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Western Wall

Western Wall
Western Wall is located in Jerusalem
Western Wall
Shown within Jerusalem
Alternate name Wailing Wall / The Buraq Wall
Location Jerusalem
Height exposed: 62 feet (19 m)
Builder Herod the Great
Material Limestone
Founded 19 BCE – mid 1st century CE
Site notes
Condition preserved
Aerial view of the Temple Mount, with Western Wall at left center.

The Western Wall, Wailing Wall or Kotel (Hebrew:  הַכֹּתֶל הַמַּעֲרָבִי  , translit.: HaKotel HaMa'aravi; Ashkenazic pronunciation: Kosel; Arabic: حائط البراق‎, translit.: Ḥā'iṭ Al-Burāq, translat.: the Buraq Wall, or al-Mabka: the Place of Weeping) is located in the Old City of Jerusalem. It is a relatively small segment of the structure which originally composed the western retaining wall of the Second Jewish Temple atop the hill known as the Temple Mount to Jews and Christians, originating in its biblical Hebrew name, Har HaBáyit (הַר הַבַּיִת), lit. "Mount of the House [of God]", and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, al-Haram ash-Sharīf (الحرم الشريف).

The Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism and is the place to which Jews turn during prayer, and the Western Wall is considered holy due to its connection to the Temple. Due to the rabbinic ban on praying on the Mount, the Wall is the holiest place where Jews are permitted to pray. The original, natural and irregular-shaped Temple Mount was gradually extended to allow for an ever larger Temple compound to be built at its top. This process was finalised by Herod the Great, who enclosed the Mount with an almost rectangular set of retaining walls, built to support extensive substructures and earth fills needed to give the natural hill a geometrically regular shape. On top of this box-like structure Herod built a vast paved esplanade which surrounded the Temple. Of the four retaining walls, the western one is considered to be closest to the former Temple, which makes it the most sacred site recognised by Judaism outside the former Temple Mount esplanade. Just over half the wall's total height, including its 17 courses located below street level, dates from the end of the Second Temple period, and is commonly believed to have been built around 19 BCE by Herod the Great, although recent excavations indicate that the work was not finished by the time Herod died in 4 BCE. The very large stone blocks of the lower courses are Herodian, the courses of medium-sized stones above them were added during the Umayyad era, while the small stones of the uppermost courses are of more recent date, especially from the Ottoman Period.

The term Western Wall and its variations is mostly used in a narrow sense for the section traditionally used by Jews for prayer, and it has also been called the "Wailing Wall", referring to the practice of Jews weeping at the site over the Destruction of the Temples. During the period of Christian Roman Rule over Jerusalem, Jews were completely barred from Jerusalem except to attend Tish Ba'av, the day of national mourning for the Temples, and on this day the Jews would weep at their holy places. The term "Wailing Wall" was thus almost exclusively used by Christians, and was revived in the period of non-Jewish sovereignty between the establishment of British Rule in 1920 and the Six-Day War in 1967. The term "Wailing Wall" is not used by Jews and increasingly many others who consider it derogatory.[1] In a broader sense, the Western Wall can refer to the entire 488 meter-long retaining wall on the western side of the Temple Mount. The classic portion now faces a large plaza in the Jewish Quarter, near the southwestern corner of the Temple Mount, while the rest of the wall is concealed behind structures in the Muslim Quarter, with the small exception of a 25 ft (8 m) section, the so-called Little Western Wall. The segment of the Western retaining wall traditionally used for Jewish liturgy known as the "Western Wall" derives its particular importance to it having never been fully obscured by medieval buildings, and displaying much more of the original Herodian stonework than the "Little Western Wall". In religious terms, the "Little Western Wall" is presumed to be even closer to the Holy of Holies and thus to the "presence of God" (Shechina), and the underground Warren's Gate, which has been out of reach since the 12th century, even more so.

The wall has been a site for Jewish prayer and pilgrimage for centuries; the earliest source mentioning this specific site as a place of worship is from the 16th century.[1] The previous sites used by Jews for mourning the destruction of the Temple, during periods when access to the city was prohibited to them, lay to the east, on the Mount of Olives[1] and in the Kidron Valley below it. 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 and Muslim communities, the latter being worried that the wall could be used to further Jewish claims to the Temple Mount and thus Jerusalem. During this period outbreaks of violence at the foot of the wall became commonplace, with a particularly deadly riot occurring in 1929 in which 133 Jews were killed and 339 injured. After the 1948 Arab-Israeli War the Eastern portion of Jerusalem was occupied by Jordan. Under Jordanian control Jews were completely expelled from the Old City including the Jewish quarter, and Jews were barred from entering the Old City for 19 years, effectively banning Jewish prayer at the site of the Western Wall. This period ended on June 10, 1967, when Israel established sovereignty over the site. Three days after establishing control over the Western Wall site the Moroccan Quarter was bulldozed by Israeli authorities to create space for what is now the Western Wall plaza.[2]


  • Etymology 1
  • Location and dimensions 2
  • History 3
    • Construction 19 BCE 3.1
    • Roman Empire and rise of Christianity 100–500 CE 3.2
    • Middle Ages 500–1500 3.3
    • Ottoman period 1517–1917 3.4
      • Firmans issued regarding the Wall 3.4.1
    • British rule 1917–48 3.5
      • September 1928 disturbances 3.5.1
      • 1929 Palestine riots 3.5.2
      • 1930 international commission 3.5.3
    • Jordanian rule 1948–67 3.6
      • "Al Buraq (Wailing Wall) Rd" sign 3.6.1
    • Israeli rule 1967–present 3.7
      • Robinson's Arch 3.7.1
      • Wilson's Arch 3.7.2
      • Rabbis of the wall 3.7.3
  • Theology and ritual 4
    • Judaism 4.1
      • Prayer at the Wall 4.1.1
      • Women's prayer at the Wall 4.1.2
      • The Wall and prayer by people with disabilities 4.1.3
      • The Wall and transgender individuals 4.1.4
      • Mourning the Temple's Destruction 4.1.5
      • Prayer notes 4.1.6
      • Sanctity of the Wall 4.1.7
    • Islam 4.2
    • Christianity 4.3
  • Views 5
    • Jewish 5.1
    • Israeli 5.2
    • Muslim 5.3
    • Palestinian 5.4
    • American 5.5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8


Jews may often be seen sitting for hours at the Wailing-place bent in sorrowful meditation over the history of their race, and repeating oftentimes the words of the Seventy-ninth Psalm. On Fridays especially, Jews of both genders, of all ages, and from all countries, assemble in large numbers to kiss the sacred stones and weep outside the precincts they may not enter.

Charles Wilson, 1881. (Picturesque Palestine, vol. 1, p. 41).[3]

Early Jewish texts referred to a "western wall of the Temple",[4] but there is doubt whether the texts were referring to the outer, retaining wall called today "the Western Wall", or to the western wall of the actual Temple.[1] The earliest Jewish use of the Hebrew term "ha-kotel ha-ma'aravi", "the Western Wall", as referring to the wall visible today, was by the 11th-century poet Ahimaaz ben Paltiel.[1] The name "Wailing Wall", and descriptions such as "wailing place", appeared regularly in English literature during the 19th century.[5][6][7] 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.[8] This description stemmed from the Jewish practice of coming to the site to mourn and bemoan the destruction of the Temple.

At some time in the 19th century, the Arabs began referring to the wall as the al-Buraq Wall. This was based on the tradition that inside the wall was the place where Muhammad tethered his miraculous winged steed, al-Buraq. The tradition on which this is based only states that the Prophet, or the angel Jibra'il (Gabriel), tethered the steed at the gate of the mosque, meaning: at the gate of the Temple Mount.[9] The location of the entry gate identified as the one used by Muhammad varied throughout the centuries, from the eastern and southern walls, to the southwest corner, and finally at the western wall, and specifically at Barclay's Gate immediately adjacent to the "Wailing Place" of the Jews.[9] In Arabic Barclay's Gate is called the Prophet's Gate, Bab an-Nabi, but so is the southern Triple Gate, while the eastern gate located near the Golden Gate was even called Bab al-Buraq, the Gate of al-Buraq (with a second name, Bab al-Jana'iz, meaning Gate of the Funerals).[10]

Location and dimensions

Panorama of the Western Wall with the Dome of the Rock (left) and al-Aqsa mosque (right) in the background
The Western Wall and Dome of the Rock

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, supporting and enclosing the ample substructures built by Herod the Great around 19 BCE. Herod's project was to create an artificial extension to the small quasi-natural plateau on which the First and Second Temples stood, transforming it into the almost rectangular, 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.[11] 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[12] situated under the Muslim Quarter of the Old City or at Ramat Shlomo[13] 4 kilometres (2.5 mi) northwest of the Old City. Most of them weigh between 2 and 8 short tons (1.8 and 7.3 t) each, but others weigh even more, with one extraordinary stone located in the northern section of Wilson's Arch measuring 13 metres (43 ft) and weighing approximately 570 short tons (520 t). 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 outer 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.[14]

The next four courses, consisting of smaller plainly dressed stones, date from the Umayyad period (Muslim, 8th century).[15] Above that are 16–17 courses of small stones from the Mamluk period (Muslim, 13–16th century) and later.[15] The well known story that the top layers of the Wall were added by Sir Moses Montefiore [16][17] is unsubstantiated.


Construction 19 BCE

Engraving, 1850

According to the Hebrew Bible, Solomon's Temple was built atop what is known as the Temple Mount in the 10th century BCE and destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE,[18] and the Second Temple completed and dedicated in 516 BCE. Around 19 BCE Herod the Great began a massive expansion project on the Temple Mount. In addition to fully rebuilding and enlarging the Temple, he artificially expanded the platform on which it stood, doubling it in size. Today's Western Wall formed part of the retaining perimeter wall of this platform. In 2011, Israeli archaeologists announced the surprising discovery of Roman coins minted well after Herod's death, found under the foundation stones of the wall. The excavators came upon the coins inside a ritual bath that predates Herod's building project, which was filled in to create an even base for the wall and was located under its southern section.[19] This seems to indicate that Herod did not finish building the entire wall by the time of his death in 4 BCE. The find confirms the description by historian Josephus Flavius, which states that construction was finished only during the reign of King Agrippa II, Herod’s great-grandson.[20] Given Josephus' information, the surprise mainly regarded the fact that an unfinished retaining wall in this area could also mean that at least parts of the splendid Royal Stoa and the monumental staircase leading up to it could not have been completed during Herod's lifetime. Also surprising was the fact that the usually very thorough Herodian builders had cut corners by filling in the ritual bath, rather than placing the foundation course directly onto the much firmer bedrock. Some scholars are doubtful of the interpretation and have offered alternative explanations, such as, for example, later repair work.

Herod's Temple was destroyed by the Romans, along with the rest of Jerusalem, in 70 CE,[21] 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.[22] 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.[23] 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 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.[22] 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.[24]

Middle Ages 500–1500

Several Jewish authors of the 10th and 11th centuries write about the Jews resorting to the Western Wall for devotional purposes.[25][26] Ahimaaz relates that Rabbi Samuel ben Paltiel (980-1010) gave money for oil at "the sanctuary at the Western Wall."[27][28][29] Benjamin of Tudela (1170) wrote "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." The account gave rise to confusion about the actual location of Jewish worship and some suggest that Benjamin in fact referred to the Eastern Wall along with its Gate of Mercy.[30][31] While Nahmanides (d. 1270) did not mention a synagogue near the Western Wall in his detailed account of the temple site,[32] shortly before the Crusader period a synagogue existed at the site.[33] Obadiah of Bertinoro (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."[34]

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 4 metres (13 ft) away from the wall.[35] 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.[36]

Ottoman period 1517–1917

Wailing Wall, Jerusalem, by Gustav Bauernfeind (19th century).

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 the Alhambra Decree of 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:

”I have been told that in the day of Sultan Suleiman the site of the Temple was not known and the Sultan had every corner of Jerusalem searched for it. One day the man in charge of the work, despairing after much searching and inquiring in vain, saw a woman coming with a basket of rubbish and filth upon her head. He asked her: “What are you carrying on your head?” – And she replied: “Rubbish.”
“And to where are you carrying it?”
“To such and such a place.”
“Where do you live?”
“In Bethlehem.”
“Is there no dunghill between Bethlehem and this place?”
“It is a tradition among us that whoever takes a little rubbish to that place performs a meritorious act.”
The curiosity of the officer was aroused and he commanded a great number of men to remove the rubbish from that place...and the holy site was revealed. When the Sultan learned of this, he rejoiced greatly and ordered the place to be swept and sprinkled and the Western Wall washed with rosewater...”[37]

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.[38][39]

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 1699, writes that scrolls of the Law were brought to the Wall on occasions of public distress and calamity.[40]

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.”[26]

Rabbi Joseph Schwarz writing in the mid-19th-century records:

”This wall is visited by all our brothers on every feast and festival; and the large space at its foot is often so densely filled up, that all cannot perform their devotions here at the same time. It is also visited, though by less numbers, on every Friday afternoon, and by some nearly every day. No one is molested in these visits by the Mahomedans, as we have a very old firman from the Sultan of Constantinople that the approach shall not be denied to us, though the Porte obtains for this privilege a special tax, which is, however, quite insignificant.”[41]

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.[26] This gave rise to Jewish attempts at gaining ownership of the land adjacent to the Wall.

Photograph of the Western Wall, 1870

In the late 1830s a wealthy Jew named Shemarya Luria attempted to purchase houses near the Wall, but was unsuccessful,[42] as was Jewish sage Abdullah of Bombay who tried to purchase the Western Wall in the 1850s.[43] 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.[44] 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.[40] In 1874, Mordechai Rosanes paid for the repaving of the alleyway adjacent to the wall.[32]

In 1887 Baron Rothschild conceived a plan to purchase and demolish the Moroccan Quarter as "a merit and honor to the Jewish People."[45] 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.[45] Other reports place the scheme's failure on Jewish infighting as to whether the plan would foster a detrimental Arab reaction.[46]

Jews' Wailing Place, Jerusalem, 1891

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.[47] 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.[43] 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.[48] In 1915 it was reported that Djemal Pasha closed off the wall to visitation as a sanitary measure.[49]

Firmans issued regarding the Wall

Year Issued by Content
c.1560 Suleiman the Magnificent Official recognition of the right of Jews to pray by the Wall.[38][39]
1840 Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt Forbidding the Jews to pave the passage 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.”[26]
1841* Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt “Of the same bearing and likewise to two others of 1893 and 1909.”[26]
1889* Abdul Hamid II That there shall be no interference with the Jews' places of devotional visits and of pilgrimage, that are situated in the localities which are dependent on the Chief Rabbinate, nor with the practice of their ritual.[26]
1893* Confirming firman of 1889.[26]
1909* Confirming firman of 1889.[26]
1911 Administrative Council of the Liwa Prohibiting the Jews from certain appurtenances at the Wall.[26]
* These firmans were cited by the Jewish contingent at the International Commission, 1930, as proof for rights at the Wall. Muslim authorities responded by arguing that historic sanctions of Jewish presence were acts of tolerance shown by Muslims, who, by doing so, did not concede any positive rights.[50]

British rule 1917–48

Jewish Legion soldiers at the Western Wall after British conquest of Jerusalem, 1917
1920. From the collection of the National Library of Israel.

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".[51]

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[52] and £100,000[53] (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 they appeared promising at first, negotiations broke down after strong Muslim opposition.[53][54] Storrs wrote two decades later:

"The acceptance of the proposals, had it been practicable, would have obviated years of wretched humiliations, including the befouling of the Wall and pavement and the unmannerly braying of the tragi-comic Arab band during Jewish prayer, and culminating in the horrible outrages of 1929"[52]

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.[39]

In 1926 an effort was made to lease the Maghrebi waqf, which included the wall, with the plan of eventually buying it.[55] Negotiations were begun in secret by the Jewish judge Gad Frumkin, with financial backing from American millionaire Nathan Straus.[55] The chairman of the Palestine Zionist Executive, Colonel F. H. Kisch, explained that the aim was "quietly to evacuate the Moroccan occupants of those houses which it would later be necessary to demolish" to create an open space with seats for aged worshippers to sit on.[55] However, Straus withdrew when the price became excessive and the plan came to nothing.[56] The Va'ad Leumi, against the advice of the Palestine Zionist Executive, demanded that the British expropriate the wall and give it to the Jews, but the British refused.[55]

In 1928 the 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”.[57]

September 1928 disturbances

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.

The placing of a Mechitza similar to the one in the picture was the catalyst for confrontation between the Arabs, Jews and Mandate authorities in 1928.

On September 24, 1928, the Day of Atonement, British police resorted to removing by force 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 the ultraorthodox Jews in Jerusalem issued a protest letter on behalf of his community, 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.[58]

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.[59] 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.[58]

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.[60] 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."[59] The committee also demanded that the British administration expropriate the wall for the Jews.[61]

From October 1928 onward, Mufti

  • Wailing Wall to Western Wall (1960s)
  • Photographs of the Western Wall (Summer 2007)
  • Western Wall on Google Street View
  • The Western Wall Heritage Foundation
  • The Western WallJewish Virtual Library:
  • The Shofar and the Wall,
  • Historic radio broadcast of the capture of the wall by the Israel Defense Forces on June 7, 1967

External links

  1. ^ a b c d e
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b
  4. ^ a b Shir ha-Shirim Rabbah, ch. 2–8
  5. ^ "Wailing Wall" appears, for example, in J.J. Reynolds, Jewish Advocate for the Young (1859). H. Bonar, Days and Nights in the East (1866) and J.R. Macduff, Memories of Olivet (1868), and many later works.
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ a b
  10. ^ Guy Le Strange, History of Jerusalem under the Moslems from A.D. 650 to 1500, Houghton and Mifflin, Boston 1890
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^ a b
  16. ^ Palestine Post of Aug 20, 1942, p3
  17. ^
  18. ^ Date is adjusted in some Jewish texts to read 422 BCE. See Chronology of the Bible#Rabbinic traditions.
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^ Date is adjusted in some Jewish texts to read 68 CE. See Chronology of the Bible#Rabbinic traditions.
  22. ^ a b
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^ David M. Gitlitz & Linda Kay Davidson "Pilgrimage and the Jews" (Westport: CT: Praeger, 2006)42-.
  26. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Löfgren, Eliel; Barde, Charles; Van Kempen, J. (December 1930). Report of the Commission appointed by His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, with the approval of the Council of the League of Nations, to determine the rights and claims of Moslems and Jews in connection with the Western or Wailing Wall at Jerusalem (UNISPAL doc A/7057-S/8427, February 23, 1968)
  27. ^
  28. ^
  29. ^
  30. ^
  31. ^
  32. ^ a b
  33. ^
  34. ^ Adler preferred the generic translation "western wall" rather than "Western Wall".
  35. ^
  36. ^
  37. ^
  38. ^ a b
  39. ^ a b c
  40. ^ a b c d e f g h
  41. ^
  42. ^
  43. ^ a b Baruch, Yuval. The Mughrabi Gate Access – the Real Story. Israel Antiquities Authority
  44. ^
  45. ^ a b
  46. ^
  47. ^
  48. ^
  49. ^
  50. ^
  51. ^
  52. ^ a b
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  82. ^ Henry Cattan, The Palestine Question, Taylor & Francis, 1988 p.256.
  83. ^ Joost R. Hiltermann, 'Teddy Kollek and the Native Question,' in Annelies Moors, Toine van Teeffelen, Sharif Kanaana, Ilham Abu Ghazaleh (eds.) Discourse and Palestine: Power, Text and Context, Het Spinhuis, 1995 pp.55-65, p.55-6
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  95. ^ Jaffay,Nathan, "Is Western Wall Prayer Platform a Step Forward For Women -- or Back?", The Jewish Daily Forward, 30 August 2013, retrieved 15 June 2014
  96. ^ Pollack, Suzanne, Separate — but not equal, Washington Jewish Week, 28 August 2013, retrieved 16 June 2014.
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  104. ^, Lag B'omer 2009, retrieved March 13, 2011.
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  109. ^ Radbaz Responsa 691: "Under the dome on the Temple Mount, which the Arabs call El-Sakhrah, without a doubt, is the location of the Foundation Stone."; Ya'ari, Avraham: Igrot Eretz Yisrael by Obadiah ben Abraham, Ramat Gan 1971: "I sought the place of the Foundation Stone where the Ark of the Covenant was placed, and many people told me it is under a tall and beautiful dome which the Arabs built in the Temple precinct."
  110. ^ Sternbuch, Moishe Teshuvos Ve-hanhagos Vol. 3, Ch. 39: “In truth they have erred, thinking that the stone upon they built their dome was in fact the Foundation Stone, however, most possibly, the Stone is located further to the south in the open space opposite the exposed section of the Western Wall.”
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  119. ^ See also Kav ha-Yashar Ch. 93 and Shem Ha-gedolim for a similar account with Rabbi Avraham Ha-levi of Safed.
  120. ^ Pirke De-Rabbi Eliezer 35
  121. ^ Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 18:10. The Kaf hachaim (Orach Chaim 94:1:4 citing Radvaz Vol. 2; Ch. 648) rules that if a Jew was forced onto the Temple Mount and the time of prayer arrived while he’s standing between the Western Wall and the place of the Holy of Holies, "he should pray facing towards the Holy of Holies even though his back will be facing the Western Wall."
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  146. ^ Transgendered woman barred from Western Wall prayer Times of Israel, 7 Jan 2015
  147. ^ Moed Katan 26a; Orach Chaim 561; Yoreh Deah 340
  148. ^ Bayit Chadash Orach Chaim 561. (He contends that the city itself is in such a state of disrepair that once a person has reached the hills surrounding Jerusalem, he can immediately view the Western Wall)
  149. ^ Minchas Shlomo Vol. 1, Ch. 73. See also: Tearing keriah for Jerusalem; Ask the Rabbi: Kosel Keriah Archived May 1, 2009 at the Wayback Machine
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  151. ^ Sperling, Avraham Yitzchak (1999). Sefer Tamei Ha-minhagim U’mekorei Ha-dinim; Inyanei Hilula D’Rashbi, p. 270. Jerusalem: Shai Le-morah Publishing.
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  166. ^ Wein, Berel. Triumph of Survival; Section VIII – The Modern Jew 1958–1988, pg. 451.
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  168. ^ Kershner, Isabel: 'Court Rules for Women in Western Wall Dispute' (Apr 11, 2013)"
  169. ^ "Rudoren, Jodi 'Israel to Review Curbs on Women’s Prayer at Western Wall' (Dec 26, 2012)"
  170. ^ Kotel rabbi apologizes to woman denied entry for wearing kippah YNETNews, 7 July 2015
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  176. ^ On Jewish rights to the Western Wall in Jerusalem, Voice of Palestine, June 12, 1998.
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  179. ^ Khaled Abu Toameh. Jews have no right to Western Wall, PA 'study' says, Jerusalem Post, (November 22, 2010).
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See also

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."[181]


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."[180]

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.[179]

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 the roots of the Islamic connection".[178]

“There is not a single stone in the Wailing Wall relating to Jewish History. The Jews cannot legitimately claim this wall, neither religiously nor historically. The Committee of the League of Nations recommended in 1930, to allow the Jews to pray there, in order to keep them quiet. But by no means did it acknowledge that the wall belongs to them.”[177]
— Interviewed by German magazine Die Welt, January 17, 2001

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.[175] PA-appointed Mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Ekrima Sa'id Sabri, believes that the Wall belongs to the Muslims alone.[176] 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 [national] aspirations.” A year later he stated:


"The Western Wall – all its various parts, structures and gates – are an inseparable part of the al-Aqsa compound...The Western Wall is part of Al-Aqsa's western tower, which the Israeli establishment fallaciously and sneakily calls the 'Wailing Wall'. The wall is part of the holy al-Aqsa Mosque".[174]

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".[173] Raed Salah, leader of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel wrote that:

Western Wall and Dome of the Rock.


"The flag that flies over the Kotel is the Israeli flag... Our holy places, the Temple Mount – will remain under Israeli sovereignty forever."[172]
declared: Benyamin Netanyahu in 2009, Israeli Prime Minister Jerusalem Day on yeshivah Mercaz HaRav During a speech at Israel's [171]A poll carried out in 2007 by the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies indicated that 96% of Israeli Jews were against Israel relinquishing the Western Wall.


The Western Wall has recently become a lightning rod for conflict between Israel, where many believe the ultra-Orthodox branch of Judaism has undue influence, and the diaspora, where Jews are much more likely to adhere to non-Orthodox branches of Judaism. In Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist branches of Judaism, women pray with men and often wear kippot and prayer shawls, items that were forbidden for women at the Wall. When women were arrested at the Wall for praying in their fashion, outrage in the diaspora ensued over curbs on religious freedom. The Jewish Agency said the arrests demonstrated 'the urgent need to reach a permanent solution and make the Western Wall once again a symbol of unity among the Jewish people, and not one of discord and strife.”[168] When critics complained that the aggressive enforcement of restrictions on prayer had "turned a national monument into an ultra-Orthodox synagogue,"[169] Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked Natan Sharansky to find ways to make the Wall more accommodating to Jews of all branches. As of July 2015, the issue had not been completely resolved; a Jewish woman was threatened with arrest for wearing a kippah as she approached to pray, and security guards denied her access to the Wall. Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch issued an apology to Linda Siegel-Richman, who lamented "the lack of religious freedom in Israel enjoyed by Jews elsewhere," saying: "I feel sorry for them and for the way they treated me. I can walk around with a kippah anywhere in the United States, and only in Israel I'm not allowed to do it freely?"[170]

In 1994, Shlomo Goren wrote that the tradition of the wall as a Jewish prayer site was only 300 years old, the Jews being compelled to pray there after being forbidden from assembling on the mount itself.[167]

Most Jews, religious and secular, consider the wall to be important to the Jewish people since it was originally built to hold the Second Temple. They consider the capture of the wall by Israel in 1967 as a historic event since it restored Jewish access to the site after a 19-year gap.[166] There are, however, some haredi Jews who hold opposing views. Most notable are the adherents of the Satmar hasidic sect who retain the views espoused by Grand Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum, who would not approach the Wall after the 1967 conquest (although he did visit the site during his visits to the Holy Land in the 1920s).

A Jew praying at the Western Wall



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 refuse dump for Christians.[165] However, the actions of many modern Christian leaders, including Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, who visited the Wall and left prayer messages in its crevices, have symbolized for many Christians a restoration of respect and even veneration for this ancient religious site.[165]


The name Hosh al Buraq appeared on the maps of Wilson's 1865 survey, its revised editions of 1876 and 1900, and other maps in the early 20th century.[163] In 1922, it was the street name specified by the official Pro-Jerusalem Council.[164]

Carl Sandreczki, who was charged with compiling a list of place names for [162]

It is evident from the copy of the record of the deliberations of the Consultative Council in Jerusalem that the place the Jews asked for permission to pave adjoins the wall of the Haram al-Sharif and also the spot where al-Buraq was tethered, and is included in the endowment charter of Abu Madyan, may God bless his memory; that the Jews never carried out any repairs in that place in the past. ... Therefore the Jews must not be enabled to pave the place.[160]

When a British Jew asked the Egyptian authorities in 1840 for permission to re-pave the ground in front of the Western Wall, the governor of Syria wrote:

Islamic reverence for the site is derived from the belief that the prophet Mohammed tied his miraculous steed Buraq nearby during his night journey to Jerusalem. Various places have been suggested for the exact spot where Buraq was tethered, but for several centuries the preferred location has been the al-Buraq mosque, which is just inside the wall at the south end of the present Western Wall plaza. The mosque is located above an ancient passageway, which once came out through the long-sealed Barclay's Gate whose huge lintel is still visible directly below the Maghrebi gate.[159]

South-West corner of the Haram (Wilson, 1865)


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.[40]

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...”.[40] 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.”[40] 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.[157]

The faithful remove their shoes upon approaching the Wall, c1880

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.[156] 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.[40] 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.[40] 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.[157] 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.[158] 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.[111] 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 to walk backwards away from the Wall.[111] On Saturdays, it is forbidden to enter the area with electronic devices, including cameras, which infringe on the sanctity of the Sabbath.

Sanctity of the Wall

[155][154] It has become customary for visiting dignitaries to place notes too.[153] There is a much publicised practice of placing slips of paper containing

Slips of paper containing prayers in the cracks of the Wall

Prayer notes

Her gates are sunk into the ground; he hath destroyed and broken her bars: her king and her princes are among the nations: the law is no more; her prophets also find no vision from the Lord" – Book of Lamentations 2:9

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:

"Our Holy Temple, which was our glory, in which our forefathers praised You, was burned and all of our delights were destroyed".[150]

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.[147] 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.[148] Today, some poskim (Jewish legal 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.[149] A person who has not seen the Wall within the last 30 days should recite:

Tisha B'Av at the Western Wall, 1970s.

Mourning the Temple's Destruction

In January 2015 a transgender Jewish woman, Kay Long, was denied access to the Wall, first by the women's section and then by the men's section.[144][145] Long's presence was prevented by “modesty police” at women’s section who are not associated with the rabbi of the Western Wall or the site administration. They are a group of female volunteers who guard the entrance to the women’s section preventing entry to visitors are not dressed to their idea of Orthodox modesty standards for women. The director of Jerusalem’s Open House, a community center for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, noted that Long’s experience was not unique. “Gender separation at the Western Wall is harmful for transgender people. This is not the first story that we know of with transgender religious people that wanted to go to the Western Wall and pray and couldn’t,” said Elinor Sidi, who expects that the battle for access to the Western Wall for the GLBTQ community will be a long and difficult one.[146]

The Wall and transgender individuals

Guide dogs began to be allowed at the Western Wall in 2013, due to a new ruling by Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch.[143]

The Wall and prayer by people with disabilities

Visitors to the Wall in the 19th century did not note any formal segregation of men and women.[135] In 1928 British soldiers intervened and took down a mechitza that some Jews had erected to separate men from women. However, from the time the Law of the Holy Places was imposed on the wall until 2013, non-Orthodox practice was not allowed at the Wall due to the regulations of the Law of the Holy Places, and thus women who prayed using tallits and tefillin were often arrested and given restraining orders keeping them away.[136] Then in April 2013, Judge Moshe Sobel of the Jerusalem District Court ruled that as long as there is no other appropriate area for pluralistic prayer, women should be allowed to pray according to non-Orthodox customs at the Wall.[136] As of 2014, negotiations are ongoing with a view to creating an area for pluralistic prayer at the Wall, and officially nullifying the regulations that disallowed non-Orthodox prayer there.[136] Women of the Wall has been campaigning for "women's free prayer at the Western Wall" since 1988.[137][138] In October 2014, Women of the Wall smuggled a miniature Torah scroll into the Western Wall women's section and held their first Torah reading by a woman at the site, as part of a bat mitzvah.[139] However, Shmuel Rabinowitz, the rabbi of the Western Wall, issued a statement saying in part, "In future, efforts will be made to ensure that this does not happen again, and the introduction of Torah scrolls will be banned for everyone – men and women."[139] In December 2014, women lit menorahs at the Wall for the first time.[140] Specifically, they lit 28 menorahs in the women's section of the Wall.[140] Sarah Silverman was among those who attended the lighting of the menorahs.[140] However, this event came after the rabbi in charge of the Wall had refused a request from Women of the Wall to place a menorah in the women’s section.[140] On April 20, 2015, for the first time, some of the Women of the Wall read from a full-size Torah scroll during the group's monthly prayer service at the Wall. Torah scrolls at the Wall are normally stored in the men’s section, which women are forbidden from entering. But on April 20 a group of male Jewish sympathizers handed a full-size Torah scroll over to Women of the Wall leaders. Some Haredi Orthodox men who had been praying at the Wall attacked the male sympathizers and tried to take the Torah scroll away from the women, but the attacking men were reportedly removed by the police, and the women were able to complete their prayer service.[141][142]

Women's prayer at the 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.”[130] On October 13, 1994, 50,000 gathered to pray for the safe return of kidnapped soldier Nachshon Wachsman.[131] 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.[132] 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.[133] During the month of Tishrei 2009, a record 1.5 million people visited the site.[134]

[129] on their way to pray by the Western Wall.tefillin and tallit records that Ashkenazim and Sephardim were accustomed to walking through the streets and markets of the Old City wearing their Kaf hachaim The [128]. 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."Ladino community in Jerusalem recalled how men and women used to gather in a circle at the Wall to hear sermons delivered in Sephardic Isaac Yahuda, a prominent member of the [26] 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.
The Wailing Wall in the ruins of the Jerusalem Temple, E. Berninger, Gartenlaube 1879.

The Scroll of Ahimaaz, a historical document written in 1050 CE, distinctly describes the Western Wall as a place of prayer for the Jews.[125] 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".[126] 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."[127] In 1625 "arranged prayers" at the Wall are mentioned for the first time by a scholar whose name has not been preserved.[26] 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 1699.

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”.[120] Jewish Law dictates that when Jews pray the Silent Prayer, they should face towards Jerusalem, the Temple and ultimately the Holy of Holies,[121] as all of God’s bounty and blessing emanates from that spot.[111] According to the Mishna, of all the four walls of the Temple Mount, the Western Wall was the closest to the Holy of Holies,[122] and therefore that to pray by the Wall is particularly beneficial.[111] 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 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."[40] A well-known segula (efficacious remedy) for finding one's mate is to pray for 40 consecutive days at the Western Wall.[123] This practice was apparently conceived by Rabbi Yisroel Yaakov Fisher.[124]

Women at prayer, early 20th century

Prayer at the Wall

Jewish sources, including the Zohar, write that the Divine Presence rests upon the Western Wall.[116] The Midrash quotes a 4th-century scholar: “Rav Acha said that the Divine Presence has never moved away from the Western Wall”.[117] 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”.[118] It is told that great Jewish sages, including Isaac Luria and the Radvaz, experienced a revelation of the Divine Presence at the wall.[119]

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.[115]

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.[111] Jewish midrashic texts compiled in Late Antiquity refer to a western wall of the Temple which “would never be destroyed.”[4] 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.[112] 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.[113] 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.[114]

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,[109] some rabbis say it is located directly opposite the exposed section of the Western Wall, near the El-kas fountain.[110] This spot was the site of the Holy of Holies when the Temple stood.

"Jews' Place of Wailing, 1844". (1860 engraving)


Theology and ritual

After the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, Rabbi Yehuda Meir Getz was named the overseer of proceedings at the wall.[107] After Rabbi Getz's death in 1995, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz was given the position.[108]

Rabbis of the wall

A number of special worship events have been held since the renovation. They have taken advantage of the cover, temperature control,[103] and enhanced security.[104] 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.[105][106]

Asst. U.S. Sixth Fleet Chaplain Rabbi Arnold Resnicoff leads an unusual interfaith service

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.[102] 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.[102]

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.[98] A new room was also built for the scribes who maintain and preserve the Torah scrolls used at the Wall.[98] New construction also included a women's section,[100] 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.[101]

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.[98][99]

Torah Ark inside men's section of Wilson's Arch

Wilson's Arch

In April 2013, Jewish Agency for Israel leader Natan Sharansky spearheaded a concept that would expand and renovate the Robinson's Arch area into an area where people may "perform worship rituals not based on the Orthodox interpretation of Jewish tradition."[94] On 25 August 2013, a new 4,480 square foot prayer platform named "Azarat Yisrael Plaza" was completed as part of this plan, with access to the platform at all hours, even when the rest of the area's archeological park is closed to visitors.[95][96] After some controversy regarding the question of authority over this prayer area, the announcement was made that it would come under the authority of a future government-appointed "pluralist council" that would include non-Orthodox representatives.[97]

Azarat Yisrael Plaza (prayer platform), Robinson's Arch, opened August 2013

The Isaiah Stone, located under Robinson's Arch, has a carved inscription in Hebrew from Isaiah 66:14: וראיתם ושש לבכם ועצמותיכם כדשא תפרחנה ("And when ye see this your heart shall rejoice and your bones shall flourish like an herb").

Replica of the verse carved in the Isaiah Stone

In November 2010, the government approved a NIS 85m ($23m) scheme to improve access and infrastructure at the site.[93]

The need for such an area became apparent when 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.[92] 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.

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.[91] 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.[91]

The remains of Robinson's Arch above excavated remnants of the ancient street below.

Robinson's Arch

Conflicts over prayer at the national monument began little more than a year after Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War once again made site accessible to Jews. In July 1968 the [90]

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. 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.

The dusty plaza stretched from the wall to the Jewish Quarter. The small, approximately 120 square metres (1,300 sq ft) pre-1967 area in front of the wall grew to 2,400 square metres (26,000 sq ft), with the entire Western Wall Plaza covering 20,000 square metres (4.9 acres).[89]

A complex of buildings against the wall at the southern end of the plaza, that included Madrasa Fakhriya and the house that the Abu al-Sa'ud family had occupied since the 16th century, were spared in the 1967 destruction, but demolished in 1969.[87][88] The section of the wall dedicated to prayers was thus extended southwards to double its original length, from 28 to 60 metres (92 to 197 ft), while the 4 metres (13 ft) space facing the wall grew to 40 metres (130 ft).

Several months later, the pavement close to the wall was excavated to a depth of two and half meters, exposing an additional two courses of large stones.[86]

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.[85]

When we visited the Wailing Wall we found a toilet attached to it ... we decided to remove it and from this we came to the conclusion that we could evacuate the entire area in front of the Wailing Wall ... a historical opportunity that will never return ... We knew that the following Saturday, June 14, would be the Jewish festival of Shavuot and that many will want to come to pray ... it all had to be completed by then.[84]

According to Eyal Weizman, Chaim Herzog, who later became Israel's sixth president, took much of the credit for the destruction of the neighbourhood:

Forty-eight hours after capturing the wall, the military, without explicit government order, hastily proceeded to demolish the entire Moroccan Quarter which stood 4 metres (13 ft) from the Wall. The Sheikh Eid Mosque, which was built over one of Jerusalem's oldest Islamic schools, the Afdiliyeh, named after one of Saladin's sons, was pulled down to make way for the plaza. It was one of three or four that survived from Saladin's time.[79] 650 people consisting of 106 Arab families were ordered to leave their homes at night. When they refused, bulldozers began to demolish the structures, causing casualties. One old woman was buried under the houses as the bulldozer razed the area.[80][81][82][83]

"There was one moment in the Six-Day War which symbolized the great victory: that was the moment in which the first paratroopers — under Gur's command — reached the stones of the Western Wall, feeling the emotion of the place; there never was, and never will be, another moment like it. Nobody staged that moment. Nobody planned it in advance. Nobody prepared it and nobody was prepared for it; it was as if Providence had directed the whole thing: the paratroopers weeping — loudly and in pain — over their comrades who had fallen along the way, the words of the Kaddish prayer heard by Western Wall's stones after 19 years of silence, tears of mourning, shouts of joy, and the singing of "Hatikvah"".[78]

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:

The iconic image of Israeli soldiers shortly after the capture of the Wall during the Six-Day War.

Israeli rule 1967–present

During the Jordanian rule of the Old City, a ceramic street sign in Arabic and English was affixed to the stones of the ancient wall. Attached 2.1 metres (6 ft 11 in) up, it was made up of eight separate ceramic tiles and said Al Buraq Road 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.[74] 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.[75] This act signaled the climax of the capture of the Old City and the ability of Jews to once again access their holiest sites.[76] Emotional recollections of this event are related by David ben Gurion and Shimon Peres.[77]

"Al Buraq (Wailing Wall) Rd" sign

During the 1948 Arab-Israeli War the Old City together with the Wall was controlled 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.[70][71] An exception was made for Christians to participate in Christmas ceremonies in Bethlehem.[71] 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.[72] 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.[73]

Jordanian rule 1948–67

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.[26] 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.”[58] 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. The Shaw commission determined that the violence occurred due to "racial animosity on the part of the Arabs, consequent upon the disappointment of their political and national aspirations and fear for their economic future."

Members of the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry at the Western Wall, 1946
”Being judged before you today stands a nation that has been deprived of everything that is dear and sacred to it from its emergence in its own land – the graves of its patriarchs, the graves of its great kings, the graves of its holy prophets and, above all, the site of its glorious Temple. Everything has been taken from it and of all the witnesses to its sanctity, only one vestige remains – one side of a tiny portion of a wall, which, on one side, borders the place of its former Temple. In front of this bare stone wall, that nation stands under the open sky, in the heat of summer and in the rains of winter, and pours out its heart to its God in heaven.”[65]

David Yellin, Head of the Hebrew Teachers Seminary, member of the Ottoman parliament, and one of the first public figures to join the Zionist movement openly,[69] testified before the Commission. He stated:

The Commission noted that 'the Jews do not claim any proprietorship to the Wall or to the Pavement in front of it (concluding speech of Jewish Counsel, Minutes, page 908).'

  • 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.

The Jews requested that the Commission take the following actions:

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", and to determine the causes of the violence and prevent it in the future. The League of Nations approved the commission on condition that the members were not British.

1930 international commission

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 Hebron massacre.[68] 133 Jews were killed and 339 injured in the Arab riots, and in the subsequent process of quelling the riots 110 Arabs were killed by British police. This was by far the deadliest attack on Jews during the period of British Rule over Palestine.

In the summer of 1929, the Mufti Haj Amin Al Husseinni 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.[65]

1929 Palestine riots

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.”[67]

A British inquiry into the disturbances and investigation regarding the principal 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.[65] 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.”[66]

British police at the wailing wall, 1934
British police post at the entrance to the Western Wall, 1933

The Jews protested and tensions increased. [64][63] directly next to the Wall. These were seen as a provocation by the Jews who prayed at the Wall.Sufi rites and Islamic call to prayer was appointed to perform the muezzin The British granted the Arabs permission to convert a building adjoining the Wall into a mosque and to add a minaret. A [62]

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