Western Wall Jerusalem, in Hebrew Hakotel Hamaaravi, is the holiest of all Jewish sites. It is so because it is part of the retaining walls that once supported the Second Temple in Jerusalem. During centuries Jews have gathered here to pray and lament the loss of the Temple. This is the reason why it is known in many countries as the “Wailing Wall” or in Spanish “Muro de los Lamentos”.
The Kotel is the holiest place in Judaism
History of the Wall
It was built by King Herod in 20 BC during the expansion of the Temple as a retainer wall on the western part. Work took more than 10 years. The stones used for its construction came from nearby Zedekiah’s cave near Damascus Gate and they are mostly 1 meter high by 3 meters long, although some are as long as 12 meters.
In 70 AD, the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and its Temple. Since a few centuries later it became the number one place for Jews to pray and cry for the destruction of the Temple.
The Western Wall became a permanent symbol of Jerusalem and Jews have been praying in its direction for centuries. All historians coincide on the fact that it was a constant place of gathering of Jews during the different conquerors like the Crusaders and the Ottomans.
"Birkat Coahanim" at the Kotel attracts thousands of people
The Wall as part of the Jewish Tradition
As the Jewish population started to grow in the 19th Century and the many visitors arriving in Eretz Israel, the popularity of the Wall grew and you may see this in writings and paintings from the era. Archaeological diggings began around the worship area. Places like the Robinson Arch were discovered as well as the whole length of the Wall.
During the 19th century great Jews like Sir Moses Montefiore and the baron Rothschild tried go gain control over the area surrounding the Wall called Moghrabi Quarter by buying the place and resettle its resident in order to demolish the area and open the area in front of it. The Arab residents rejected the efforts and they never materialized.
Pope Franciscus on a private moment at the Western Wall
During the British Mandate
In that period many clashes between Muslims and Jews were witnessed. And they worsened after the Balfour Declaration in 1917 when the Jews got the recognition by Britain of their national status on the Land of Israel.
The Arab Mufti did everything in his power to antagonize and interrupt prayers and removal of religious objects and divisions between men and women as it is customary among orthodox Jews. All this was, of course, accompanied by riots.
The British set up committees appointed by the League of Nations and in 1930 during the “Trial of the Wall” the commission declared the Wall as a sole property of the Muslims but also declared the right of the Jews to pray at the site, but not to blow the Shofar at the place. Needless to say the problems that decision raised and in 1947 after clashes upon clashes with the Arabs, the Jews were not allowed to approach the Wall.
The Western Wall has been in Jewish prayers for millennia
Dark years for the during 1948 – 1967
When Israel fought its War of Independence and the cease of fire was declared, Old Jerusalem remained on the hands of Jordan and for 19 years Jews were prevented from approaching and praying at the Wall. I remember, when I was a student in Jerusalem in 1959, we used to go to a high point like Mount Zion to “try” to see the Wall unsuccessfully.
The Jordanians never allowed the Jews to visit the Old City and not only that; they desecrated any Holy Place they found. The best example is the Cemetery on Mount of Olives, which tombstones were taken for military use in paving roads and building latrines. No comments…
On June 7, 1967 Rabbi Shlomo Goren made the first prayer
at the Kotel after liberation
The Six day War
On June 7th, 1967 on the third day of the war, Israeli soldiers reached the Wall in one of the most emotional moments in Jewish History. No man or women was left without crying tears of joy. At that moment of the war my unit was not far in Emek Dotan and we used our small transistors to hear the news. Sorry, if you, my reader are younger than 40 years old you may not know what a transistor radio is.
The Moghrabi quarter was immediately demolished and the plaza in front of the Wall was opened. Many more cleaning was done south and north of the Wall in order to accommodate the thousands of worshipers that arrived to see and pray. A few days later on the Holiday of Shavuot a quarter of a million worshipers trying to touch the Wall and pray gathered in front of it.
Yom Hazikaron or Remembrance Day at the Western Wall
Western Wall Jerusalem today
Now the Wall is open to all including Jews, Christians, Muslims and any other religion. During the Jewish Holidays it is swamped by hundreds that try to get access to one of the Minyanim, Hebrew for group of Jews praying. Men have to wear a Kipah, Yarmulke in Yiddish. Any hat will be enough to cover their heads. Women have their separate area of prayer and must cover their heads with a hat or scarf and like at many religious sites around the world, they should wear modest clothing.
It has become very normal for people to leave written petitions to their God inside the wall separations. These little papers are treated with upmost respect and removed and buried properly from time to time.
A special walk into recently excavated tunnels alongside the Western Wall can be arranged by making an appointment with the Western Wall Heritage Foundation. I will address the Western Wall Tunnel on a separate page of our site.
A visit to the Western Wall Jerusalem is a must. No matter if you are a Christian on a group from Latin America, a Buddhist from Vietnam or a Jew from Haifa. It is open for all people who come to Israel in Good Faith.
Copyright Tuchman Israel Guide
2015 - 2019