The Western Wall, also known as the Wailing Wall or Kotel, is one of the most sacred sites in Judaism and an important historical and religious landmark in Jerusalem, Israel. Located in the Old City of Jerusalem, it is a remnant of the ancient retaining wall that surrounded the Second Temple, which was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE during the Jewish revolt.
The Western Wall is made of massive limestone blocks and stretches for about 488 meters (1,600 feet). It is divided into two main sections: the larger and more accessible section for prayer, and a smaller section called the Little Western Wall, located further north.
For centuries, the Western Wall has been a focal point of Jewish pilgrimage and prayer. It holds immense religious significance as it is believed to be the closest accessible point to the Holy of Holies, the inner sanctuary of the ancient Temple. According to Jewish tradition, the Divine Presence never departed from the Western Wall, making it a place of intense devotion and prayer.
People from all over the world visit the Western Wall to pray, leave written prayers (kvitlach) in the cracks between the stones, and engage in religious rituals. The wall is particularly crowded during special occasions and holidays such as Shabbat, Jewish festivals, and significant events in Jewish history.
The Western Wall Plaza, an open-air prayer area in front of the wall, provides space for worshippers to gather and conduct religious ceremonies. Separate sections are designated for men and women, as Orthodox Jewish tradition observes gender segregation during prayer.
The Western Wall is not only a religious site but also an archaeological treasure. Excavations in the area have revealed various layers of Jerusalem's history, including remnants of structures from different periods.
It's important to note that the Western Wall is also a site of political and religious tensions. It is located in the Old City, which is of significance to multiple religious and ethnic groups, and has been a subject of dispute between Israel and Palestine. The area surrounding the Western Wall holds great significance for Muslims as well, as it is adjacent to the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, two important Islamic holy sites.
Overall, the Western Wall is a deeply revered and cherished site for Jewish people worldwide, symbolizing their connection to the past, their religious heritage, and their aspirations for the future.
The term "Western Wall" is a relatively modern name given to the structure. In Hebrew, it is called "Ha-Kotel Ha-Ma'aravi" (הכותל המערבי), which translates to "the Western Wall." The name emphasizes its location on the western side of the Temple Mount.
The term "Wailing Wall" is an older name that originated during the period of Ottoman rule over Jerusalem (1517-1917). The name "Wailing Wall" came from the sounds of Jewish mourners who would gather at the site to lament the destruction of the Temple and express their sorrow. The term was coined by non-Jewish observers who heard the mournful cries and described it as the "wailing" wall.
Since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, the term "Western Wall" has become more commonly used, reflecting its historical and geographical significance. It is the name most frequently used in modern discussions about the site.
It's important to note that different cultures and languages may have alternative names for the Western Wall, but these are the most widely recognized and used terms.
Location, dimensions, stones
The Western Wall is located in the Old City of Jerusalem, Israel. It runs along the western side of the Temple Mount, which is a significant religious complex housing the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock.
In terms of dimensions, the Western Wall stretches for approximately 488 meters (1,600 feet) in length. It varies in height along its course, with the highest point reaching around 19 meters (62 feet) above ground level. The visible portion of the wall today is estimated to be about one-third of its original height, as the rest is buried underground.
The stones that make up the Western Wall are massive limestone blocks. The average size of the visible stones is around 1.5 meters (4.9 feet) in height, 2.5 meters (8.2 feet) in length, and 0.85 meters (2.8 feet) in depth. Some of the stones are even larger, with weights estimated to be over 100 tons. The stones are believed to have been quarried and transported during the time of King Herod, who initiated a massive expansion and renovation of the Second Temple.
The impressive size and weight of the stones used in the construction of the Western Wall are a testament to the engineering skills of the ancient builders. Their precise fitting and stability have allowed the wall to endure for centuries, making it one of the most iconic and enduring symbols of Jewish history and faith.
The Western Wall Plaza is an open-air prayer area located in front of the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City. It is a significant gathering space for Jewish worshippers and visitors who come to pray, celebrate, and connect with the site's religious and historical significance.
The plaza provides a spacious area for people to congregate and engage in prayer, especially during important occasions and festivals. It accommodates large crowds, as thousands of people may gather there, particularly on Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath), Jewish holidays, and other special events.
The plaza is divided into separate sections for men and women, adhering to traditional Orthodox Jewish practices of gender segregation during prayer. The area allocated for men is generally larger than the section designated for women. Screens or partitions are used to separate the sections and maintain modesty.
Within the plaza, there are various amenities and facilities to enhance the visitor experience. These include seating areas, shade structures, prayer books, and Torah scrolls that are available for public use. There are also restrooms, information centers, and places to purchase religious items and souvenirs.
The Western Wall Plaza is overseen and managed by the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, an organization responsible for the site's maintenance, preservation, and visitor services. The foundation organizes events, educational programs, and guided tours to provide insights into the significance and history of the Western Wall.
While the primary purpose of the Western Wall Plaza is for prayer and religious activities, it also serves as a gathering place for various cultural and national events. State ceremonies, such as the national memorial service on Israel's Remembrance Day, are held in the plaza, and it can be a site for political rallies or demonstrations.
The Western Wall Plaza is not only a place of spiritual devotion but also a symbol of unity, faith, and the collective memory of the Jewish people. It represents a powerful connection to the past and serves as a focal point for Jewish identity and heritage.
Wilson's Arch area
Wilson's Arch is an archaeological site located in the Western Wall Plaza in Jerusalem's Old City. It is named after Charles William Wilson, a 19th-century British explorer who documented and studied the area.
Wilson's Arch is a massive stone arch that was part of an ancient bridge or monumental staircase connecting the upper city of Jerusalem to the Temple Mount during the time of the Second Temple. The arch was built during the Herodian period, which dates back to the first century BCE. It is believed to have served as an entrance to the Temple Mount complex.
The arch itself is an impressive structure, with a span of about 13.7 meters (45 feet) and a height of approximately 12.8 meters (42 feet). It is made of large, well-dressed limestone blocks and demonstrates the engineering expertise of the time.
In recent years, the area beneath Wilson's Arch has been excavated and transformed into an archaeological park and visitor center. The park provides insights into the historical and architectural context of the site and offers a glimpse into the daily life of ancient Jerusalem.
The underground area beneath Wilson's Arch is known as the "Ohel Yitzhak Synagogue" or the "Great Synagogue." It is a reconstructed synagogue that serves as a place of worship, particularly for egalitarian prayer services. The synagogue is characterized by its unique blend of ancient archaeological elements and modern architectural features.
The Wilson's Arch area has become a significant attraction for visitors to the Western Wall Plaza. It offers a deeper understanding of the historical layers of Jerusalem, showcasing the remains of the ancient bridge, the arch itself, and providing an opportunity to explore the excavated spaces and artifacts. The site serves as a reminder of Jerusalem's rich and diverse history, spanning thousands of years.
Robinson's Arch area
Robinson's Arch is another archaeological site located adjacent to the Western Wall Plaza in Jerusalem's Old City. It is named after the American biblical scholar, Edward Robinson, who identified and described the arch during his travels in the early 19th century.
Robinson's Arch is also part of an ancient bridge or stairway that connected the upper city to the Temple Mount during the Second Temple period. It is located at the southwestern corner of the Temple Mount complex, just south of the Western Wall.
The arch is notable for its large stone blocks and its impressive size. It is believed to have been a monumental entranceway or a supporting structure for a bridge that led worshippers and visitors from the street level up to the Temple Mount.
The area surrounding Robinson's Arch has been excavated, revealing various layers of Jerusalem's history. The archaeological remains provide insights into the daily life of the people who lived in Jerusalem during ancient times. Excavations have uncovered remnants of streets, shops, and other structures, giving visitors a glimpse into the bustling urban environment of the past.
Today, Robinson's Arch area is an important archaeological park and visitor attraction. It serves as a place for exploration, education, and contemplation. Visitors can walk along the excavated pathways, observe the archaeological remains, and learn about the historical significance of the site through interpretive signs and displays.
In recent years, a modern platform has been constructed adjacent to Robinson's Arch to provide an area for non-Orthodox Jewish prayer services. This platform, known as the "Robinson's Arch Prayer Plaza," allows for egalitarian and mixed-gender prayer in a section that is distinct from the traditional Western Wall prayer areas.
Robinson's Arch and its surrounding area offer a unique perspective on Jerusalem's past and its connections to religious and historical traditions. It provides an opportunity to explore the architectural marvels of antiquity and engage with the evolving religious practices and diversity of the present day.
Rabbis of the wall
The term "Rabbis of the Wall" is not a specific or widely recognized title. However, it is possible that you are referring to the religious leaders and authorities who have a role in overseeing the religious activities and customs that take place at the Western Wall.
The Western Wall is a sacred site for Judaism, and its religious affairs are primarily managed by the Western Wall Heritage Foundation (WWHF). The foundation operates under the auspices of the Israeli Ministry of Religious Services and is responsible for the maintenance, preservation, and organization of religious services at the Western Wall Plaza.
The WWHF is headed by a board of directors, which includes prominent Orthodox rabbis and religious figures. These rabbis, along with other religious leaders, provide guidance and oversight on matters related to prayer customs, observance of Jewish law, and the spiritual experience of visitors to the Western Wall.
Additionally, various Orthodox Jewish organizations and movements have their own representatives and rabbis who may be involved in leading prayer services, offering guidance on matters of religious practice, and providing pastoral care to those who visit the Western Wall.
It's important to note that the Western Wall Plaza accommodates a wide range of Jewish worshippers, representing diverse religious affiliations and practices. While Orthodox customs and traditions prevail in the main prayer sections, the plaza also includes spaces where egalitarian and mixed-gender prayer services are conducted, catering to non-Orthodox Jewish worshippers.
Overall, the management of religious affairs at the Western Wall involves collaboration and consultation among various religious authorities, rabbis, and organizations to ensure that the site remains a place of reverence and spiritual significance for Jewish visitors.