish Quarter, but also to the sections concealed behind structures running along the whole length of the Temple Mount, such as the Little Western Wall–a 25 ft (8 m) section in the Muslim Quarter.
It has been a site for Jewish prayer and pilgrimage for centuries, the earliest source mentioning Jewish attachment to the site dating from the 4th century. From the mid-19th century onwards, attempts to purchase rights to the wall and its immediate area were made by various Jews, but none was successful. With the rise of the Zionist movement in the early 20th century, the wall became a source of friction between the Jewish community and the Muslim religious leadership, who were worried that the wall was being used to further Jewish nationalistic claims to the Temple Mount and Jerusalem. Outbreaks of violence at the foot of the wall became commonplace and an international commission was convened in 1930 to determine the rights and claims of Muslims and Jews in connection with the wall. After the 1948 Arab-Israeli War the wall came under Jordanian control and Jews were barred from the site for 19 years until Israel captured the Old City in 1967.Etymology
Early Jewish texts referred to a “western wall of the Temple”, but there is doubt whether the texts were referring to today’s Western Wall or to another wall which stood within the Temple complex. The earliest clear Jewish use of the term Western Wall as referring to the wall visible today was by the 11th-century Ahimaaz ben Paltiel. The name “Wailing Wall”, and descriptions such as "wailing place" appeared regularly in English literature during the 19th century. The name Mur des Lamentations was used in French and Klagemauer in German. This term itself was a translation of the Arabic el-Mabka, or "Place of Weeping," the traditional Arabic term for the wall. This description stemmed from the Jewish practice of coming to the site to mourn and bemoan the destruction of the Temple. During the 1920s with the growing Arab-Jewish tensions over rights at the wall, the Arabs began referring to the wall as al-Buraq. This was based on the tradition that the wall was the place where Muhammad tethered his miraculous winged steed, Buraq.Location and dimensions
The Western Wall commonly refers to a 187 foot (57 m) exposed section of ancient wall situated on the western flank of the Temple Mount. This section faces a large plaza and is set aside for prayer. In its entirety, however, the above ground portion of the Western Wall stretches for 1,600 feet (488 m), most of which is hidden behind residential structures built along its length. Other revealed sections include the southern part of the Wall which measures approximately 80 metres (262 ft) and another much shorter section known as the Little Western Wall which is located close to the Iron Gate. The wall functions as a retaining wall, built to support the extensive renovations that Herod the Great carried out around 19 BCE. Herod expanded the small quasi-natural plateau on which the First and Second Temples stood into the wide expanse of the Temple Mount visible today.
At the Western Wall Plaza, the total height of the Wall from its foundation is estimated at 105 feet (32 m), with the exposed section standing approximately 62 feet (19 m) high. The Wall consists of 45 stone courses, 28 of them above ground and 17 underground. The first seven visible layers are from the Herodian period. This section of wall is built from enormous meleke limestone stones, possibly quarried at either Zedekiah's Cave situated under the Muslim Quarter of the Old City or at Ramat Shlomo four kilometers northwest of the Old City. Most of them weigh between two and eight tons each, but others weigh even more, with one extraordinary stone located in the northern section of Wilson's Arch measuring 13 metres and weighing approximately 570 tons. Each of these stones is surrounded by fine-chiseled borders. The margins themselves measure between 5 and 20 centimetres (2 and 8 in) wide, with their depth measuring 1.5 centimetres (0.59 in). In the Herodian period, the upper 10 metres (33 ft) of wall were 1 metre (39 in) thick and served as the other wall of the double colonnade of the plateau. This upper section was decorated with pilasters, the remainder of which were destroyed at the beginning of the 7th century when the Byzantines reconquered Jerusalem from the Persians and their Jewish allies in 628.
The next four layers were added by Umayyads in the 7th century. The next fourteen layers are from the Ottoman period and their addition is attributed to Sir Moses Montefiore who in 1866 arranged that further layers be added “for shade and protection from the rain for all who come to pray by the holy remnant of our Temple”. The top three layers were placed by the Mufti of Jerusalem before 1967.History
Construction 19 BCE
According to the Tanakh, Solomon's Temple was built atop the Temple Mount in the 10th century BCE and destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE. The Second Temple was completed and dedicated in 516 BCE. Around 19 BCE Herod the Great began a massive expansion project on the Temple Mount. In addition to renovating and enlarging the Temple, he artificially expanded the area, which resulted in an enlarged platform. Today's Western Wall formed part of the retaining perimeter wall of this platform. Herod's Temple was destroyed by the Roman Empire, along with the rest of Jerusalem, in 70 CE, during the First Jewish-Roman War.Roman Empire and rise of Christianity 100–500 CE
In the early centuries of the Common Era, after the Roman defeat of the Bar Kokhba revolt in 135 CE, Jews were banned from Jerusalem. There is some evidence that Roman emperors in the 2nd and 3rd centuries did permit them to visit the city to worship on the Mount of Olives and sometimes on the Temple Mount itself. When the empire became Christian under Constantine I, they were given permission to enter the city once a year, on the ninth day of the month of Av, to lament the loss of the Temple at the wall. The Bordeaux Pilgrim, written in 333 CE, suggests that it was probably to the perforated stone or the Rock of Moriah, "to which the Jews come every year and anoint it, bewail themselves with groans, rend their garments, and so depart". This was because an Imperial decree from Rome barred Jews from living in Jerusalem. Just once per year they were permitted to return and bitterly grieve about the fate of their people. Comparable accounts survive, including those by the Church Father, Gregory of Nazianzus and by Jerome in his commentary to Zephaniah written in the year 392 CE. In the 4th century, Christian sources reveal that the Jews encountered great difficulty in buying the right to pray near the Western Wall, at least on the 9th of Av. In 425 CE, the Jews of the Galilee wrote to Byzantine empress Aelia Eudocia seeking permission to pray by the ruins of the Temple. Permission was granted and they were officially permitted to resettle in Jerusalem.Middle Ages 500–1500
There are several Jewish authors of the 10th and 11th centuries, e.g., Aaron ben Meïr, Samuel ben Paltiel, Solomon ben Judah and others, who write about the Jews resorting to the Western Wall for devotional purposes. The Scroll of Ahimaaz, written in 1050 CE, distinctly describes the Western Wall as a place of prayer for the Jews. Shortly before the Crusader period a synagogue stood at the site. Jewish pilgrim Isaac Chelo (1334), writes of an Arab king who conquered Palestine from the Christians. (He possibly refers to the capture of Jerusalem by Umar in 637.) The king had made an oath that should he succeed in conquering Jerusalem, he would restore the ruins of the Temple. After his victory, he sought out the ruins, but they had been hidden beneath heaps of rubbish. An old man approached the king saying "I will tell you where the Temple lies, but I want you to swear that you will leave us the Western Wall." After promising, the king was shown where the ruins lay buried. The king ordered the place be cleared and "built a magnificent mosque and left the Western Wall for the Jews, who resorted there to pray." Chelo also noted that "It is this Western Wall which stands before the temple of Omar ibn al Khattab, and which is called the Gate of Mercy. The Jews resort thither to say their prayers, as Rabbi Benjamin has already related. Today, this wall is one of the seven wonders of the Holy City." He refers to Benjamin of Tudela who, during the late Crusader Period in around 1167 CE, wrote that "In front of this place is the Western Wall, which is one of the walls of the Holy of Holies. This is called the Gate of Mercy, and hither come all the Jews to pray before the Wall in the open court". Shortly after the Siege of Jerusalem, in 1193, Saladin’s son and successor al-Afdal established the land adjacent to the wall as a charitable trust. It was named after an important mystic Abu Madyan Shu'aib and dedicated to Moroccan settlers who had taken up residence there. Houses were built only four metres away from the wall. The first mention of the Islamic tradition that Buraq was tethered at the site is from the 14th century. A manuscript by Ibn Furkah, (d. 1328), refers to Bab al-Nab, an old name for a gate along the southwestern wall of the Haram al-Sharif. Rabbi Obadiah of Bertinoro writing in 1488, states "the Westen Wall, part of which is still standing, is made of great, thick stones, larger than any I have seen in buildings of antiquity in Rome or in other lands."Ottoman period 1517–1917
In 1517, the Turkish Ottoman Empire under Selim I conquered Jerusalem from the Mamluks who had held it since 1250. The Ottomans had a benevolent attitude towards the Jews, having welcomed thousands of Jewish refugees who had recently been expelled from Spain by Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile in 1492. Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent was so taken with Jerusalem and its plight that he ordered a magnificent fortress-wall built around the entire city, today's Old City wall.
There are various accounts of Suleiman's efforts to locate the Temple's ruins. Rabbi Eliezer Nachman Puah, (ca. 1540), relates:
In the second half of the 16th century, Suleiman the Magnificent gave the Jews rights to worship at the Western Wall and had his court architect Mimar Sinan build an oratory for them there.
In 1625 arranged prayers at the Wall are mentioned for the first time by a scholar whose name has not been preserved. Rabbi Gedaliah of Semitizi, who went to Jerusalem in the year 1699, writes that scrolls of the Law were brought to the Wall on occasions of public distress and calamity.
Over the centuries, land close to the Wall became built up. Public access to the Wall was through the Moroccan Quarter, a labyrinth of narrow alleyways. In May 1840 a firman issued by Ibrahim Pasha forbade the Jews to pave the passageway in front of the Wall. It also cautioned them against “raising their voices and displaying their books there.” They were, however, allowed “to pay visits to it as of old.”
Rabbi Joseph Schwarz writing in the mid-19th century records:
Over time the increased numbers of people gathering at the site resulted in tensions between the Jewish visitors who wanted easier access and more space, and the residents, who complained of the noise. This gave rise to Jewish attempts at gaining ownership of the land adjacent to the Wall.
In the late 1830s a wealthy Jew named Shemarya Luria attempted to purchase houses near the Wall, but was unsuccessful, as was Jewish sage Abdullah of Bombay who tried to purchase the Western Wall in the 1850s. In 1869 Rabbi Hillel Moshe Gelbstein settled in Jerusalem. He arranged that benches and tables be brought to the Wall on a daily basis for the study groups he organised and the minyan which he led there for years. He also formulated a plan whereby some of the courtyards facing the Wall would be acquired, with the intention of establishing three synagogues — one each for the Sephardim, the Hasidim and the Perushim. He also endeavoured to re-establish an ancient practice of “guards of honour”, which according to the mishnah in Middot, were positioned around the Temple Mount. He rented a house near the Wall and paid men to stand guard there and at various other gateways around the mount. However this set-up lasted only for a short time due to lack of funds or because of Arab resentment.
In 1877 the Mufti of Jerusalem accepted a Jewish offer to buy the Moroccan Quarter, but a dispute within the Jewish community prevented the agreement from going ahead. In 1887 a promising attempt was made by Baron Rothschild who conceived a plan to purchase and demolish the Moroccan Quarter as “a merit and honor to the Jewish People.” The proposed purchase was considered and approved by the Ottoman Governor of Jerusalem, Rauf Pasha, and by the Mufti of Jerusalem, Mohammed Tahir Husseini. Even after permission was obtained from the highest secular and Muslim religious authority to proceed, the transaction was shelved after the authorities insisted that after demolishing the quarter no construction of any type could take place there, only trees could be planted to beautify the area. Additionally the Jews would not have full control over the area. This meant that they would have no power to stop people from using the plaza for various activities, including the driving of mules, which would cause a disturbance to worshippers. Other reports place the scheme's failure on Jewish infighting as to whether the plan would foster a detrimental Arab reaction. In 1895 Hebrew linguist and publisher Rabbi Chaim Hirschensohn became entangled in a failed effort to purchase the Western Wall and lost all his assets. Even the attempts of the Palestine Land Development Company to purchase the environs of the Western Wall for the Jews just before the outbreak of World War I never came to fruition. In the first two months following the Ottoman Empire’s entry into the First World War, the Turkish governor of Jerusalem, Zakey Bey, offered to sell the Moroccan Quarter, which consisted of about 25 houses, to the Jews in order to enlarge the area available to them for prayer. He requested a sum of £20,000 which would be used to both rehouse the Muslim families and to create a public garden in front of the Wall. However, the Jews of the city lacked the necessary funds. A few months later, under Muslim Arab pressure on the Turkish authorities in Jerusalem, Jews became forbidden by official decree to place benches and light candles at the Wall. This sour turn in relations was taken up by the Chacham Bashi who managed to get the ban overturned.British rule 1917–48
In December 1917, British forces under Edmund Allenby captured Jerusalem from the Turks. Allenby pledged "that every sacred building, monument, holy spot, shrine, traditional site, endowment, pious bequest, or customary place of prayer of whatsoever form of the three religions will be maintained and protected according to the existing customs and beliefs of those to whose faith they are sacred".
In 1919 Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann, anxious to enable Jews to access their sacred site unmolested, approached the British Military Governor of Jerusalem, Colonel Sir Ronald Storrs, and offered between £75,000 and £100,000 (approx. £5m in modern terms) to purchase the area at the foot of the Wall and rehouse the occupants. Storrs was enthusiastic about the idea because he hoped some of the money would be used to improve Muslim education. Although optimistic at first, negotiations broke down after strong Muslim opposition. Storrs wrote two decades later:
In early 1920, the first Jewish-Arab dispute over the Wall occurred when the Muslim authorities were carrying out minor repair works to the Wall’s upper courses. The Jews, while agreeing that the works were necessary, appealed to the British that they be made under supervision of the newly formed Department of Antiquities, because the Wall was an ancient relic.
In 1926 another abortive effort was made by Palestine Zionist Executive, Colonel F. H. Kisch, who envisaged buying the whole area adjacent to the Wall in order to create an open space with seats for aged worshippers to sit on. In 1928 the Zionist Organisation reported that John Chancellor, High Commissioner of Palestine, believed that the Western Wall should come under Jewish control and wondered “why no great Jewish philanthropist had not bought it yet”.
In 1922, a status quo agreement issued by the mandatory authority forbade the placing of benches or chairs near the Wall. The last occurrence of such a ban was in 1915, but the Ottoman decree was soon retracted after intervention of the Chacham Bashi. In 1928 the District Commissioner of Jerusalem, Edward Keith-Roach, acceded to an Arab request to implement the ban. This led to a British officer being stationed at the Wall making sure that Jews were prevented from sitting. Nor were Jews permitted to separate the sexes with a screen. In practice, a flexible modus vivendi had emerged and such screens had been put up from time to time when large numbers of people gathered to pray.
On 28 September 1928, the Day of Atonement, British police resorted to forcefully removing a screen used to separate men and women at prayer. Women who tried to prevent the screen being dismantled were beaten by the police, who used pieces of the broken wooden frame as clubs. Chairs were then pulled out from under elderly worshipers. The episode made international news and Jews the world over objected to the British action. The Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem issued a letter on behalf of the Edah HaChareidis and Agudas Yisroel strongly condemning the desecration of the holy site. Various communal leaders called for a general strike. A large rally was held in the Etz Chaim Yeshiva, following which an angry crowd attacked the local police station in which they believed the British officer involved in the fiasco was sheltering.
Commissioner Edward Keith-Roach described the screen as violating the Ottoman status quo that forbade Jews from making any construction in the Western Wall area. He informed the Jewish community that the removal had been carried out under his orders after receiving a complaint from the Supreme Muslim Council. The Arabs were concerned that the Jews were trying to extend their rights at the wall and with this move, ultimately intended to take possession of the Al-Aqsa Mosque. The British government issued an announcement explaining the incident and blaming the Jewish beadle at the Wall. It stressed that the removal of the screen was necessary, but expressed regret over the ensuing events.
A widespread Arab campaign to protest against presumed Jewish intentions and designs to take possession of the Al Aqsa Mosque swept the country and a "Society for the Protection of the Muslim Holy Places” was established. The Vaad Leumi responding to these Arab fears declared in a statement that "We herewith declare emphatically and sincerely that no Jew has ever thought of encroaching upon the rights of Moslems over their own Holy places, but our Arab brethren should also recognise the rights of Jews in regard to the places in Palestine which are holy to them." The committee also demanded that the British administration expropriate the wall for the Jews.
From October 1928 onward, Mufti Amin al-Husayni organised a series of measures to demonstrate the Arabs' exclusive claims to the Temple Mount and its environs. He ordered new construction next to and above the Western Wall. The British granted the Arabs permission to convert a building adjoining the Wall into a mosque and to add a minaret. A muezzin was appointed to perform the Islamic call to prayer and Sufi rites directly next to the Wall. These were seen as a provocation by the Jews who prayed at the Wall. The Jews protested and tensions increased.
A British inquiry into the disturbances and investigation regarding the principle issue in the Western Wall dispute, namely the rights of the Jewish worshipers to bring appurtenances to the wall, was convened. The Supreme Muslim Council provided documents dating from the Turkish regime supporting their claims. However, repeated reminders to the Chief Rabbinate to verify which apparatus had been permitted failed to elicit any response. They refused to do so, arguing that Jews had the right to pray at the Wall without restrictions. Subsequently, in November 1928, the Government issued a White Paper entitled "The Western or Wailing Wall in Jerusalem: Memorandum by the Secretary of State for the Colonies", which emphasised the maintenance of the status quo and instructed that Jews could only bring “those accessories which had been permitted in Turkish times.”
A few months later, Haj Amin complained to Chancellor that “Jews were bringing benches and tables in increased numbers to the wall and driving nails into the wall and hanging lamps on them.”
In the summer of 1929, the Mufti ordered an opening be made at the southern end of the alleyway which straddled the Wall. The former cul-de-sac became a thoroughfare which led from the Temple Mount into the prayer area at the Wall. Mules were herded through the narrow alley, often dropping excrement. This, together with other construction projects in the vicinity, and restricted access to the Wall, resulted in Jewish protests to the British, who remained indifferent.
On August 14, 1929, after attacks on individual Jews praying at the Wall, 6,000 Jews demonstrated in Tel Aviv, shouting “The Wall is ours.” The next day, the Jewish fast of Tisha B'Av, 300 youths raised the Zionist flag and sang the Zionist anthem at the Wall. The day after, on August 16, an organized mob of 2,000 Muslim Arabs descended on the Western Wall, injuring the beadle and burning prayer books, liturgical fixtures and notes of supplication. The rioting spread to the Jewish commercial area of town, and was followed a few days later by the Hebron massacre.
In 1930, in response to the 1929 riots, the British Government appointed a commission "to determine the rights and claims of Muslims and Jews in connection with the Western or Wailing Wall". The League of Nations approved the commission on condition that the members were not British.
The Jews requested that the Commission take the following actions:
- To give recognition to the immemorial claim that the Wailing Wall is a Holy Place for the Jews, not only for the Jews in Palestine, but also for the Jews of the whole world.
- To decree that the Jews shall have the right of access to the Wall for devotion and for prayers in accordance with their ritual without interference or interruption.
- To decree that it shall be permissible to continue the Jewish services under the conditions of decency and decorum characteristic of a sacred custom that has been carried on for many centuries without infringement upon the religious rights of others.
- To decree that the drawing up of any regulations that may be necessary as to such devotions and prayers, shall be entrusted to the Rabbinate of Palestine, who shall thus re-assume full responsibility in that matter, in discharge of which responsibility they may consult the Rabbinate of the world.
- To suggest, if the Commissioners approve of the plan, to the Mandatory Power that it should make the necessary arrangements by which the properties now occupied by the Moghrabi Waqf might be vacated, the Waqf authorities accepting in lieu of them certain new buildings to be erected upon some eligible site in Jerusalem, so that the charitable purpose, for which this Waqf was given, may still be fulfilled.
David Yellin testifying before the commission stated:
The Commission concluded that the wall, and the adjacent pavement and Moroccan Quarter, were solely owned by the Muslim waqf. However, Jews had the right to "free access to the Western Wall for the purpose of devotions at all times", subject to some stipulations that limited which objects could be brought to the Wall and forbade the blowing of the shofar, which was made illegal. Muslims were forbidden to disrupt Jewish devotions by driving animals or other means. Yitzchak Orenstein, who held the position of Rabbi of the Kotel, recorded in April 1930 that “Our master, Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld came to pray this morning by the Kosel and one of those present produced a small chair for the Rav to rest on for a few moments. However, no sooner had the Rav sat down did an Arab officer appear and pull the chair away from under him.” During the 1930s, at the conclusion of Yom Kippur, young Jews persistently flouted the shofar ban each year and blew the shofar resulting in their arrest and prosecution. They were usually fined or sentenced to imprisonment for three to six months.Jordanian rule 1948–67
During the 1948 Arab-Israeli War the Old City together with the Wall was captured by Jordan. Article VIII of the 1949 Armistice Agreement provided for Israeli Jewish access to the Western Wall. However for the following nineteen years, despite numerous requests by Israeli officials and Jewish groups to the United Nations and other international bodies to attempt to enforce the armistice agreement, Jordan refused to abide by this clause. Neither Israeli Arabs nor Israeli Jews could visit their holy places in the Jordanian territories. An exception was made for Christians to participate in Christmas ceremonies in Bethlehem. Some sources claim Jews could only visit the wall if they traveled through Jordan (which was not an option for Israelis) and did not have an Israeli visa stamped in their passports. Only Jordanian soldiers and tourists were to be found there. A vantage point on Mount Zion, from which the Wall could be viewed, became the place where Jews gathered to pray. For thousands of pilgrims, the mount, being the closest location to the Wall under Israeli control, became a substitute site for the traditional priestly blessing ceremony which takes place on the Three Pilgrimage Festivals.
During the Jordanian occupation of the Old City, a ceramic street sign in Arabic and English was affixed to the stones of the ancient wall. Attached three metres up, it was made up of eight separate ceramic tiles and said Al Buraq in Arabic at the top with the English "Al-Buraq (Wailing Wall) Rd" below. When Israeli soldiers arrived at the wall in June 1967, one attempted to scrawl Hebrew lettering on it. The Jerusalem Post reported that on June 8, Ben-Gurion went to the wall and "looked with distaste" at the road sign; "this is not right, it should come down” and he proceeded to dismantle it. This act signaled the climax of the capture of the Old City and the ability of Jews to once again access their holiest sites. Emotional recollections of this event are related by David ben Gurion and Shimon Peres.Israeli rule 1967–present
Following Israel's victory during the 1967 Six-Day War, the Western Wall came under Israeli control. Yitzchak Rabin, fifth Prime Minister of Israel, described the moment Israeli soldiers reached the Wall:
Forty-eight hours after capturing the wall, the military, without explicit government order, hastily proceeded to demolish the entire Moroccan Quarter which stood four metres from the Wall. Chaim Herzog, who later became Israel’s sixth president, took much of the credit for the destruction of the neighbourhood:
The narrow pavement, which could accommodate a maximum of 12,000 per day, was transformed into an enormous plaza which could hold in excess of 400,000. The dusty plaza stretched from the wall to the Jewish Quarter. The section of the Wall dedicated to prayers was extended southwards to double its original length from 30 to 60 metres, while the 4 metre space facing the Wall grew to 40 metres. Thus the small pre-1967 120 square metre area in front of the wall became the vast Western Wall Plaza, covering 20,000 square metres.
The new plaza created in 1967 is used for worship and public gatherings, including Bar mitzvah celebrations and the swearing-in ceremonies of newly full-fledged soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces. Chabad activists stationed at the site regularly promote the Tefillin Campaign. Tens of thousands of Jews flock to the wall on the Jewish holidays, and particularly on the fast of Tisha B'Av, which marks the destruction of the Temple and on Jerusalem Day, which commemorates the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967 and the delivery of the Wall into Jewish hands.
At the southern end of the Western Wall, Robinson's Arch along with a row of vaults once supported stairs ascending from the street to the Temple Mount. Because it does not come under the direct control of the Rabbi of the Wall or the Ministry of Religious Affairs, the site has been opened to religious groups that hold worship services that would not be approved by the Rabbi or the Ministry in the major men's and women's prayer areas against the Wall.
The need for such an area became apparent when in in 1989, after repeated attacks by haredim, activists belonging to a group called Women Of The Wall petitioned to secure the right of women to pray at the wall without restrictions. Ultimately, in 2003 Israel's Supreme Court disallowed any women from reading publicly from the Torah or wearing traditional prayer shawls at the plaza itself, but instructed the Israeli government to prepare the site of Robinson's Arch to host such events. The site was inaugurated in August 2004 and has since hosted services by Reform and Conservative groups, as well as services by the Women of the Wall.
In November 2010, the government approved a £15m ($23m) scheme to improve access and infrastructure at the site.
In 2005, the Western Wall Heritage Foundation initiated a major renovation effort under Rabbi-of-the-Wall Shmuel Rabinovitch. Its goal was to renovate and restore the area within Wilson's Arch, the covered area to the left of worshipers facing the Wall in the open prayer plaza, in order to increase access for visitors and for prayer.
The restoration to the men's section included a Torah ark that can house over 100 Torah scrolls, in addition to new bookshelves, a library, heating for the winter, and air conditioning for the summer. A new room was also built for the scribes who maintain and preserve the Torah scrolls used at the Wall. New construction also included a women's section, overlooking the men's prayer area, so that women could use this separate area to "take part in the services held inside under the Arch" for the first time.
On July 25, 2010, a Ner Tamid, an oil-burning "eternal light," was installed within the prayer hall within Wilson's Arch, the first eternal light installed in the area of the Western Wall. According to the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, requests had been made for many years that "an olive oil lamp be placed in the prayer hall of the Western Wall Plaza, as is the custom in Jewish synagogues, to represent the menorah of the Temple in Jerusalem as well as the continuously burning fire on the altar of burnt offerings in front of the Temple," especially in the closest place to those ancient flames.
A number of special worship events have been held since the renovation. They have taken advantage of the cover, temperature control, and enhanced security. However, in addition to the more recent programs, one early event occurred in September 1983, even before the modern renovation. At that time U. S. Sixth Fleet Chaplain Rabbi Arnold Resnicoff was allowed to hold an unusual interfaith service—the first interfaith service ever conducted at the Wall during the time it was under Israeli control—that included men and women sitting together. The ten-minute service included the Priestly Blessing, recited by Resnicoff, who is a Kohen. A Ministry of Religions representative was present, responding to press queries that the service was authorized as part of a special welcome for the U.S. Sixth Fleet.
After the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, Rabbi Yehuda Meir Getz was named the overseer of proceedings at the wall. After Rabbi Getz's death in 1995, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz was given the position.Theology and ritual
In Judaism, the Western Wall is venerated as the sole remnant of the Holy Temple. It has become a place of pilgrimage for Jews, as it is the closest permitted accessible site to the holiest spot in Judaism, namely the Even ha-shetiya or Foundation Stone, which lies on the Temple Mount. According to one rabbinic opinion, Jews may not set foot upon the Temple Mount and doing so is a sin punishable by Kareth. While almost all historians and archaeologists and some rabbinical authorities believe that the rocky outcrop in the Dome of the Rock is the Foundation Stone, some rabbis say it is located directly opposite the exposed section of the Western Wall, near the El-kas fountain. This spot was the site of the Holy of Holies when the Temple stood.
Jewish tradition teaches that the Western Wall was built by King Solomon and that the wall we see today is built upon his foundations, which date from the time of the First Temple. Jewish midrashic texts compiled in Late Antiquity refer to a western wall of the Temple which “would never be destroyed.” Some scholars were of the opinion that this referred to a wall of the Temple itself which has long since vanished. Others believed that the wall still stood and was actually a surviving wall of the Temple courtyard. However, today there is no doubt that the wall is the western retaining wall of the Temple Mount and the Midrash refers to the Temple in its broader sense, that is, the Temple Mount. Jewish sources teach that when Roman Emperor Vespasian ordered the destruction of the Temple, he ordered Pangar, Duke of Arabia, to destroy the Western Wall. Pangar however could not destroy the wall because of God's promise that the Wall will never be destroyed. When asked by Titus why he did not destroy it, Pangar replied that it would stand as a reminder of what Titus had conquered. He was duly executed. There is a tradition that states that when water starts trickling through the stones of the Wall, it is a signal of the advent of the Messiah.
Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Kaindenover discusses the mystical aspect of the Hebrew word kotel when discussing the significance of praying against a wall. He cites the Zohar which writes that the word kotel, meaning wall, is made up of two parts: "Ko", which has the numerical value of God’s name, and "Tel", meaning mount, which refers to the Temple and its Western Wall.
Jewish sources, including the Zohar, write that the Divine Presence rests upon the Western Wall. The Midrash quotes a 4th century scholar: “Rav Acha said that the Divine Presence has never moved away from the Western Wall”. 18th century scholar Jonathan Eybeschutz writes that “after the destruction of the Temple, God removed His Presence from His sanctuary and placed it upon the Western Wall where it remains in its holiness and honour”. It is told that great Jewish sages, including Isaac Luria and the Radvaz, experienced a revelation of the Divine Presence at the wall.
The sages state that anyone who prays in the Temple in Jerusalem, “it is as if he has prayed before the throne of glory because the gate of heaven is situated there and it is open to hear prayer”. Jewish Law dictates that when Jews pray the Silent Prayer, they should face mizrach, towards Jerusalem, the Temple and ultimately the Holy of Holies, as all of God’s bounty and blessing emanates from that spot. According to the Mishna, of all the four walls of the Temple Mount, the Western Wall was the closest to the Holy of Holies and therefore that to pray by the Wall is particularly beneficial. Rabbi Jacob Ettlinger writes "since the gate of heaven is near the Western Wall, it is understandable that all Israel's prayers ascend on high there...as one of the great ancient kabbalists Rabbi Joseph Gikatilla said, when the Jews send their prayers from the Diaspora in the direction of Jerusalem, from there they ascend by way of the Western Wall." A well-known auspicious practice among Jews is to pray for 40 consecutive days at the Western Wall. This custom was apparently conceived by Rabbi Yisroel Yaakov Fisher.
According to some, by Late Antiquity the privileged site of Jewish prayer in Jerusalem was located on the Mount of Olives and only towards the end of the Middle Ages did Jews gradually begin to congregate instead at the Western Wall for their prayers, authorized to do so by the waqf authorities. Indeed, most historians believe that the Western Wall became a popular prayer area only after the Ottoman conquest of Jerusalem in 1517. There are, however, recorded instances of the wall being used as a place of prayer before the Ottoman period. The Scroll of Ahimaaz, a historical document written in 1050 CE, distinctly describes the Western Wall as a place of prayer for the Jews. In around 1167 CE during the late Crusader Period, Benjamin of Tudela wrote that "In front of this place is the Western Wall, which is one of the walls of the Holy of Holies. This is called the Gate of Mercy, and hither come all the Jews to pray before the Wall in the open court". In 1334, Jewish traveller Isaac Chelo wrote: "It is this Western Wall which stands before the temple of Omar ibn al Khattab, and which is called the Gate of Mercy. The Jews resort thither to say their prayers, as Rabbi Benjamin has already related. Today, this wall is one of the seven wonders of the Holy City." In 1625 "arranged prayers" at the Wall are mentioned for the first time by a scholar whose name has not been preserved. Scrolls of the Law were brought to the Wall on occasions of public distress and calamity, as testified to in a narrative written by Rabbi Gedaliah of Semitizi who went to Jerusalem in the year 1699.
The writings of various travellers in the Holy Land, especially in the 18th and 19th centuries, tell of how the Wall and its environs continued to be a place of devotion for the Jews. Isaac Yahuda, a prominent member of the Sephardic community in Jerusalem recalled how men and women used to gather in a circle at the Wall to hear sermons delivered in Ladino. His great-grandmother, who arrived in Palestine in 1841, “used to go to the Western Wall every Friday afternoon, winter and summer, and stay there until candle-lighting time, reading the entire Book of Psalms and the Song of Songs...she would sit there by herself for hours." The Kaf hachaim records that Ashkenasim and Sephardim were accustomed to walking through the streets and markets of the Old City wearing their tallit and tefillin on their way to pray by the Western Wall.
Throughout the ages, the Wall is where Jews have gathered to express gratitude to God or to pray for divine mercy. On news of the Normandy landings on June 6, 1944 thousands of Jews went to the Wall to offer prayers for the “success of His Majesty’s and Allied Forces in the liberation of all enemy-occupied territory.” On October 13, 1994, 50,000 gathered to pray for the safe return of kidnapped soldier Nachshon Wachsman. August 10, 2005 saw a massive prayer rally at the Wall. Estimates of people protesting Israel's unilateral disengagement plan ranged from 50,000 to 250,000 people. Every year on Tisha B'Av large crowds congregate at the Wall to commemorate the destruction of the Temple. In 2007 over 100,000 gathered. During the month of Tishrei 2009, a record 1.5 million people visited the site.
According to Jewish Law, one is obligated to grieve and rend one's garment upon visiting the Western Wall and seeing the desolate site of the Temple.Bach (17th century) explicitly mentions the "Kotel ha-Ma'aravi" when expounding how one could encounter the ruins of the Temple before the ruins of Jerusalem. Today, some scholars are of the view that rending one's garments is not applicable since Jerusalem is under Jewish sovereignty. Others disagree, citing that the Temple Mount itself is controlled by the Muslim waqf and the State of Israel has no power to remove the mosques which sit upon it. Furthermore, the mosques' very existence on the site of the Temple should increase one's feeling of distress. If one hasn’t seen the Wall for over 30 days, in order to avoid tearing one's shirt, the custom is to visit on the Sabbath, including Friday afternoons, or Saturday evenings if dressed in Sabbath finery, or on festivals. A person who has not seen the Wall within the last 30 days should recite:
The Bach cites Likutim which instructs that "when one sees the Gates of Mercy which are situated in the Western Wall, which is the wall King David built, he should recite:
There is a much publicised practice of placing slips of paper containing written prayers into the crevices of the Wall. People there to pray will write notes that they hope will come true, then place them in the cracks to come true soon. The earliest account of this practice is recorded in Sefer Tamei Ha-minhagim U’mekorei Ha-dinim and involves Rabbi Chaim ibn Attar, (d. 1743). More than a million notes are placed each year and the opportunity to e-mail notes is offered by a number of organisations. It has become customary for visiting dignitaries to place notes too.
There is much debate among Jewish codifiers about whether it is permitted to place one's fingers inside the cracks of the Wall. Those who warn against such action hold that the breadth of the Wall constitutes part of the Temple Mount itself and therefore retains holiness. Others hold that the Wall stands outside the given measurements of the Temple area and therefore there is no concern about inserting one's fingers into the crevices. In the past, visitors, based upon various scriptural verses, would drive nails into the cracks and paint their Hebrew names on the Wall. These practices stopped after rabbinic consensus determined that such actions compromised the sanctity of the Wall. Another practice also existed whereby pilgrims or those intending to travel abroad would hack off a chip from the Wall or take some of the sand from between its cracks as a good luck charm or memento. In the late 19th century the question was raised as to whether this was permitted and a long responsa appeared in the Jerusalem newspaper Havatzelet in 1898. It concluded that even if according to Jewish Law it was permitted, the practices should be stopped as it constituted a desecration. More recently the Yalkut Yosef rules that it is forbidden to remove small chips of stone or dust from the Wall, although it is permissible to take twigs from the vegetation which grows in the Wall for an amulet, as they contain no holiness. Cleaning the stones is also problematic from a halachic point of view. Blasphemous graffiti once sprayed by a tourist was left visible for months until it began to peel away.
Many contemporary poskim rule that the area in front of the Wall has the status of a synagogue and must be treated with due respect. As such, men and married women are expected to cover their heads upon approaching the Wall, and to dress appropriately. When departing, the custom is walk backwards away from the Wall. On Saturdays, it is forbidden to enter the area with electronic devices, including cameras, which infringe on the sanctity of the Sabbath.
There was once an old custom of removing one's shoes upon approaching the Wall. A 17th century collection of special prayers to be said at holy places mentions that “upon coming to the Western Wall one should remove his shoes, bow and recite...”. Rabbi Moses Reicher wrote that “it is a good and praiseworthy custom to approach the Western Wall in white garments after ablution, kneel and prostrate oneself in submission and recite “This is nothing other than the House of God and here is the gate of Heaven.” When within four cubits of the Wall, one should remove their footwear.” Over the years the custom of standing barefoot at the Wall has ceased, as there is no need to remove one's shoes when standing by the Wall, because the plaza area is outside the sanctified precinct of the Temple Mount.
In the past women could be found sitting at the entrance to the Wall every Sabbath holding fragrant herbs and spices in order to enable worshipers to make additional blessings. In the hot weather they would provide cool water. The women also used to cast lots for the privilege of sweeping and washing the alleyway at the foot of the Wall.Islam
Until the 1920s, Muslims referred to the Wall as El-Mabka “the place of wailing". They then began calling it the Al-Buraq Wall.
Muslims maintain that the Wall is an Islamic endowment site based on two factors: The first is the association of the Wall in the Isra and Mi'raj; some sources identify the Western Wall as the place where the Islamic prophet Muhammad tethered his winged steed, Buraq. The tradition is first referred to in a manuscript by Ibn Furkah (d. 1328) stating that Buraq was tethered outside Bab al-Nab, an old name for a gate along the southwestern wall of the Haram al-Sharif at the very spot presently known as Al-Buraq. Other sources which referred to this tradition date from the 19th century and include the 1840 deliberation refusing the Jews the right to pave the area in front of the wall and the map of Jerusalem by Wilson (1865) that names the area around the Wailing Wall Hosh al-Buraq. The second factor is the claim that it is waqf property and a part of the Noble Sanctuary.Christianity
Some scholars believe that when Jerusalem came under Christian rule in the 4th century, there was a purposeful "transference" of respect for the Temple Mount and the Western Wall in terms of sanctity to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, while the sites around the Temple Mount became a place to dump garbage for Christians. However, the actions of many modern Christian leaders, including Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, who visited the Wall and actually left prayer messages in its crevices, has symbolized for many Christians a restoration of respect and even veneration for this ancient religious site.
Some extreme Christian Zionists go further, claiming that the Third Temple must be rebuilt as part of the groundwork for the Second Coming. A small group of extremists even advocate the destruction of the Muslim Dome of the Rock to hasten the new Temple construction.Views
Most Jews, religious and secular, consider the wall to be important to Judaism since it was originally built to hold the Second Temple. They consider the capture of the wall by Israel in 1967 as an historic event since it restored Jewish access to the site after a 19 year gap. A poll carried out in 2007 by the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies indicated that 96% of Israeli Jews were against Israel relinquishing sovereignty of the Western Wall. There are, however, some haredi Jews who hold opposing views. Most notable are the adherents of the Satmar hasidic sect who retain the views expoused by rabbi Joel Teitelbaum who would not approach the Wall, as he felt it had been befouled by secular interests and those professing secular Zionism, which he saw as an abomination, Jewish sovereignty not being permitted to be restored to the site until the arrival of the Messiah. Avigdor Miller, a non-hasidic American rabbi, wrote that "the Kosel is better off in the hands of the Muslims due to their modesty more than the Jews who defile the holy place with their Jewish immodesty".Muslim
Shmuel Berkowitz, in his book "The Wars over the Holy Places", suggests that Muslim attribution of holiness to the Western Wall began only in the last 100 years. He suggests this from the fact that official guides published by the Waqf in 1914, 1965, and 1990 do not attribute holiness to the wall and the entry "al-Buraq" in the Encyclopedia of Islam does not make the connection either.
In recent decades Muslims have generally been vociferous in denying that the Wall has any significance in Judaism. In December 1973, King Faisal of Saudi Arabia stated that “Only Muslims and Christians have holy places and rights in Jerusalem”. The Jews, he maintained, had no rights there at all. As for the Western Wall, he said, “Another wall can be built for them. They can pray against that".Raed Salah, leader of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel wrote that:
According to the Palestinian National Authority, the Jews did not consider the Wall as a place for worship except after the Balfour Declaration was issued in 1917. PA-appointed Mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Ekrima Sa'id Sabri, believes that the Wall belongs to the Muslims alone. In 2000 he related that “No stone of the Al-Buraq wall has any relation to Judaism. The Jews began praying at this wall only in the nineteenth century, when they began to develop aspirations.” A year later he stated:
In 2006, Dr. Hassan Khader, founder of the Al Quds Encyclopedia, told PA television that the first connection of the Jews to the Wall is "a recent one which began in the 16th Century...not ancient...like the roots of the Islamic connection".
In November 2010, an official paper published by the PA Ministry of Information denied Jewish rights to the Wall. It stated that "Al-Buraq Wall is in fact the western wall of Al-Aksa Mosque" and that Jews had only started using the site for worship after the 1917 Balfour Declaration.
Yitzhak Reiter writes that "the Islamization and de-Judaization of the Western Wall are a recurrent motif in publications and public statements by the heads of the Islamic Movement in Israel."Egyptian
Egyptian Minister of Waqfs, Mahmoud Hamdi Zakzouk, has asserted that the Western Wall is not a Jewish holy site. Another high ranking Egyptian Muslim authority, Mufti Nasr Fradid Wassel, has decreed that the Western Wall remain an Islamic endowment for ever, explaining that it is a part of the western wall of the Al-Aqsa Mosque. He added that the Wall would belong to Muslims all over the world "until the end of earth" and that it is religiously forbidden for Muslims to refer to Buraq Wall as the Wailing Wall.American
While recognizing the difficulties inherent in any ultimate peace agreement that involves the status of Jerusalem, the official position of the United States includes a recognition of the importance of the Wall to the Jewish people, and has condemned statements that seek to "delegitimize" the relationship between Jews and the area in general, and the Western Wall in particular. For example, in November 2010, the Obama administration "strongly condemned a Palestinian official's claim that the Western Wall in the Old City has no religious significance for Jews and is actually Muslim property." The U.S. State Department noted that the United States rejects such a claim as "factually incorrect, insensitive and highly provocative."
However, while recognizing the Wall's Jewish importance, Obama may have floated a "trial balloon" suggestion that a compromise political outcome might include flying the flag of the United Nations over the Wall, at least according to Jordan's King Abdullah II, who said the Pre