Posted by: Elena's Israel Blog | 12/16/2010

THE WONDERFUL WALL

In Jerusalem The Kotel, or Western Wall, a retaining wall by Mount Moriah, formerly called the Wailing Wall is the only accessible part of the Temple Mount, where the first and second Jewish temples existed in past times. It is in the midst of the Old City in Jerusalem and is the only section of the Western supporting wall of the Temple Mount which has remained intact since the destruction of the Second Jerusalem Temple (70 C.E.). I have been there twice now and have prayed at the Wall. This is a place where you can find the religious and secular, tourists, soldiers, rich, poor, lame, scholarly, simple-minded, Jews, gentiles waiting in lines to approach the wall with small pieces of paper where they have written prayer requests to God, which they place in the cracks of the Wall. You may see a bar mitzvah taking place, or shawl-draped men lifting up open scrolls, or you may hear shofars (trumpets made of ram’s horns) being blown. It is the holiest place on earth, and you can even get close to the place where the Holy of Holies, which contained the Ark of the Covenant, was placed if you go through the underground tunnel alongside the wall. I did this and it was a very moving experience. God’s real presence at one time rested in that place and only the High Priest was allowed to go into it and live. To approach the Wall, you should be wearing a head covering, either a kippah (skullcap) or other kind of hat, and when leaving, you should back away, not turning your back to the Wall.

There are always people at the Wall, both day and night. In fact, if you click on  http://english.thekotel.org/cameras.asp you will see and hear a live webcam of the Wall and its visitors right now!

The Temple Mount is believed to be the site of the Garden of Eden, the site of Abraham’s almost sacrifice of Isaac, also the ‘gate of heaven’ where Jacob dreamed of angels ascending and descending from heaven (Gen. 28:17), and it is God’s specially chosen place. David the psalmist and king wrote ‘For the LORD has chosen Zion; He has desired it for His dwelling place” (Ps. 132:13) and this: “This is My resting place forever; here I will dwell, for I have desired it” (Ps. 132:14).

At present the muslim Dome of the Rock Mosque stands on the holy mountain. But one day the Jewish temple will be rebuilt there according to scripture. I visited the Temple Institute where I was shown the plans, the artifacts which are being restored and/or re-fabricated according to biblical specifications, and are waiting for the time when the Temple will be rebuilt. Priests are being trained in the sacrificial rites; the Sanhedrin (governing body) has been re-established, all in waiting for God’s perfect timing.

An early Jewish text, the Genesis Rabba, states that this site is one of three about which the nations of the world cannot taunt Israel and say “you have stolen them,” since it was purchased “for its full price” by David. David wanted to construct a sanctuary there, but this was left to his son Solomon, who completed the task in c. 957 BCE with the construction of the First Temple. King Solomon reigned from c.970 to c.930 BCE). As the sole place of Jewish sacrifice, the Temple replaced the portable sanctuary (tabernacle) constructed in the Sinai Desert under the auspices of Moses, as well as local sanctuaries, and altars in the hills. The First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE when they sacked the city and exiled the Jews to Babylon.

The Second Temple stood between 516 BCE and 70 CE, during which time it was the center of Jewish sacrificial worship. It was built to replace the First Temple. The accession of Cyrus the Great of Persia in 538 BCE made the re-establishment of the city of Jerusalem and the rebuilding of the Temple possible. According to the Bible, when the Jewish exiles returned to Jerusalem following a decree from Cyrus the Great (Ezra 1:1-4, 2 Chron 36:22-23), construction started at the original site, which had remained a devastated heap during the approximate 70 years of captivity (Dan. 9:1-2). After a relatively brief halt, brought about by peoples who had filled the vacuum during the Jewish captivity (Ezra 4), work resumed circa 521 BCE under the Persian King Darius (Ezra 5) and was completed during the sixth year of his reign (circa 515 BCE), with the temple dedication taking place the following year. Around 19 BCE, Herod the Great renovated the Temple, which became known as Herod’s Temple.

Due to religious restrictions on entering the most sacred areas of the Temple Mount, the Western Wall, a remnant of the Second Temple structure, is considered by some rabbinical authorities the holiest accessible site for Jews to pray. Jewish texts record that the Mount will be the site of the Third Temple, which will be rebuilt with the coming of the Jewish Messiah. (from Wikipedia)

The Wall became a center of mourning over the destruction of the Temple and Israel’s exile, on the one hand, and of religious – in 20th century also national – communion with the memory of Israel’s former glory and the hope for its restoration, on the other. Because of the former association, it became known in European languages as the “Wailing Wall”.

In the period of the British Mandate there were numerous clashes around the Western Wall between Jews and Moslems. After the Balfour Declaration had given the Jews a recognized national status in the Land of Israel, the Western Wall gained national significance among the Jews together with the traditional religious significance. On the other hand, the Arab mufti started to incite his community against the Zionists who, he claimed, intended to seize control of the Wall. In order to antagonize the Jews, the mufti ordered the opening of a gate at the southern end of the street thus converting in into a thoroughfare for passersby and animals. In addition the Muslims deliberately held loud-voiced ceremonies in the vicinity. They also complained again about the placing of accessories of worship near the Wall, and a partition between men and women was removed by the British police on Yom Kippur of 1928. In August 1929 an instigated muslim crowd rioted among the worshipers and destroyed ritual objects. This unrest was followed by riots a few days later.

The British set up a committee of inquiry and consequently an international committee (consisting of a Swede, a Swiss, and a Dutchman) was appointed by the League of Nations to resolve “the problem of the Wall”. It was conducted in Jerusalem, in summer of 1930, “the trial of the Wall”. The commission concluded that the muslims had absolute ownership of the Wall. However, the Jews had the uncontested right to worship and to place seats in the street, though not to blow the shofar there. The Arabs objected, and the Jews agreed, except for the last point, considering it a humiliation. Each year nationalist youths would blow the shofar near the wall at the termination of Yom Kippur, which would always lead to the intervention of the British police.

From December 1947, after bloody incidents with the Arabs, Jews were no longer able to approach the Wall. After the capitulation of the Jewish Quarter of the Old City in May 1948, Jews were prevented for 19 years from even looking at the Wall from afar, in spite of a paragraph in the cease-fire agreement granting freedom of access to the holy places.

The Wall was liberated on the third day of the Six-Day war (June 7, 1967) by Israel’s parachutists breaking through the “bloody gate” which the mufti had opened. The Moghrabi quarter was immediately demolished, and on the first day of Shavuot (Pentacost), a quarter million Jews swarmed to the place. Subsequently the buildings placed against the Wall in its continuation southward were removed. The entire cleared area in front of the Western Wall was leveled and converted into a large paved open space. The lower square near the Wall is the prayer area, where one may find people praying or studying, either singly or in groups, 24 hours a day throughout the year. The surface of the wall, from the pavement and up to the man’s height, differs by the color and feels differently – it is polished by human hands that touched it in prayers through the centuries.

If you click on “Israel Travel” in this blog, you will see photos from my trips showing the Western Wall and a model of the Second Temple.

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