What is the Western Wall?
We all know that the Western Wall, the Kotel, is the most significant site in the world for the Jewish people. We know that it is the last remnant of our Temple. We also know that Jews from around the world gather here to pray. People write notes to G-d and place them between the ancient stones of the Wall.
But did you know that…
Many important events took place on Mount Moriah, know later as Temple Mount.
Mount Moriah, according to Jewish tradition, is the place where many pivotal events in Jewish history took place. Traditionally, creation of the world began from the Foundation Stone at the peak of mountain. This is also where Adam, the first human, was created.
When Abraham was commanded to prepare his son Isaac for sacrifice, the father and son went up to “the place that G-d chooses” – Mount Moriah, and to its peak – the Foundation Stone – where the binding of Isaac took place.
Also Jacob’s dream with angels going up and down a ladder is linked to this mountain.
Later on, the Holy of Holies – the core and heart of the First and Second Temple – was built around the Foundation Stone.
The Western Wall is part of a big renovation project initiated by King Herod.
In the year 37 BCE, Herod was appointed king in Jerusalem and he soon initiated a huge renovation project for the Temple. He hired many workers who toiled to make the Temple more magnificent and to widen the area of the Temple Mount by flattening the mountain peak and building four support walls around it.
The Western Wall is the western support wall built during this widening of the Temple Mount Plaza.
What makes the Western Wall (and not one of the other three remaining support walls) the most special is its proximity to the location of the Holy of Holies in the Temple.
The Second Temple was destroyed in the year 70 CE. Despite the destruction that took place, all four Temple Mount support walls remained standing. Throughout the generations since the Temple’s destruction, the Western Wall was the remnant closest to the site of the Temple’s Holy of Holies that was accessible to Jews. Therefore, it became a place of prayer and yearning for Jews around the world. When Jews expressed their longing for Jerusalem through song, Judaica, jewelry, and prayer, the image of Jerusalem was conveyed via the image of the Western Wall.
The Old City of Jerusalem, and the Western Wall within it, was not in Jewish hands from the War of Independence in 1948 until the Six Day War in 1967.
Even before 1948, the return of the Jewish nation to its land caused tensions around the Western Wall. The eruption of violence in 1929 was linked to a divider placed at the Wall. As a result of the violence, a British investigative committee was created that decided to maintain the status quo at the Western Wall. The chief rabbinate appointed a rabbi, Rabbi Orenstein, to oversee the happenings at the Wall.
In 1948, the Jewish Quarter of the Old City fell to Jordanian hands. The Jewish homes were destroyed. Among those killed was the Western Wall’s first rabbi who refused to leave the Wall or his home and was killed in the bombings.
During 19 long years of Jordanian rule, Jews were not able to reach the Wall and pray in front of its ancient stones. All that possible was to climb up to Mount Zion and glance at the Wall from a distance.
During the Six Day War of 1967, paratroopers led by Motta Gur broke through to the Old City through the Lion’s Gate. The Western Wall and Temple Mount were liberated, the city of Jerusalem was reunified, and the Jewish people were again able to come to the Western Wall to pray.
The exposed, outdoor section of the Western Wall is just a small part of the whole Wall.
The part of the Western Wall that we see at the Prayer Plaza is 57 meters (187 feet) long. The entire length of the Western Wall, however, is actually 488 meters (1,600 feet) long! Where is the remaining part of the Western Wall?
The first approximately 80 meters (262 feet) on the southern end were uncovered immediately after the Six Day War and can be seen at the Southern Excavations. The Prayer Plaza, expanded in the years after the Six Day War, is located in the adjacent 57 meters to the north. The remaining 320 meters (1,050 feet) continues underground beneath the streets and houses of the Old City of Jerusalem. Sections of the Wall were uncovered in ongoing excavations and can bee seen now within the Western Wall Tunnels.
The Western Wall is visited by millions of visitors a year – Jews and non-Jews alike.
Today, millions of visitors come to the Western Wall every year. Thousands of Bar and Bat Mitzvah children choose to mark this special event with their families at the Wall. Soldiers serving in the Israel Defense Forces swear loyalty to their nation and homeland at the Western Wall Plaza. People from all over the world pay their respects to the Jewish people’s magnificent history by visiting this special site.
The ancient, 2,000-year-old stones of the Western Wall have witnessed the Jewish people’s birth, exile, and redemption. This is where the Jewish nation’s past mingles with its hopes for the future.
The Western Wall is a living testimony to the strength and resilience of the Jewish nation.