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The Wailing Wall or Western Wall is in Jerusalem and is believed by many people to be the remains of one wall of a great Jewish temple or the wall surrounding the temple's courtyard. It is a stone wall that extends about 62 feet (18.9 m) above the ground. The wall is considered to be a sacred site by Jews, and thousands of people make pilgrimages there each year. It also is a source of much dispute regarding its true history as well as a source of contention among Jews and Muslims, who consider it to be part of an ancient mosque or the wall to which the seventh-century Islamic prophet Muhammad tied his winged steed during his Night Journey.
Jews and many other people consider the wall to have been part of a Jewish temple, also called the Second Temple, which stood for hundreds of years. King Herod ordered a renovation and expansion of the temple in about 19 B.C., and the work was not finished until about 50 years later. This temple was destroyed by Romans in about 70 A.D., only a few years after its completion. The Wailing Wall is widely believed to be the only part still standing.
After the temple was destroyed, many Jews began going to the wall to mourn the temple's destruction and to pray. The name Wailing Wall was ascribed to the site by non-Jews who saw the Jews mourning there. Jews actually refer to the wall as the Western Wall, or Kotel HaMaaravi in Hebrew.
Many Muslims believe that the wall has no relation to ancient Judaism. They refer to the wall as the Al-Buraq Wall, a reference to Al-Buraq, the winged steed that Muhammad is said to have ridden. Muslims believe that Muhammad tied Al-Buraq to the wall while he ascended to heaven to speak with God. Many Muslims also believe that the wall was part of the ancient Al-Aqsa Mosque, and that Jews did not begin praying at the wall until at least the 16th century, if not much later.
Control of the Wall
During the more than 3,500 years of its history, Jerusalem has been attacked and captured dozens of times. Control of the city — and the Wailing Wall — continued to be a point of contention in the 20th and early 21st centuries. Arab leaders controlled the wall during the first part of the 20th century, but with the establishment of Israel, Jews gained control of the wall in 1967. There is still much underlying bitterness regarding this place, however, which has contributed to the poor relationships between Arabic countries and Israel.
Although enmity has remained between Jews and Muslims, the Wailing Wall has been the site of reconciliation between Jews and Catholics. In 2000, Pope John Paul II became the first pope to pray at the wall. He also apologized for centuries of Catholic persecution of Jews, referring to them as the Catholics' "elder brothers."
Praying at the Wall
Jews from all countries, and as well as tourists of other religious backgrounds, go to pray at the wall, where many people believe that one immediately has the "ear of God." People who cannot pray at the wall can send in prayers or ask for the Kaddish, a specific Jewish prayer, to be said for departed loved ones. Prayers that are sent in are placed into the cracks of the walls and are called kvitelach. There might be a small charge for this service, depending on the person or organization that is providing the service. When the small pieces of papers become too numerous — more than 1 million are placed each year — they are removed and buried.
The Wailing Wall can be visited at any time of the day. Visitors typically are thoroughly searched for security purposes. Women of any religion, out of respect for Judaic law, should wear modest clothing. There are separate entrances for men and women, although they can regroup at the Wall.
The main section of the wall, where people go to pray, is about 187 feet (57 m) long and is made of meleke limestone. Most of the stones weigh 4,000 pounds (1,814.4 kg) or more, and one enormous stone, called the Western Stone, weighs more than 1.1 million pounds (more than 500,000 kg). There are 28 stone layers above the ground and 17 underground. An underground tunnel runs along the length of the wall.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the significance of the Wailing Wall?
The Wailing Wall, also known as the Western Wall, is a remnant of the ancient wall that surrounded the Jewish Temple's courtyard in Jerusalem. It is considered the most sacred site recognized by the Jewish faith outside of the Temple Mount itself. Jews and visitors from around the world come to pray at the wall, where it is believed that one is especially close to God due to its proximity to the original Holy of Holies of the Temple.
Why do people leave notes in the Wailing Wall?
People leave notes in the crevices of the Wailing Wall as a form of prayer and to request blessings or divine intervention. The tradition is based on the belief that the Divine Presence never departs from the Western Wall, making it an auspicious place to leave prayers. These notes are considered a direct line to the divine, and it is estimated that over a million notes are placed each year, according to the Western Wall Heritage Foundation.
Can anyone visit the Wailing Wall?
Yes, the Wailing Wall is accessible to people of all faiths. Visitors are welcome to approach the wall and observe the prayers and traditions. However, there is a separate section for men and women to pray, in accordance with Orthodox Jewish practice. Modest dress is expected, and head coverings for men are provided at the site.
What historical events has the Wailing Wall witnessed?
The Wailing Wall has stood through centuries of tumultuous history, witnessing numerous wars and conquests. It was part of the expansion of the Second Jewish Temple by Herod the Great around 19 BCE. The wall has seen the Roman destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, the Islamic conquest, the Crusader occupation, and the Ottoman period, among others. It has been a focal point for Jewish pilgrimage and prayer for millennia.
Is the Wailing Wall part of the original Jewish Temple?
The Wailing Wall is not a part of the original Jewish Temple itself but is a section of the extended western retaining wall built to support the Temple Mount where the Temple once stood. The actual Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE, and the Western Wall is the closest standing structure to the Temple's former location, which is why it holds such significance.
How is the Wailing Wall protected?
The Wailing Wall is protected as a religious and historical site by Israeli law. It is under the administration of the Rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites, who ensures that the sanctity of the site is maintained. Security is tight, with measures in place to protect visitors and worshippers. The Israeli government also undertakes preservation efforts to maintain the integrity of the ancient stones.
Are there any special events or times to visit the Wailing Wall?
Visiting the Wailing Wall during Jewish holidays can be a particularly moving experience, as it becomes a focal point for celebrations and prayers. Events such as Bar Mitzvahs often take place at the wall, and the weekly Shabbat prayers draw large crowds. The most poignant time to visit is during Tisha B'Av, a day of mourning commemorating the destruction of the First and Second Temples, when Jews gather to read the Book of Lamentations.