Western Wall Plaza in the Old City of Jerusalem
“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.
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 the box, creating an enormous platform.
It was a remarkable feat of engineering.
And from before that time and since, Herod’s Temple was the most magnificent structure ever built in Jerusalem.
Today the Al-Aqsa Mosque (left) and the golden Dome of the Rock (right)
sit atop the Temple Mount.
The Second Temple was central to 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, 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.
To their eyes, the destruction of the Temple Mount was complete. The Temple was burnt and destroyed, and the walls around the Mount were essentially buried behind the colossal rubble of the stones toppled from above.
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.
The Western Wall Plaza can accommodate a huge crowd of worshipers.
For 2,000 years, the portion of the Western Wall—the HaKotel 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. Even though it was a ruin, it was still 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
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 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, this wall was singled out as a place for dumping garbage.
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 for the Temple delivered at the Western Wall led the Muslims to call the Wall El-Mabka (the Place of Weeping).
While Gentiles came to call the site the “Wailing Wall,” this term is not used by Orthodox Jews.
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.
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.
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.
Wailing Wall, by Gustav Bauernfeind (19th century)
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.
There is a story that the British governor of Jerusalem once 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.”
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 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)
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, the Mughrabi neighborhood was removed and its residents resettled in better homes.
The area was opened up into a large plaza for worship and various gatherings, including swearing-in ceremonies for soldiers.
Jewish men pray in the men’s section at the Western (Wailing) Wall.
The Western Wall was declared holy by the Mufti of Jerusalem after the Balfour Declaration of 1917 because the Mufti feared that the Jewish People would take control of the Wall.
Although prior to 1917, the Wall was not considered holy to Muslims, afterward it was called 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.
This reproduction of an Indian Mughal miniature shows a buraq, which is
a mythological horse that transported the prophets.
“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.
Earlier this year, the Israeli Arab group called The Al-Aqsa Heritage Institute issued a statement 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,” the statement said. (Arutz Sheva)
Jewish men pray at the Western Wall Plaza in Jerusalem.
Although the Temple Mount and the Western Wall are now in Jewish hands, the struggle to worship freely as Jewish People in Jerusalem is not over.
A recent policy statement by the European Union (EU) banned funding to institutions based or operating over the Green Line (the 1949 Armistice line), which includes the Old City of Jerusalem.
Such a ban acts threatens any Jewish presence in East Jerusalem, which of course includes the Temple Mount and the Western Wall.
As well, delegates from Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA), which met recently in Washington, will resume peace talks this Wednesday in Jerusalem to continue hammering out an agreement to finally bring about a two-state solution: one for the Palestinians and one for the Jewish People.
The Palestinians will demand East Jerusalem as their capital.
If the PA and the EU have their way, the Western Wall will no longer belong to Israel. (Times of Israel)
The Prophet Zechariah foretold a last-days battle for Jerusalem. (Zechariah 14)
Although, to our natural minds, the future of this city and the Wall may look uncertain, the Bible reassures that this is not so. The Lord has chosen Jerusalem and He has brought His people to the Land.
“But I have chosen Jerusalem, that My name might be there; and I have chosen David to be over my people Israel.” (2 Chronicles 6:6)
As you continue to stand as watchmen on the walls and pray for the peace of Jerusalem, please help us bring the Good News of Yeshua (Jesus) to the Jewish People.
“Pray for peace in Jerusalem. May all who love this city prosper.” (Psalm 122:6)