JERUSALEM, ISRAEL (ANS) -- I never imagined that I would see the Western Wall; much less pray at the wall and leave my little prayer in the cracks between the stones. Words can not express my emotions as I actually did just this during my visit to Israel.
The Western Wall commonly refers to an 187 feet exposed section of
The Western Wall (Wailing Wall) is indeed a sight to behold. Jews and Christians come together to this sacred place to share their prayers at what some consider to be the “gate to heaven.
According to the Bible, 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 built in 516 BCE. In around 19 BCE Herod the Great began a massive expansion project on the Temple Mount. 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. However, the Western Wall was spared.
According to Josephus: “...as soon as the army had no more people to slay or to plunder, because there remained none to be the objects of their fury, [Titus] Caesar gave orders that they should now demolish the entire city and Temple, but should leave as many of the towers standing as were of the greatest eminence. This was the end which Jerusalem came to by the madness of those that were for innovations; a city otherwise of great magnificence, and of mighty fame among all mankind”.
In 1517 the Ottoman Empire under Selim I conquered the Land of Israel from the Egyptian Mamelukes who had held it since 1250. The Ottomans had a benevolent attitude towards the Jews, having welcomed thousands of Jewish refugees. 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.
Over the centuries, land close to the Wall became built up. Shortly before the Crusader period a synagogue stood at the site. In 1193 the Moroccan Quarter was established and houses were built only four meters away from the Wall. Public access to the Wall was through a labyrinth of narrow alleyways. In May 1840 a firman issued by Ibrahim Pasha forbade under Sharia law 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.”
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 to gain ownership of the land adjacent to the Wall. The battle for ownership and accessibility continued until the 1967 war when Israel regained control of Jerusalem.
Following Israel’s victory during the 1967 Six-Day War, the Western Wall came under Israeli control.
A sign of the times. In order to enter the Western Wall area, visitors must pass through a security check. And, there are extra soldiers on-duty in the area. Perhaps not what Solomon had in mind when he built his Temple. There was actually no security check to enter Old Jerusalem, although we did see quite a few soldiers throughout the old city.
The Western Wall Plaza is the site of the swearing-in ceremonies of newly full-fledged soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces, following basic training.
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. 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.
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”.
According to Jewish Law, one is obligated to feel grief and rend ones garment upon visiting the Western Wall and seeing the desolate site of the Temple.
There is a much publicised practice of placing slips of paper containing written prayers into the crevices of the Wall.
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 a sign of respect, men and married women are expected to cover their heads upon approaching the wall, and to dress appropriately. When departing, the custom is to 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.
Some Muslims have declared the Western Wall as belonging to the Al Aqsa Mosque.
Historically, Muslims referred to the Wall as “el-Mabka”, meaning “the place of wailing” - a reference to the Jewish attachment to the site. More recently however, Muslims refer to it as “al-Buraq Wall”. They claim the Wall as a Muslim holy site based on two factors: The first is due to the association with the Wall in the Isra and Mi’raj story; some sources identify the Western Wall as the place where Muhammad tethered his winged steed, Buraq.
In recent decades Arab Muslims have denied that the Wall has any significance in Judaism.
I guess I don’t understand the Muslim positon. Just who built the Western Wall? It was the Jews!
Yes, I was there, and I will never be the same.
For further information about Israel and tour information, I suggest that you visit www.goisrael.com/ This is the official website of the Israel Ministry of Tourism. They offer several “virtual tours” online and you can get complete information and find links to help you make your plans. You can actually spend days just navigating the website in preparation for your “trip of a lifetime.” Yes, I’ll go back…and take my wife.
|Stan Wilson is a lifetime journalist after graduating
from college in 1970 with
a B.A. in journalism. He worked in various positions in newspapers in Texas,
Oklahoma, Nebraska and Kansas prior to starting Southwest Kansas Faith and
Family in 2001. Faith and Family is a monthly Christian newspaper serving Dodge
City, Garden City and 18 other surrounding communities. He can be contacted by
email at firstname.lastname@example.org