The Western Wall in Jerusalem
It has been said that, of the ten measures of beauty given to the world, nine were allotted to Jerusalem. King Herod, the one called Great, who ruled at the time of the birth of Jesus (or Yeshua, as he was certainly called in his lifetime), had seen to it that Jerusalem's claim would not be unjustified. The Helenization of the city started before his reign, Herod had continued with a magnificent flourish. Spectacular palaces rose on the heaps of hovels. A theatre, an amphitheatre and a hippodrome, all three of which drew large crowds (to the chagrin of the chief priests and elders) added a further elegance to the Jerusalem scene. But the crown of Herod's achievements was the renovation of the Second Temple, refurbished with polished stone and coloured marble, with gold and cedar wood, with large courts and graceful pillars, with imposing towers and enormous gates, where within its Sanctuary, its Holy of Holies, the Presence resided.
The Kidron valley divides the Mount of Olives from the sacred Mount Moriah, on which the Temple stood. Tradition holds it was on Mount Moriah that Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son, Isaac. From the Mount of Olives, the highest hill in the region, rising immediately to the east, one could look down upon the Temple and the city, for the summit of Mount Moriah was considerably lower. The Temple faced East, toward the Mount of Olives, and the rising sun shone upon its grand courts surrounded by vast colonnades of elegant marble pillars, the glittering gilt of the great gates, the shining white of the huge altar and the superb marble structure that was the Sanctuary. Together, they produced a sight of ineffable beauty. The Sanctuary itself was of three kinds of marble; the two great columns in front of reddish marble; the rest of the building of white marble on a foundation of blue stone. Lavishly gilded, it had been described as a snowy mountain glittering in the sun. The large Hippodrome, the theatre, the stately palaces in the Upper City, all paled into insignificance beside this remarkable edifice erected to the glory of God.
The "Western Wall" is the retaining wall that Herod the Great built around the expanded Court of the Temple. The term 'Wailing Wall' was used only during the term of the British Mandate, when Jews came to pray and weep by the Wall for their lost country, their lost Temple and, for some, their lost hope. After the 6-Day War of June 1967, Jews no longer needed to weep and wail, so the Wall reverted to its original name, the Western Wall. Today it is called simply 'The Wall,' but its Hebrew name 'Ha'Kotel' connotes a boundary wall.
Jews have prayed at the Wall for almost 2000 years, ever since the army of the Roman General, and later Emperor, Titus burned the Temple to the ground in 70 C.E. Until 1948, the Turks in their time and the British allowed Jews some access to the Wall but, between 1948 and 1967, in violation of the Armistice Agreement, Jordan forbade Jews to pray there. With the liberation of Jerusalem in 1967, the army chaplain, Rabbi Shlomo Goren, blew the ram's horn 'Shofar' before the Wall in celebration of the return of the Jewish people to this hallowed spot, and General Moshe Dayan proclaimed the eternal right of the Jews to the city and to the control of what is for them the holiest place on earth because of its proximity to where the Holy of Holies once stood.
The photograph shows the Wall in late June 1967, shortly after the new Municipality had bulldozed away the hovels and barbed wire that had encroached almost to the Wall, and, for the first time in 20 years, Jews were allowed to visit the area. Today it is one of the most popular tourist sites in the world. It is particularly favoured for Bar Mitzvah ceremonies, that rite of passage for Jewish boys of 13 entering manhood and accepting the burden of Jewish law in order to pass it on to the generations that follow. Wide flagstones covering the entire area to the Wall have since replaced the dust. The immediate vicinity in front of the Wall is divided into two sections, one for men and the other for women, who, according to custom, must be separate for prayer. Over on the other side of the Wall are the golden domed Mosque of Omar and the holier but small silver domed Al Aqsa Mosque, both built by Suleiman the Magnificent on the site of the destroyed Jewish Temple, in keeping with Arab tradition of building upon the holy places of other religions.
Excavations have revealed that the Wall descends some 60 or 70 feet below the present level, so heaps upon heaps of rubble have accumulated since the leveling of Jerusalem one thousand nine hundred and thirty seven years ago. Ever since that time, Jews prayed at the Wall for the restoration of the Temple and for other favours. It became a practice to write their prayers and place the parchment - or paper today - into the crevices between the stones. This practice has now spread to visitors of all nations of all creeds, so much so that emails from over the globe with messages to God are received in Jerusalem for insertion at the Wall.
Unfortunately, to enter the Western Wall Plaza, one has to undergo a very thorough search for weapons or suicide belts. Being such a popular tourist attraction, it is also an attractive proposition for people bent on mischief, mayhem and murder, for whom life is of little consequence. The people of Israel have come to accept this inconvenience if only to feel much safer in places most vulnerable to such attacks. The rejuvenation of the city itself into one of the most modern and beautiful cities in the world is enough to spark the hatred of the enemies of the Jewish people. One would never believe upon seeing Jerusalem today, the view of one eyewitness to the destruction of the city by the Titus in 70 C.E.
"...Jerusalem was so thoroughly laid flat with the ground by those who dug it up to its foundation, that nothing was left to make those that came thither believe it had ever been inhabited. This was the end Jerusalem came to because of the madness of those who were for revolt; a city otherwise of great magnificence, and of mighty fame among all mankind.
"And truly, the very view itself was a melancholy thing; for those places that were adorned with trees and pleasant gardens, have now become desolate country every way, and its trees are all cut down. Any foreigner, who formerly had seen Judea and the most beautiful suburbs of the city, could not but lament and mourn sadly at so great a change. For the war had laid all signs of beauty quite waste. Nor could anyone who had known the place before and come upon it suddenly again, have recognized it. Had he stood even upon its site, he would have enquired after it.
"Where now is that great city, the metropolis of the Jewish nation? Where is this city that was believed to have God himself inhabiting therein?I cannot but wish we had all died before we had seen that Holy City demolished by the hands of our enemies, or the foundations of the Holy Temple dug up after so profane a manner."
Jerusalem! A city of ghosts.
The tramp of Roman feet on the cobblestones,
Palaces buried under the earth of centuries,
Palaces where walked the wise yet unwise Solomon,
Whose polices divided his people
And almost brought them total annihilation.
The earth of centuries piled upon his palaces,
Mixed with the blood of hundreds of thousands
Jerusalem! A city of silence.
The crackling and spitting of a might conflagration,
Stone by blackening stone the Temple crumbles,
Stones once revered, lie charred upon the ashes;
The dead now people the streets
That reek with the stench of corpses,
The living transported, like cattle or sheep,
To strange lands with stranger customs,
Among churlish heathens and pagan idolaters.
Jerusalem! A city of love.
The shofar echoes against the Western Wall,
Muezzins' calls remind the faithful to pray,
Muezzins with amplified voices, on lofty minarets;
Church bells ring in joyful hallelujahs
To a god whose blood is also mixed
In the earth of centuries that covers the ground
From which now springs an ultra-modern city.
A city eternal.
Today you can see for yourselves how Jerusalem, the city of peace, has risen from the ashes, how vibrant and beautiful it is, how all kinds of people of all nations, colours and beliefs live side by side therein and how God once more dwells in it.