The Western Wall

This post is part of my Israel travel series Scrolls from the Holy Land: Travel stories | Photo gallery

Kotel – the Western Wall. Looks like just another wall. But really?

Magic of the Kotel: Narration of my first hand experience at the Western wall on a Shabbat day.

The western wall is a Jewish religious site in the Jewish Quarter of the old city of Jerusalem. The wall itself dates from the end of the Second Temple period, being constructed around 19 BCE. It is often referred to as the Wailing Wall, in connection with Jewish practice of coming to the site to mourn the destruction of the Holy Temple.

The disputes over the wall date back to the destruction and not until the 6-day war of 1967 did the Jews get an unrestricted access to the Wall. Even today, there are numerous disputes, the latest one erupted in 2004 when a stairway was being built to approach the Temple mount, which falls on the ‘other’ side of the wall, i.e. Muslim Quarter. Wikipedia has a fantastic blurb on the history of this place.

Kotel at night. Orthodox Jews dress in black

Why is it called The Wailing wall?
In Judaism, the Western Wall is venerated as the sole remnant of the Holy Temple that stood here. It is actually a remnant of the Herodian retaining wall that once enclosed and supported the Second Temple. It has also been called the “Wailing Wall” by European observers because for centuries Jews have gathered here to lament the loss of their temple.

It is thought by Jews to be the most sacred of places, because the temple itself was thought to be the place where God resides on earth. Praying at the Wailing Wall signifies being in the presence of the Divine. Jews from all countries, and as well as tourists of other religious backgrounds, come to pray at the wall, where it is said one immediately has the “ear of god.” There is a much publicised practice of placing slips of paper containing written prayers into the crevices of the Wall. It’s as if the Buddhist prayer flags that carry the prayers all around.

Since I already wrote an intimate personal experience at this place, this post is mostly informative. Here I am reproducing a snippet.

[…]It was a sea of people at the Western Wall plaza, predominantly dressed in black. Honestly, I hadn’t seen so many people at the same time since I left India about a year back. I was also a little shocked to see many young soldiers with huge guns at the entrance, a sight so ubiquitous in Israel that I didn’t notice it after a few days![…]

[…]This was the wall whose pictures had mesmerized me for months, and finally I was standing right in front of it. Ok what should I do now?

Nothing complicated, I did what anyone else would do – touch the wall. I was picturing a bolt of divine energy zapping into me or me getting transformed suddenly to some other dimension, but (alas) nothing such happened.[…]

People praying at the Synagogue attached to he Western Wall

Western Wall Tunnels:
The Western Wall Tunnel is an underground tunnel exposing the Western Wall in its full length. The tunnel is adjacent to the Western Wall and is located under buildings of the Old City. A free tour can be booked via the Kotel tunnels website. It is very heartening to see the profound history of this place, excavated as early as 1987. The kotel tunnels tour is highly recommended for anyone who wishes to understand the wall closely.

A soldier and a civilian: Mourning / Praying at the Wailing wall

The Western wall is situated very much in the Old city (see map here.)

Visitors of all religions are welcome to approach the Wall and to pray silently beside it. Men who would like to go to the wall must wear a hat or take a free head covering (kippah) from a box beside the entrance to the prayer area. I don’t know the requirements for women but I would presume that they are expected to dress conservatively. Pictures cannot be taken on Shabbat day (Friday sunset to Saturday sunset) but a shabbath experience at the Kotel is highly recommended. I visited this wall on three separate occasions and I would love to go there again. The whole place has a buzz of energy about it.

View of the Kotel plaza from the path that spirals up to the Dome of the Rock

This post concludes my travels in the Old city of Jerusalem – one city, three faiths. You might be (I was completely) surprised at how closely the religious structures of these Abrahamic religions are located to each other inside the old city. There is a battering religious environment everywhere you go 🙂

This post is part of my Israel travel series Scrolls from the Holy Land: Travel stories | Photo gallery