The Western Wall, Hakotel Hammaravi in Hebrew, is the holiest Jewish site in the world today and an inseparable part of the history of the Jewish people. It is also known as the Wailing Wall for many Jews come to this site to pray and express their deepest emotions.
It is believed that from this place the Prophet Muhammad ascended into heaven on his miraculous Night Journey, also known as Isra and Mi’raj. According to Muslim tradition, that night marks the true spiritual beginning of the entire world. From here also our tour begins.
Our tour of the Western Wall begins with Temple Menorah – the official emblem of the State of Israel and a symbol of the Jewish faith. We will then continue down to the Western Wall and its surrounding area and learn about this important heritage site. Our tour will end with the reconstruction of the Second Temple, realizing the 2000 year old Jewish dream.
The Temple Menorah
This remarkable golden Menorah is a replica of the Menorah which once stood in the temple. The finest olive oil was used to light its seven lamps which burned from morning to evening. According to Jewish faith, Moses was ordered by God to construct the Menorah, as it is written in the ‘Torah’, the Old Testament:
‘’And you shall make a menorah of pure gold; it shall be made of beaten work: Its base, stem and cups, spheres and flowers must all be hammered out of a single piece of gold. And six branches shall extend from its sides, three branches of the menorah out of one side, and three branches out of the other side’’
This Menorah was produced by the Temple institute according to the biblical specification so it could be used when the Temple will be rebuilt. The Menorah weighs 24 Kg and is carved out of one piece of bronze plated with pure gold. Some say that the menorah’s light was so infinite that it ascended outside the temple and lit every house in Jerusalem.
The Stairs – lookout at the Western Wall
The Western Wall dates back over 2000 years and is the only remnant of what was once a glorious compound built by King Herod on the Mount Moriah, known today as the Temple Mount. At the peak of the mount, where the Dome of the Rock is today, stood the magnificent crown jewel of the Jewish nation– the Second Temple, ‘Beit HaMikdash’.
In 70 AD Jerusalem and the Temple were completely destroyed by the Roman Empire and the Jewish people were dispersed amongst the nations. Throughout 2000 years of exile, Jews all over the world directed their prayers to the Temple Mount yearning for the return to the Promised Land and the rebuilding of the Temple.
As the only relic of the Temple, the Western Wall has since become a symbol of God’s promise to gather the people of Israel to the Promised Land where he will once again build his home – the Temple. As it is written in the book of Deuteronomy:
…”The Lord your God will bring you back from captivity, and have compassion on you, and gather you again from all the nations… out to the farthest parts under heaven, from there the Lord your God will gather you, and from there He will bring you to the land which your fathers possessed, and which you shall possess”…
Despite only being one of four outer retaining walls of the Temple Mount, it is the closest site to the Temple mount which is accessible to Jews today. For this reason, the Western Wall became the highest point of Jewish pilgrimage and worship. It has become a place where Jews can mourn over the ruin of the temple and come close to where the ‘Holy of Holies’ - The sacred inner-Temple chamber which housed the divine presence of God, once stood. It is regarded as an eternal symbol of the Israeli nation.
The Western Wall Plaza
The Western Wall Plaza accommodates thousands of visitors and worshippers every day. Men and Women of every kind come here to pray and express their wishes and hopes to God above. During the high holidays and on special occasions, over 50,000 people fill the plaza. National events such as the Israeli Remembrance Day and Independence Day ceremonies take place here. In addition, military ceremonies and religious rituals can be seen here throughout the year and it is not uncommon to find a boy celebrating his Bar Mitzvah beside a soldier swearing allegiance to the State of Israel.
The area by the Western Wall is divided into two sections – the Men section and the Women section. In Jewish tradition, men and women pray separately in order to keep the minds pure of improper thoughts.
The total height of the Wall from its foundation is estimated at 105 feet (32 m). The Wall consists of 45 stone courses, 28 of them above ground and 17 underground.
The Facade of the Al-Aqsa Mosque
Prior to our enterance to, we are greeted by an impressive façade. The entrance is enveloped with stone gates, arches, niches and pillars. Along the façade, you can notice fourteen stone arches.
The mosque was built in the 8th century by Caliph al-Walid, the son of the builder of the Dome of the Rock, who is considered the greatest builder of the Umayyad dynasty. To enter to the holy mosque we must walk through the centeral arch.
The stones of the Western Wall are designed in a typical Herodian style: they support one another by weight alone and no cement was used. As you can see, the stones grow smaller as the wall rises higher. This was the technique used to cope with the immense weight of the stones and the difficulty of placing them at such heights. The upper layers of the wall were added in a later period after the Muslim conquest of Jerusalem.
The Western Wall
You are now standing in front of the Western Wall, the closest place to where once lay the ‘Holy of Holies’- the chamber inside the Temple, traditionally believed to have housed the ‘Ark of the Covenant’.
It is for this reason that over the past 350 years, the Western Wall has become the site for Jewish ritual and worship as well as a national symbol for the state of Israel and the return to the Promised Land after 2000 years of exile.
Many believe that the divine presence of God never leaves this site and so at every hour of every night and day Jews come to the wall to pray, cry and open their hearts to God. This is why the Western Wall is also often named “The Wailing Wall”. The cracks between the ancient stones of the Wall are overflowing with small paper notes carrying the hopes and wishes of millions of people. According to Jewish tradition, prayers ascend directly to heaven from the Western Wall.
The Western Wall saw many regimes come and go - from the Roman Empire to the Jordanian rule, but hadn’t been under Jewish control until June 7th, 1967. On this fateful day, the Israeli Defense Force, led by Mota Gur, conquered east Jerusalem from the Jordanian legions and for the first time since 70 AD, the holy Jewish site was under Jewish jurisdiction. His famous cry of victory: “’The Temple Mount is in our hands!’’ along with the photo of three deeply moved Israeli Paratroopers standing by the Wall, became everlasting icons of the historic event.
Wilson’s Arch is an ancient stone arch that was part of a series of arches that supported a bridge that connected between the Temple Mount and the Upper City. It was named after the British explorer Charles William Wilson, who identified the arch in 1864. The striking size of Wilson’s Arch that once spanned 42 feet along with enormous stones, serve as a reminder of the astounding building expertise of King Herod.
Today Wilson’s Arch serves as a synagogue and contains many Torah Scrolls used for Bar-Mitzvah’s, weekday and Shabbat services. Many different prayer groups, or ‘Minyans’, can be seen conducting services simultaneously and almost at any hour one can find a ‘Minyan’ to join.
We now continue to The Jerusalem Archaeological Park and the Robinson’s arch, where we will witness the glory and magnificence of the Second Temple as it rises from the ruins.
The Jerusalem Archaeological Park
The Jerusalem Archeological Park, located just south of the Western Wall, is considered Israel’s most important antiquity site. Over 5000 years of History can be seen here, however the park is most famous for the ample Second Temple Period artifacts and structures discovered in the area. The unveiling of ancient roads, houses and market places built by King Herod make it possible to travel back in time to the days of King David and Solomon.
The Jerusalem Archeological Park spans from the Temple Mount to the Valley of Hinnom and the foot of the Mount of Olives. The site includes excavations and finding from the ancient Bronze period and Canaanite Age which date back to the third Millennium BC, to our modern day.
Here, at the southern part of the Western Wall, you can see the remains of what is called Robinson’s Arch. It was named after the American scholar, Edward Robinson, who first identified it in 1838. Robinson’s Arch is the only remnant from the great arched stairway that led to Temple Mount and served as a major entrance point for thousands of pilgrims who came from all corners of the land to the Temple in Jerusalem, to offer sacrifice to God.
With a bit of imagination and a touch of technology, we might be able to see the Temple come back to life before our eyes...
As can be seen in the excavations, a wide roman street passed underneath the arch. The frames of stores and exchange shops are still visible today and indicate that this was once a busy market street, hustling and bustling with merchants and worshippers.
Haram al-Sharif, the holiest mountain in the world, is a sacred and virtually inaccessible site. As Mujir al-Dins' described Haram Al Sharif.
Among the many artifacts discovered at this site, is a stone carrying the inscription: “to the trumpeting place”. This stone stood at the top south-western corner of the Temple Mount Wall and was the spot from which a trumpet would sound, declaring the entrance of the Sabbath and holidays. The original stone can be found in the Israel Museum.
Beit HaMikdash, The Jewish Temple, was one of the most impressive and awe inspiring structures of that time. Its beauty is even referenced to in the Talmud, as it is said: “Whoever has not seen Beit Hamikdash standing high, has never seen splendor in his life”. It was designed by Herod to strike reverence into all those who come to Jerusalem and was a tribute to the accomplishments of man and the greatness of God.
The temple was the center of the Jewish spiritual world. It was built on the site believed to be where Abraham nearly scarified his only son Isaac as a test of faith. It in the temple that the ‘Holy of the Holies’, Kodesh haKodashim, once was. Only the high priest was allowed into the ‘Holy of Holies’, and even he was only permitted to enter on the most sacred Jewish day, the ‘Day of Atonement’ – Yom Kippur.
The destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 70 AD marked the end of sacrificial Judaism and introduced the new era of Rabbinic Judaism, which is practiced to this day. Nonetheless, the dream of building the Third Temple never ceased to exist in the hearts of the Jewish people and it remains part of every prayer and ceremony in Judaism.
The Western Wall is the most sacred site in modern day Judaism. The Western Wall represents the past - a people destined to be divided and dispersed around the globe; the present – a nation which grew strong, founded a state and fulfilled the long awaited return to Zion; and perhaps most of all, it represents the future – the hope for redemption and everlasting peace. As it is written in the book of Isaiah:
“Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the Lord’s temple shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it.…and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they know war anymore”