Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Western Wall

The Western Wall (also called The Kotel) may be one of the most significant places in the Holy Land.  It symbolizes the return of the people of Israel to the Land of Promise.  We entered the Wall area through the Dung gate and went directly up to the Security Entrance.  
There is a separate entrance for men and women and there is a strict conservative dress code.  
Security is tight in the area and may change by the day and political situation. Since this is also the area for security for the Temple Mount, non-Muslim prayer books and instruments (crosses/Bibles) are strictly prohibited.  All body parts must be covered and no clothes with religious or political slogans are allowed.  
The Western Wall is one of the most sacred shrines for the Jews and a place for 
public worship and celebrations. The wall is divided into a men's and women's section.  
The men's area is much larger, which is pictured above.  
While we were there, a boot camp graduation ceremony for the Israeli Army was underway. 
Speeches were presented and families were gathered around to celebrate.  
Many families brought food for a large dinner held afterwards.  
Military service is mandatory in Israel and both girls and boys are expected to join 
the army at 18 years old.  This is a society where EVERY SINGLE Israeli citizen has 
been trained to shoot a gun and to protect their nation. 
While celebrations are common at the Western Wall, the most important 
gatherings are those who come to pray.  The Western Wall is a remnant 
of the ancient wall that surrounded the Temple Mount's courtyard.   
Just over half of the wall, including its 17 layers located BELOW street level,
 date from the end of the Second Temple period, and was constructed 
around 19 B.C by Herod the Great.  The remaining layers were added
 from the 7th century onwards. 
 The wall is also known as "The Wailing Wall" due to the passion 
of the prayers given here.  It is also a constant reminder which 
connects the Jewish exile of the past and the destruction of the
 temple with their hope for the future. 
The Jewish people believe that this portion of the wall is still standing
 because the Skekhinah (divine presence) continues to reside there.  
Praying at this spot to many is like praying directly to God 
through the wall.  Orthodox Jews bring their shawls and bow up
 and down (called davening) while they pray.   
 These colossal limestone stones, each weighing between one and 
eight tons, were crafted with precision so that they fit perfectly
 against each other without mortar. Some of the joints, however, have 
eroded, and many of the spaces are filled in the lower blocks with written 
prayers.  I wrote a prayer too - and stuck it in the wall.  Another person with our 
group gave me this picture as I turned around.  It's not a good one, but all I have! :) 
It is no longer necessary to cover your head while at the wall, but it is considered irreverent to turn your back on the wall.  To leave the wall, most walk backwards until they reach the entrance area. 
The wall continues to be a source of friction between the Jewish community and the Muslim religious leadership.  The Muslims worry that the wall is being used to further the Jewish nationalistic claims to the Temple Mount and to Jerusalem.  Outbreaks of violence at the foot of the wall were common in the past and an international commission was convened in 1930 to determine the rights and claims for the Muslims and Jews in connection with the wall.  
After the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the wall came under Jordanian control
 and Jews were barred from the site for 19 years until 1967.    
We enjoyed watching all the activity in the area and could have stayed here and observed for hours!! Our next appointment was to tour the tunnels under the city. The exposed, outdoor section of the Western Wall is just a small part of the entire wall measuring only 57 meters (187 feet) long.  The entire length of the Western Wall is actually 488 meters (1600 feet) long!  There are 80 meters (262 feet) on the southern end and can be seen at the Southern Excavation site.  The remaining 320 meters (1050 feet) continues underground beneath the streets and houses of the Old City of Jerusalem.  
These underground tunnels  connect the western wall prayer area to the north-west side of the Temple Mount, passing along the side of the Temple Mount and under the present day houses in the Old City. Along its path are remains from the second temple period, as well as structures from later periods.
 A model of the second temple is located inside which uses an electrically controlled mechanism to demonstrate the phases of its construction by Herod.
The tunnel included narrow passageways as well as open spaces as 
we wound around the lower portion of the wall.  
The base stones were incredibly huge with the largest one weighing OVER 570 tons!!! This one measures 13.6 meters (44.6 feet) by 3.3 meters (10.8 feet).   It is hard to imagine how these stones were laid so many years ago without the benefit of today's equipment.  What an amazing feat!  
There is no cement or mortar holding the stones together.  Only their weight and the perfect match between the stones held them firmly with the ability to withstand the enormous pressure of the temple mount over for over two millenniums.

Later, the rectangular holes in the stone were added in the Middle Ages. Their purpose was to hold the plaster which was applied onto the walls, when this section was transformed into a water reservoir.  
During the excavations and preparation of the western wall tunnel tours (in 1980s and 1990s), a modern tunnel was constructed along the base of the wall at the Roman street level. This tunnel supports the old city structures above it, which were built  during the Medieval periods.
At the northern edge of the tour is an ancient water reservoir called the Struthion PoolOriginally, the Hasmoneans built this open air aqueduct to bring water from the north side of the Temple Mount into the city and to the Temple Mount.  Herod later cut through the aqueduct and converted the water supply into a moat around Fort Antonia, cutting off the supply of water to the entire city from this location.

 When the Roman emperor, Hadrian, overtook the city after the demise of Jerusalem (in 70 A.D), he covered the pool with an arched roof to create water cisterns below and built a marketplace above - splitting the pool into two halves.  Today the Struthion Pool still collects the winter rain water from the rooftops in order to supply water to the city during the dry summer season.
   On the north side of the temple mount, the builders of the temple mount had to cut away the bedrock. The original topography of the Moriah mountain on the north-west corner was higher than the temple mount, and so the engineers had to remove some of the rock in order to expand the temple mount during the Herod's expansion. The side of the exposed rock was chiseled and dressed to look like the pillars on the south side.  

How amazing to experience the Western Wall from both city level and below! 

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