The Western Wall, Wailing Wall or Kotel is an ancient limestone wall in the Old City of Jerusalem. It is a relatively small segment of a far longer ancient retaining wall, known also in its entirety as the “Western Wall”. Map.
Visitors who stand at the Western Wall, looking up at the huge ancient stones – the last remnant of the Temple in Jerusalem – are almost always surrounded by people: some have come to celebrate a Bar Mitzvah, others to take pictures before a wedding, or to place a heartfelt prayer-note within the cracks between the stones.
But they sense the presence not only of the here-and-now, but also of the untold numbers of people who for centuries streamed to this, the most sacred place in the world to the Jewish people. The Western Wall was part of the most magnificent building Jerusalem had ever seen.
It was one of four walls Herod the Great built to support the 1,555,000-square-foot plaza on which the Temple stood. It was almost 1,500 feet long – the rest can still be seen inside the Western Wall Tunnel . Originally it was some 90 feet high and reached some 60 feet into the ground. But it is not because of its grand architecture that the Western Wall became an inseparable part of the Jewish People.
Solomon, who built the First Temple, said it best with these words: “May Your eyes be open day and night toward this House, toward the place of which You have said, ‘My name shall abide there;’ may You heed the prayers which Your servant will offer toward this place. And when You hear the supplications which Your servant and Your people Israel offer toward this place, give heed in Your heavenly abode…” (1 Kings 8:17).
It was Abraham who first linked the Jewish people to Jerusalem , when he offered Isaac in sacrifice on Mount Moriah, the Temple Mount , now above and behind the Wall. The rock of the offering, over which the Dome of the Rock was built in the late seventh century, is known in Jewish tradition as the Foundation Stone of the world.
King David purchased this land; Solomon’s First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE; Herod expanded the Second Temple , which was burned by the Romans in 70 CE, except legend says, for the Western Wall.
It was then that Talmudic sages began to teach: “This is the Western Wall of the Temple , which is never destroyed for the shekhinah [the Divine presence] is in the west” (Bamidbar Rabah 11:63).
In the Middle Ages, the Wall received another name – the Wailing Wall, as Jews were observed here lamenting the Temple’s destruction. A legend says that on Ninth of Av , the anniversary of the Temple ‘s destruction, the dew glistening on the stones is the Wall itself shedding tears.
For 19 years, from 1948 until 1967, when Jerusalem was divided, Jews were separated from the Wall. But then, in the Six Day War, on June 7, 1967, Jerusalem was reunited. From then on, the Western Wall became not only a symbol of glories past and a place to leave a bit of oneself in the form of notes bearing prayers and blessings, but of the love and devotion of the Jewish People for their Holy City now and forever.