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The Western Wall: Place of Tears, Prayer and Conflict

“Here am I, and the children the LORD has given me.  We are signs and symbols in Israel from the LORD Almighty, who dwells on Mount Zion.”  (Isaiah 8:18)

After the Romans captured Jerusalem in AD 70, they toppled the stones of the Second Temple leaving only remnants of the four Temple Mount retaining walls.

These were the walls that Herod built in 19 BC.  It was an ambitious project to double the area of the Temple Mount; the walls alone are said to have taken 11 years to build.

Temple Mount, Fortress

Herod expanded the platform for the Temple Mount by creating a colossal box made of stone walls.

Before that project, the Temple Mount had been limited to the smaller area of Mount Moriah, the highest point being the Foundation Stone, which is the traditional location of the creation of Adam, the binding of Isaac, and the Holy of Holies.  (MFA)

Herod essentially built an immense box around the original Temple Mount and leveled the area inside it, creating an enormous new platform.

It was a remarkable feat of engineering.

And from before that time and since, Herod’s Temple has been the most magnificent structure ever built in Jerusalem.

Dome of The Rock, Jerusalem

The Muslim Dome of the Rock, which is on the Temple Mount above the Western Wall Plaza, covers the Foundation Stone, the traditional location of the Holy of Holies.

The Second Temple became a central feature in the events recorded in the Brit Chadashah (New Testament).

Miriam (Mary) and Yosef (Joseph) presented Yeshua (Jesus) in Herod’s Temple 40 days after His birth; there, Simeon and Anna recognized Him as the Messiah and Redeemer of Israel.  (Luke 2:22–40)

At age 12, Yeshua stayed in the Temple discussing questions related to the Torah, and His understanding caused everyone to marvel.  (Luke 2:41–52)

He had such a reverence for God’s Holy Temple that He cleared it of the money changers.  (Matthew 21:12–13)

But when His talmudim (disciples) called attention to the splendid buildings on the Temple Mount, Yeshua warned them of the coming destruction of this grand, awe-inspiring Temple, saying, “Do you not see all these things?  Truly I say to you, not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down.”  (Matthew 24:2)

This prophecy was fulfilled about 40 years later.

An Orthodox Jewish man prays earnestly at the Western Wall

An Orthodox Jewish man prays earnestly at the Western Wall, which is considered holy because of its physical proximity to the location of the Holy of Holies on the Temple Mount 2,000 years ago.  Over time, the Wall has become symbolic of the entire Temple.

A Shadow of the Temple’s Former Glory

The Temple Mount walls are quite impressive by today’s wall-building standards.

They are five meters thick, founded on bedrock, and made of massive stones weighing an average of about 10 tons each.  The stones are so precisely carved that they fit together tightly, without mortar.

We do not have the know-how today to create such walls or move such large stones without the aid of machinery.

To the Roman soldiers, however, these walls were mere shadows in comparison to the majestic Second Temple that stood atop Herod’s grand platform on Mount Moriah.

The Roman soldiers burned and destroyed the Temple Mount, and the walls around the Mount were essentially buried behind the colossal rubble of the stones toppled from above.

Western Walls-Romans-Temple Mount.

Western Walls stones dropped by the Romans from the Temple Mount.

In The Jewish War, the Roman-Jewish historian Josephus described the Temple’s ruin:

“It was so thoroughly laid even with the ground by those that dug it up to the foundation, that there was left nothing to make those that came thither believe it had ever been inhabited.  This was the end which Jerusalem came to.”

However, Josephus also explained that the Western Wall was intentionally left intact to provide a kind of fort for the soldiers and to “demonstrate to posterity what kind of city it was, and how well fortified, which the Roman valour had subdued.”

With the Roman conquest, the Jewish People were barred from entering Jerusalem.

Over time, the areas beside these retaining walls were covered over, and buildings were constructed on top of the ruins. 

Jerusalem-Israel-Kotel Plaza-Wailing Wall-crowd-worship

The Western Wall Plaza can accommodate the huge crowd of worshipers which gather regularly, especially on Jewish holidays.

For 2,000 years, the portion of the Western WallHaKotel HaMa’aravi—that was left exposed came to be very significant once the Jewish People regained access to the Holy City.

Since it was all that was left of the Temple, it quickly became the holiest spot in Jewish life.

Because it was close to the original location of the Temple’s Holy of Holies, the Wall became a place of prayer and yearning for generations of Jews everywhere.

Throughout the centuries, the Kotel has been the first stop for Jews making a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  Although in ruins, it remained impressive.

The 15th century Italian Rabbi Ovadia of Bartenura, who had immigrated to the Land of Israel, commented on the majesty of the wall.

“The Western Wall, which still exists … Its stones are large and thick.  I have not seen stones of that size in any ancient building, not in Rome and not in any other land,” he wrote.  (HaAretz) 

Prayer at the Western Wall

Prayer at the Western Wall

That is not to say the Jewish People were always welcomed at the Wall.

The remnant living in the Land and Jewish pilgrims visiting the Wall met with resistance.  There were stretches, in fact, where they were not allowed to come at all.

For about 1,000 years under Muslim rule, to further humiliate the Jewish People, the Wall area was transformed into a garbage dump.

In the late 16th century, Suleiman the Magnificent permitted Jews to worship at the Western Wall, but the prayer area itself was hemmed in by a slum and a parallel wall.

The heartfelt prayers and mourning by visitors at the Western Wall for the Temple led the Muslims to call the Wall in Arabic El-Mabka (the Place of Weeping).

While Gentiles came to call the site the “Wailing Wall,” this term is not used by Orthodox Jews.

Moroccan-Quarter-Western-Wall-Jerusalem-Old

The Moroccan Quarter or Mughrabi Quarter and the Western Wall between 1898 and 1946

During the Ottoman rule, Jews had to pay a tax to visit the Wall and also had to pay the leaders of the adjacent Mughrabi neighborhood, as a form of protection against harassment.

In 1887, philanthropist Baron Edmond de Rothschild attempted to purchase this quarter of the Old City and rehouse the inhabitants in better homes elsewhere.  The plan was at first accepted and then thwarted.

Things did not improve much after the British took control of “Palestine” in 1917.

Western Wall_Gustav Bauernfeind

Wailing Wall, by Gustav Bauernfeind (19th century)

On Passover in 1920, crowds of Arabs leaving the Temple Mount mosques attacked Jews on their way to the Wall.

Eight years later, an attempt to separate men and women praying at the Wall, was viewed by the Arabs as a change of the status quo, which caused riots.

This grew into a wave of violence over the entire country; 133 Jews were killed and more than 300 wounded. 

An international commission in 1930 gave ownership of the Wall to the Muslims, but reserved for the Jews the right to pray in the area in front of the Wall.

The British governor of Jerusalem reportedly said to Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, the Ashkenazi chief rabbi of British Mandatory Palestine (Israel):

“My dear friend, why are you insisting on this old stone wall?  I’ll build you a wonderful wall of large and beautiful Jerusalem stone.”

Kook replied: “There are people with a heart of stone and there are stones with human hearts.”

Abraham Isaac Kook (1865–1935)

Renowned Torah scholar Abraham Isaac Kook (1865–1935) was the first chief rabbi of “British Mandatory Palestine” (Israel).

When Muslim hostilities broke out following the United Nations 1947 decision to partition Palestine, the Old City of Jerusalem, including its Temple Mount and Western Wall, was cut off from West Jerusalem.

In the 1949 armistice agreement, the hostilities of the 1948 War of Independence officially ended and the Wall came under Jordanian rule.

For the next 18 years, not one Jew was permitted to visit the Western Wall, in spite of a clause in the agreement guaranteeing Jews the right to visit.

In 1967, Israel responded to Arab military forces once again amassing against her, as well as repeated acts of sabotage against Israeli targets, with the Six Day War, during which Israeli General Moshe Dayan and his soldiers reclaimed the Wall.

At the Wall, Dayan prayed that a lasting peace would “descend upon the House of Israel.”  (Jewish Virtual Library) 

Western Wall,Jerusalem,Shavuot

Shavuot at the Western Wall Plaza

Six days after the Old City of Jerusalem was liberated from Jordan, almost a quarter of a million Jews streamed en masse to the Wall on the holiday of Shavuot (Pentecost).  (Chabad)

It had been almost 2,000 years since a Jewish festival was celebrated in Jewish-controlled Jerusalem.

With Jerusalem reunited, Israel transformed the Mughrabi neighborhood into a large plaza for worship and various gatherings, including swearing-in ceremonies for soldiers.  The residents were resettled into better homes.

Jewish men pray in the men's section at the Western (Wailing) Wall.

Jewish men pray in the men’s section at the Western (Wailing) Wall.

Although prior to the Balfour Declaration of 1917, the Muslims didn’t consider the Wall to be holy, afterward, the Mufti of Jerusalem declared it holy.

The site became known as A-Buraq (Lightning) for Mohammad’s magical horse that purportedly transported him from Mecca to the Al-Aqsa Mosque and back in one night.

Despite the long history of the Jewish People in connection to the Temple Mount and the Western Wall, Muslims have waged an intensive international propaganda war in the media to turn the tide of public opinion against Jewish rights to the Temple Mount and Western Wall.

“There is not a single stone in the Wailing Wall relating to Jewish History,” the Palestinian Authority appointed Mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Ekrima Sa’id Sabri, told the German magazine Die Welt in 2001.

“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,” he claimed.

Al-Buraf Hafifa

This reproduction of an Indian Mughal miniature shows a buraq, which is a mythological horse that transported the prophets.

Muslim leaders today continue to issue statements claiming that Jewish prayer and tourists at the Western Wall defile the holiness of the Temple Mount, currently occupied by the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque. 

“The Al-Buraq Wall [Kotel] along with the entire area around Al-Aqsa, including the Mughrabi neighborhood [the term used by the group for the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem], destroyed in 1967, is holy Muslim land, and an inseparable part of the Al-Aqsa property,” an Al-Aqsa Heritage Institute statement said.  (Arutz Sheva)

And the leaders of the world who comprise the United Nations World Heritage Committee, board, and assembly continue to agree with them.

Jews-pray-at-the-Western-Wall

Jewish men pray at the Western Wall Plaza in Jerusalem

UN Resolution 40 COM 7A.13 as adopted by UNESCO last month, only refers to the Temple Mount area by its Arabic names, making no reference of any Jewish connection.

Of course, we know that the agenda of the Muslim nations is to eliminate Israel as a nation and as a people.  

The adversary to the Jewish People is working hard to prevent them from fulfilling their destiny as a light to the nations, and we at Bibles For Israel are working even harder to make sure the Word does go forth from Jerusalem to Jew and Gentile alike.

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