Located in the Old City of Jerusalem, the Western Wall, popularly known as the Wailing Wall, is the most religious site in the world for the Jewish people. However, it is only the remnant of the Western Wall that was built in 20BC by King Herod, during an expansion of the Second Jewish Temple, which resulted in a sharply inclined hill known to Jews and Christians as the Temple Mount.
Solomon’s Temple, according to the Hebrew Bible, was built in the 10th century BC atop a hill, which was known as the Temple Mount. It was razed by the Babylonians in 586 BC and the Second Temple was completed and dedicated in 516 BC. Much later, around 19 BC, Herod the Great started a huge expansion project on the Temple Mount and in addition to fully rebuilding and enlarging the temple, he artificially expanded the platform on which it stood. The temple was destroyed by the Romans, along with the rest of Jerusalem in 70 AD, but somehow the western support wall of the Temple Mount survived. However, it held no special significance, until the 16th century, when Suleiman the magnificent established the Ottoman Empire. He restored the city walls of Jerusalem in 1536, encouraged the expelled Jews to return and settle in the city and also declared that, the Jews have the right to pray there for all times. This mandate remained in force and was honored by his successors for more than 400 years.
For more than one thousand years Jerusalem was under Muslim rule and during that period, the Western Wall was subjected to far worse than semantic indignities. To humiliate the Jews and to hurt their sentiments, the Arabs often dumped their garbage at the foot of the Wall. In those days, the area in front of the wall was just a narrow alley, cramped by a Muslim neighborhood known as the Mughrabi Quarter and except on special occasions, the Jews did not regularly visit the Wall.
Kotel ha-Ma'aravi or the Western Wall was under Jordan for nineteen years, from 1948 to 1967 and according to an armistice agreement in 1949, the Jews were guaranteed the right to visit the Wall. However, no Israeli Jew was ever permitted to do so.
Since the Western Wall forms a part of another larger wall that surrounds the Muslim ‘Dome of the Rock’ and Al-Aqsa Mosque, the right to control the Wall has become a matter of dispute between Jews and the Arabs. The dispute turned into a bitter conflict, which became particularly heated since the Israeli government took full control of the Old City in the wake of the Six Day War of June 1967.
However, following the Six Day War, the Israelis dug below the ground of the wall, exposing two more levels of the wall. They also cleared the surrounding area, which created the Western Wall Plaza. Consequently, the area measuring about 160 feet (50 m) long and about 60 feet (20 m) high has now become quite big.
shawls during the Passover priestly blessing ceremony
It is a common belief among the Jewish community that, the divine Presence never departs from the Western Wall. Till today, the Jews lament the destruction of the Temple and pray for its restoration. Apart from the spoken prayers, there is a custom to leave a note with a prayer in the cracks between the stone walls. It is commonly believed that any wish left in the Wailing Wall is sure to be reciprocated. The prayers offered at the ‘Kotel’ or the Wall was so heartfelt that the non-Jews began calling the site the ‘Wailing Wall.’ Nevertheless, this undignified name never won a wide following among the traditional Jews and the term is not used in Hebrew.
According to Jewish belief, creation started with Jerusalem and Mount Moriah is the epicenter, known by the mystics as the ‘watering stone’. Isaac was bound for sacrifice on Mount Moriah and his son Jacob dreamed here of the ladder ascending to heaven. It is believed by the Jews that, the Divine Presence would never leave the Western Wall, and that the Wall will never be destroyed. In fact, Jerusalem was destroyed and rebuilt nine times. But, the Western Wall is the one symbol that remained intact.