What is Jerusalem’s Wailing Wall?
Jerusalem’s Wailing Wall, or Western Wall as it is known in Hebrew (כתל המערבי/KOE-tehl ha-mah-ah-ra-VEE), is one of the holiest sites in the world. Today, it is the only remnant of the holy edifice that stood on the Temple Mount.
Why is it called the Wailing Wall?
This name is actually a translation of the Arabic term el-Mabka, which means “place of weeping,” and is the traditional Arab moniker for the wall. This description originated based on the Jewish practice of mourning the destruction of the Temple and praying for its rebuilding at the site of the Western Wall.
What is the significance of the Western Wall?
The Wall is adjacent to the location of many critical events in Jewish history. Here, Abraham demonstrated his devotion to God through his willingness to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac. This is the location where Isaac went to pray before meeting Rebecca, and where Jacob dreamed of the famous ladder reaching the Heavens. This is also the very place where the Holy Temple would eventually be built. In the present day, the Temple Mount still stands in this location, bereft without a Temple for all the nations of the world. From these events onward, Jerusalem has maintained its pivotal importance to the Jewish people. As scripture proclaims in Psalms 137:5-6, “If I forget thee O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill. May my tongue cling to my palate if I do not remember you, if I do not bring up Jerusalem at the beginning of my joy.” Indeed, Jerusalem is mentioned 349 times by name in the Tanakh, the Jewish Bible, demonstrating its centrality to Judaism.
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Our Sages teach that despite the destruction of the First and Second Holy Temples, the Presence of G-d has never left this place. It should come as no surprise that for thousands of years Jews have gathered at the Western Wall to pray and connect to the holiness that is ever-present at this site. The abundance of tears shed and sincere entreaties to G-d that have been expressed at the Western Wall continue to bring more holiness and sanctity to the place. The depth and power flows, as we link ourselves back to a long chain of ancestors whose genuine cries have influenced the entire world.
Of course, one need not be Jewish to experience the spirituality of the Wall, as visiting it is a unique experience for people of every background. Just as the Holy Temple was the conduit through which every human being could connect to the One Above, so too the Western Wall provides people of every nationality and creed a physical location to pour their hearts out to God.
Who built the Western Wall?
The Western Wall was built by King Herod in the Hebrew year 3741 (20 B.C.E.), as the supporting western wall of the Second Holy Temple. As Israel’s monarch, King Herod was also one of the world’s greatest builders. He renovated the Temple on a magnificent scale, making Jerusalem his capital city. One of his primary motives in building the Temple was to appease his more pious subjects, whose sensibilities and morals he had frequently outraged. Our Sages tell us that one who has not seen this building has never seen a beautiful building in his life.
Stones of the Western Wall
The Western Wall is composed of three types of Jerusalem stone, each from a different time period. Interestingly, almost half of the stones of the Wall are underground and invisible. Each stone of the first seven layers above ground is enormous, weighing between two and seven tons. This section was constructed in the Second Temple period during King Herod’s reign. The section of rocks above this consists of significantly smaller rocks which date back to the Muslim period in the eighth century. The top layers consist of small stones dating from the thirteenth to the sixteenth centuries.
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