The Western WallJews all over the world pray towards Jerusalem. But in the Holy City itself, they pray towards the Western Wall, one of the holiest sites in Judaism. For thousands of years, this wall that flanks the Temple Mount has been the scene of much yearning and heartfelt prayers.
Today’s Orthodox Jews consider themselves to be in exile, even those who live in Jerusalem itself. Without the Temple, the 2000-year Diaspora begun by Titus of Rome is still in effect, and without the Messiah, the Temple cannot be rebuilt. Thus the Western Wall, a remnant of the walls that surrounded the Second Temple, represents the highest aspirations of the Jewish religion. In the Wall the Jewish people see not only their past but their hopes for the future.
Jews of all walks of life pray daily at the Western Wall; businessmen and beggars, religious and secular alike. Many leave notes in crevices of the wall, begging for their heart’s desires, whether they are for the recovery of a family member from a deadly illness, for spiritual enlightenment, or for the ultimate redemption from exile.
Jews believe that the Divine Presence rests on the Western Wall, as it once rested within the Holy Temple. Therefore if someone has not visited the Wall for 30 days, they are bidden to tear their clothes in mourning when they at last return. (The tearing of one’s garments is a frequent sign of mourning in Judaism.)
The Wall was built by King Herod, who in 37 A.D. renovated the Second Temple by flattening the peaks of the Temple Mount and building support walls around it. The Western Wall was once one of these support walls, but its main distinction is that it was the wall that was nearest the Temple’s Holy of Holies, home of the Divine Presence.
For centuries, Jews endured hardship and persecution in order to pray at the Western Wall, since it was not in their control. It was only 1967 that everything changed, in a stunning military coup that made Jerusalem’s Old City what it is today.
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