The Wailing Wall, revered by millions and a holy site of pilgrimage for people worldwide, has a lot of historic and religious significance. SpiritualRay explores the various facts of this incredibly sacred place in Judaism.
According to legends, every year, on the eve of Tisha B’Av, a white dove lands on the Kotel (Wailing Wall) and cries out, which signifies a sign of mourning. This is when the wall glistens with dewdrops resembling teardrops as if it has been weeping all night. Scientists still cannot explain this strange phenomenon.
The Sacred Wall is known by many other names, Ha-Kotel or Kotel in Hebrew meaning the Western Wall, Western Wall as it stands on the western side of the Second Temple, and the Wailing Wall derived from the grief of losing the Holy Temple, the Seat of God. It is situated in the heart of Jerusalem, and attracts millions of Jews as well as pilgrims who make it a point to come and pray at this holy place and offer their petitions. According to ancient beliefs, the presence of God dwells there from over a thousand years ago, and hence, it’s also known as the ‘Ear of God‘.
History of the Wailing Wall
Going back into history, around 1,000 BCE, King David conquered Jerusalem and purchased Mount Moriah (the site of Isaac’s sacrifice) on which he placed the Ark of the Covenant.
In 950 BCE, King Solomon, the son of King David, began building the First Temple. There are several versions of legends, one of the famous ones is that King Solomon had a heavenly vision about building a beautiful, holy temple in honor of the Jewish God (Yahweh). An angel instructed him to announce that the wall be built by different strata of society.
Hence, King Solomon divided the work into four equal parts among the different social classes. The rich were first to accomplish their part of the wall followed by the ministers and the clergymen, the poor class finished the western side last. When the Spirit of God descended on the temple, it blessed the western side as it was built by the poor. And hence, it still stands even after facing the perils of destruction many times.
In 586 BCE, King Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon, conquered Jerusalem. He burnt and destroyed the temple and sent the Jews away to Babylon, into exile.
In 537 BCE, the exiled Jews returned. They started rebuilding the city and the temple after 50 long years.
In 374 BCE, King Herod of Judah, reconstructed and beautified the Second temple.
In 70 CE, the temple was destroyed by the Romans under the leadership of Titus, leaving only the Wailing Wall intact.
On May 14, 1948, the temple and the wall came under the control of the Jordanians, which was during the War of Independence. During this period, Jews were not granted access to the wall; they could only gaze at it from across barbed wires.
On June 7, 1967, the control of the temple and the wall was regained by Israel and remains with them till date.
Structure of the Wailing Wall
It is located in the Old City of Jerusalem at the foot of the western side of Noble Sanctuary (Al Haram ash-Sharīf) and the Temple Mount. It is approximately 488 meters (1,600 feet) long. Earlier, it stood as high as 60 meters (about 197 feet), and now, stands only 40 meters (131 feet) tall at its highest exposed point with the rest remaining underground. The Western Wall Plaza of today is 56.5 meters (187 feet) long, and the wall at the plaza stands approximately 19 meters (62 feet) high.
The stones of the wall are from different periods but mostly, it consists of those of the Herodian era which were the original stones. They range from 80 centimeters to 13.6 meters in length, and from 1.1 to 3.5 meters in height. The width of the stones is approximately 4.6 meters.
It also consists of tunnels known as the Western Wall tunnels. The stones in this section are the largest; the largest one being 13.6 meters (44.6 feet) long and approximately 3.3 meters (10.8 feet) wide, and weighs 570 tons.
There are six large entrance gates to the Wailing Wall dating from the early Muslim period until the Ottoman period.
Significance of the Wailing Wall in Judaism
The Jewish Sacred Land
The Wailing Wall stands on Mount Moriah which holds a special significance in history. This the place where Abraham was tested for his faith, and Jacob saw a vision in which there was a stairway ascending from earth towards heaven. According to Jewish traditions, it is the epic center of the creation of Jerusalem. The temple built by Solomon was called ‘the Holy of the Holies’, and it still stands as a symbol of God’s presence leading the Jewish people in spite of being destroyed.
Eternal Symbol of Faith
According to prophecy of the sages, the divine presence of God will never leave the premises of the Wall, even if, the temple is destroyed. It stands as the sole symbol of faith in spite of the fact that the temple was rebuilt and destroyed nine times. It symbolizes the journey of the Jews from persecution to hope.
Sanctuary of Prayers
Jerusalem still is “a house of prayer for all nations”. From the time, The Holy Temple was built, it has been a place of prayer and pilgrim to the Jewish and the non-Jewish people as well. After the destruction of the temple, the wall stands as the center of prayer and worship for millions from around the world. According to the Jewish faith, prayers are offered three times a day towards the direction of the wall. Kabbalah states that these prayers ascend from this holy sanctuary to heaven. The beautiful tradition of placing prayer notes in the wall for blessings and healing still exists. Over a million prayer notes are received from all over the world, and twice a year, they are collected and buried in the Mount of Olives. The wall acts as a symbol of comfort to people of all nations who visit the place and pour out their hearts to God in prayer.
Site of Jewish Heroism and Dedication
The wall was built by poor people, and God was well pleased by their handwork and blessed them for it. It is protected by the angels of God even to this day. The Legends of the Land of Israel prophesied, saying: “This Wall, the work of the poor, shall never be destroyed.” Israel has always fought like a lion to save and protect the temple from every enemy attack and destruction. The safety of the Wailing Wall now rests in the secure hands of the Jews, and hence, people can worship their God without the fear of losing their lives.
Even though it stands on disputed land, the Wailing Wall is more than an historic asset. It signifies the Jewish roots and is a central, religious point of focus for Jews both local and in diaspora.
Here is a beautiful quote on the Wailing Wall by a 1935 Zionist tourist guidebook:
“But the deepest impression is made by the Eve of Tisha be’Av (…). That evening a veritable Jewish migration to the Wailing Wall sets in after dark. The thousands slowly and silently pass before the everlasting stones far into the night; young and old, believer and free-thinker, the Old Yishuv from the Street of the Jews and the Halutzim from the colonies and Kvutzot. And if anywhere at all, here and at this hour you can feel that am Israel khai, Israel is Alive.” (Kloetzel, 1935: 21).
“SheElohim yevarach otha (God Bless You)!