Western Wall

Divide Over Jerusalem's Most Sensitive Holy Site

The gilded Dome of the Rock is part of the most important Muslim holy site in Jerusalem, while the Western Wall, in the midground on the right, is the holiest place for Jewish prayer. The photo was taken following a rare snowstorm in Jerusalem in December 2013.

This is a piece of history about what is known as the Western Wall and I suspect it’s not according the expectations many have in the western world.

This article about the Western Wall is part of our History and Culture and Archaeology tours at Shalom Israel.

First its name. The Western Wall is also being called Wailing Wall (referring to the practice of Jews weeping at the site over the Destruction of the Temples) or Kotel (Hebrew) or Kosel (Arabic) or the Buraq Wall (Arabic) (this was based on the tradition that inside the wall was the place where Muhammad tethered his miraculous winged steed, al-Buraq.) or the Place of Weeping.  The term Wailing Wall was historically, exclusively used by Christians and revived between the British rule in 1920 and the six-day-war in 1967 and is not used by Jews and is considered derogatory. Today the term is used by those ignorant of this detail.

Secondly, what exactly is the Western Wall? The Western Wall is exactly as the name indicates. It’s the 488 meter-long wall on the western side of the structure atop on the hill with the name Temple Mount for Jews and Christians and it’s built 19 BCE by Herod the Great. For the Muslims, the Temple Mount is known as the Noble Sanctuary, named al-Haram ash-Sharīf hundreds of years later.

The Temple Mount is holiest site in Judaism and that’s the place to which Jews turn during prayer (like the Muslims turn to Mecca during prayer). Because a rabbinic ban on praying on the Mount, the Western Wall is the only place where they are allowed to pray.

Jewish and Christian tradition identifies the Temple Mount with Mount Moriah (since first century CE), which is the name given to a mountain range by the Book of Genesis, in which context it is the location of the sacrifice of Isaac. The sacrifice of Isaac, where God asks Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac, on Mount Moriah. The account states that Abraham “bound Isaac, his son” before placing him on the altar.

Among Sunni Muslims, the Mount is widely considered the third holiest site in Islam. Revered as the Noble Sanctuary, the location of Muhammad’s journey to Jerusalem and ascent to heaven, the site is also associated with Jewish biblical prophets who are also known and accepted in Islam. After the Muslim conquest of Jerusalem in 637 CE, Umayyad Caliphs commissioned the construction of the al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock on the site.

Dome of the rock

Dome of the rock

The Dome of the Rock was completed in 692 CE, making it one of the oldest extant Islamic structures in the world, occupying or close to the area where the Jewish Holy Temple previously stood.

Holy Temple in Jerusalem

Holy Temple in Jerusalem

  • For Christians, the mount is important, because of the role Herod’s Temple played in the life of Jesus. As a twelve-year-old boy, Jesus was found in the Temple where he confounded the Jewish theologians with his knowledge of the Torah.
  • For Muslims, a 13th-century claim to an extended region of holiness was made by Ibn Taymiyyah who asserted: “Al-Masjid al-Aqsa is the name for the whole of the place of worship built by Sulaymaan” which, according to western tradition, presents: “…the place of worship built by Solomon” known as Solomon’s Temple. Muslims view the site as being one of the earliest and most noteworthy places of worship of God. For a few years in the early stages of Islam, Mohammad instructed his followers to face the Mount during prayer.
  • For Judaism, the Jewish connection and veneration to the site arguably stems from the fact that it contains the Foundation Stone which, according to the rabbis of the Talmud, was the spot from where the world was created and expanded into its current form. It was subsequently the Holy of Holies of the Temple, the Most Holy Place in Judaism. According to the Bible, David wanted to construct a sanctuary there, but this was left to his son Solomon, who completed the task in c. 950 BCE with the construction of the First Temple.

Some historical observations:

  1. Long before the Christians and Muslims could claim anything, the Jewish King Solomon (son of King David) build the first temple on the mount at 950 BCE.
  2. Christians didn’t built any temple; the importance for them was that Jesus lived that time of Herod’s temple. Later, they built churches and shrines over the important landmarks of Jesus and other early Christian life.
  3. Muslims laid their claims much later in history. The Arabs built (692 CE) their Dome of the Rock at the location on the ruins of the Jewish First Temple.
  4. The city what we call now is Jerusalem, was a settlement built by the Canaanites (c. 4th millennium BCE), who lived here thousands of years before the Jews, Christians and Muslims appeared.
  5. Historically, none of the major religions and any peoples can factually claim ownership, except maybe the Canaanites (when they would still exist).

One response to “Western Wall

  1. Pingback: Why is Israel so unique? | Shalom Israel·

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