WESTERN WALL (Heb. הַכֹּתֶל הַמַּעֲרָבִי), that section of the western supporting wall of the *Temple Mount which has remained intact since the destruction of the Second Temple (70 c.e.). It became the most hallowed spot in Jewish religious and national consciousness and tradition by virtue of its proximity to the Western Wall of the Holy of Holies in the Temple, from which, according to numerous sources, the Divine Presence never departed. It became a center for mourning over the destruction of the Temple and Israel's exile, on the one hand, and of religious – and in the 20th century also national – communion with the memory of Israel's former glory and the hope for its restoration, on the other. Because of the former association, it became known in European languages as the "Wailing Wall" (or similar appellations). Most of the Western Wall of the Temple Mount, which was about 1,580 ft. (485 m.) long, is hidden by the buildings adjoining it. The accessible portion of the Wall was (until June 1967) no longer than 91 ft. (28 m.) from the Maḥkama building garden on the north to the Prophet's Gate (Barclay's Gate below the Moghrabis' Gate) on the south. In front of it ran a stonepaved alley no wider than 10 ft. (3.3 m.) bordered on its west by a slum area, the Moghrabi Quarter, established in the 14th century. The Wall above ground consisted of 24 courses of stones of different types of dressing and decreasing in size and age, reaching a total height of 58 ft. (18 m.) with 19 ft. (6 m.) above the level of the Temple Mount. In Warren's work in the 19th century 19 more courses were detected buried underground, the lowest founded on the natural rock of the Tyropoeon Valley.
In 1968 the ground in front of the Wall was excavated to reveal two of the buried courses of stone, and the Wall as it exists today consists of eight courses of huge, marginally dressed ("Herodian") stones from the Second Temple period, above which are four layers of smaller, plainly dressed stones from the Moslem (Umayyad) period, eighth century. The upper stones were constructed from the Mamluk period and later. Jewish travelers since the Crusader period used to marvel at the immense dimensions of the lower stones – average height 3¼ ft. (1 m.), and length 10 ft. (3.3 m.), but some as long as 39 ft. (12 m.) and weighing over 100 tons – and believed (incorrectly) that they were part of Solomon's Temple. In order to withstand the pressure of the soil and debris fills situated behind the Wall, the courses of stone were laid with a slight batter, with each row being set back about two inches relative to the one beneath it. The Wall thus slants slightly eastward. This factor, the weight of the stones, and the accuracy of the cutting accounts for the unusual stability of the Wall.
In Jewish Tradition and History
Since 135 c.e. (the failure of the *Bar Kokhba revolt), the prayers of Israel both in Ereẓ Israel and throughout the Diaspora were directed toward the site of the destroyed Temple. The Temple itself as well as all the structures on the Temple Mount were completely effaced, and thus the walls, the only remnants of the Temple Mount, became endeared to the Jews. It cannot be determined with certainty from what point prayers were offered just at this particular section of the Western Wall. The Midrashim already refer to the general sanctity of the Western Wall of the Temple in the fourth century c.e., perhaps referring to the time of Julian the Apostate. They speak of "the Western Wall of the Temple" or of "the Western Gate," from which the Divine Presence never moves, which was not destroyed and never will be destroyed (Ex. R. 2:2; Num. R. 11:2, etc.). It seems probable, however, that the rabbis were referring to the Western Wall of the Holy of Holies and that its indestructibility is symbolic rather than actual, since that wall was in fact destroyed. The notion of the ever-present *Shekhinah therefore became associated with the Western Wall (of the Temple Mount). An 11th-century source – referred to as the "prayer at the gates" document – is known from the Cairo *Genizah, and according to it Jews conducted prayers next to the Western Wall not in the present location but farther north immediately opposite the Holy of Holies of the Jewish Temple, i.e., in the area in front of "Warren's Gate." In the 12th century *Benjamin of Tudela mentions Jews coming to the Western Wall for prayers and to the "Mercy Gate," but it is possible that the other walls to the south and east also served a similar purpose. Later visiting rabbis (12th–15th centuries) also refer to the walls of the Temple Mount, but they, too, are not sitespecific in terms of a gathering spot for Jewish worship along the Western Wall. The Western Wall is not mentioned at all by *Naḥmanides (13th century) in his detailed account of the Temple site in 1267 nor in the report of *Estori ha-Parḥi (14th century). It does not figure even in descriptions of Jerusalem in Jewish sources of the 15th century (e.g., Meshullam of Volterra, *Obadiah of Bertinoro, etc.). The name Western Wall, used by Obadiah, refers – as can be inferred from the context – to the southwestern corner of the wall, and there is no hint that there was a place of Jewish worship there.
It is only from the 16th century that Jews began praying at the present location and this is clear from the available sources.
Thenceforth all literary sources describe it as a place of assembly and prayer for Jews. According to a tradition transmitted by Moses *Ḥagiz, it was the sultan Selim, the conqueror of Jerusalem, who recovered the Wall from underneath the dungheap which was hiding it and granted permission to the Jews to hold prayers there. No Muslim sources about Jerusalem bear any evidence of Arab interest in the Western Wall. The nearby area became Muslim religious property at least as early as in the 13th century, and from 1320 there is mention of the Moghrabi Quarter established there.
With the expansion of the Jewish population in Ereẓ Israel from the beginning of the 19th century onward, and with the increase in visitors, the popularity of the Western Wall grew among Jews. Its image began to appear in Jewish folkloristic art (upon ritual articles, seals, and title pages) and later also in modern art drawings (B. Shatz, J. Steinhardt, M. Chagall, and others). It also became a subject of literary creation. The 19th century also saw the beginning of the archaeological study of the Western Wall. In 1838 *Robinson discovered the arch since named after him, immediately south of the Western Wall, and in the 1850s J. Barclay investigated the lintel of an ancient gate (now in the corner of the women's section; see *Temple, The Second). In 1865 C.W. *Wilson described the arched structure previously discovered by Tobler in the 1830s. From 1867 Sir Charles *Warren sank shafts around the perimeter walls of the Temple Mount and was able to ascertain its full height on three sides. Excavations were conducted to the south of the Western Wall, beneath Robinson's Arch, to the southwest corner of the Temple Mount, as well as along the southern Temple Mount Wall, by B. Mazar from 1967 to 1978. More recently excavations were made beneath Robinson's Arch by R. Reich and Y. Bilig. To the north of the Western Wall, excavations were made along the Western Wall of the Temple Mount by the Ministry of Religious Affairs, and following that systematically by D. Bahat.
During the 19th century attempts were made on behalf of the Jewish community in connection with the Wall. In the 1850s Ḥakham Abdullah of Bombay failed in his efforts to buy the Wall. Sir Moses Montefiore tried in vain to obtain permission for placing benches or for installing a protection against rain there. Permission to pave the street was, however, granted. Occasionally a table for the reading of the Torah was placed near the Wall, but had to be soon removed at the demands of the Muslim religious authorities. In 1887 Baron Rothschild offered to buy the whole Moghrabi Quarter, and have it demolished. He proposed to the government that for the funds received the Waqf should obtain other lands and resettle there the residents evacuated from the Moghrabi Quarter. Although negotiations reached an advanced stage the plan never materialized for reasons not properly clarified to the present day. It is probable that objections were raised not only on the part of the Waqf, but also on the part of the rabbis and communal leaders of the Sephardi community on whose full cooperation Rothschild made conditional his handling of this delicate matter. It appears that certain rabbis observed that the conditions laid down for the designated Jewish sacred trust (hekdesh) would convert the area into a public domain (reshut ha-rabbim) with regard to carrying on the Sabbath and thus create halakhic difficulties. In addition interests and counter-interests among the trustees of the various Sephardi sacred trusts foiled the plan.
Shortly before World War i, a further attempt to purchase the surroundings of the Western Wall was made by the Anglo-Palestine Bank. These negotiations were interrupted by the outbreak of the war. In 1912 the Turkish authorities ordered the removal of a partition between men and women, benches, a glass cupboard for candles, a table for reading the Torah, etc., about the introduction of which the Waqf had complained.
After the Balfour Declaration and the British Mandate had given the Jews a recognized national status in Ereẓ Israel, they began to add national significance to the traditional religious significance of the Western Wall. The Arab mufti incited his community against the Zionists (who, he claimed, intended to seize control of the Wall) by proclaiming it a sacred Muslim site which he named after the legendary horse "Al-Burak," upon which Mohammed is supposed to have ridden to Jerusalem and which he allegedly tied to this wall during his visit. Many intercommunal conflicts about the Western Wall occurred in the 1920s. In order to antagonize the Jews the mufti ordered the opening of a gate at the southern end of the street thus converting it into a thoroughfare for passersby and animals. In addition the Muslims deliberately held loud-voiced ceremonies in the vicinity. They also complained again about the placing of accessories of worship near the Wall, and a partition (between men and women) was forcibly removed – by the British police – on the Day of Atonement 1928. In August 1929 an instigated Muslim crowd rioted among the worshipers and destroyed ritual objects and, following the excitement and unrest this created, murderous riots broke out a few days later.
The British set up a committee of inquiry and consequently an international committee (consisting of a Swede, a Swiss, and a Dutchman) was appointed by the League of Nations to resolve "the problem of the Wall." Although this committee ascertained that the place was indeed holy to Jews well before the time of Saladin (i.e., 1187), this was most likely a reference to the holiness of the Temple Mount as a whole, with no clear chronological data as to the origins of the worship at the Western Wall being available to them. The committee met in Jerusalem, in the summer of 1930, and the results of "the trial of the Wall," as it became known, were as follows:
(a) the Muslims had absolute ownership of the Wall;
(b) the Jews had the uncontested right to worship and to place seats in the street;
(c) the Jews were not to blow the shofar there.
The Arabs objected. The Jews accepted, except for the prohibition to blow the shofar, which was considered a searing humiliation. Indeed, each year nationalist youths would blow the shofar near the Wall at the termination of the Day of Atonement, which would always lead to the intervention of the British police.
From December 1947, after bloody incidents with the Arabs, Jews were no longer able to approach the Western Wall, and after the capitulation of the Jewish Quarter (of the Old City) in May 1948, Jews were prevented for 19 years from even looking at the Wall from afar. The paragraph in the cease-fire agreement granting freedom of access to the holy places was not kept by the Jordanians.
The Wall was liberated on the third day of the Six-Day War (June 7, 1967) by Israel's parachutists breaking through the "bloody gate," which the mufti had opened. The Moghrabi Quarter was immediately demolished and on the first day of Shavuot, one-quarter of a million Jews swarmed to the place. Subsequently the buildings placed against the Wall in its continuation southward were removed. The entire cleared area in front of the Western Wall was leveled and converted into a large paved open space. The lower square near the Wall is the prayer area, where one may find people praying or studying, either singly or in groups, day and night throughout the year. Since the liberation of the Wall, it has hosted national events and ceremonies, such as bar mitzvahs, the swearing in of new idf troops, and memorial and religious services with the attendance of government officials. Under Israeli administration, the excavations made by Warren in 1867, north of the Wall beneath the Muslim structures, were renewed and extended, uncovering the continuation of the Wall northward beyond Wilson's bridge. To the south, too, archaeological excavations progressively revealed the impressive extent of the Wall. One of the main findings of the excavations was the Wall's tunnel, 488 meters in length. The tunnel passes near the foundations of the Western Wall of the Temple Mount and is considered the closest point to the Holy of Holies (Kodesh ha-Kodashim). Inside the tunnel is located the Warren Gate, one of the gates to the Temple which were closed by the Muslim Waqf. The tunnel was opened to the public in 1996 by order of Binyamin *Netanyahu, then Israel's prime minister. It led to violent clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police and soldiers which cost the lives of 15 Israelis and numerous Palestinians. Another site in the Wall complex is the archeological garden, located south of the Wall and consisting of remains of Jerusalem from the Second Temple period, mainly mikva'ot (see *mikveh). In addition, there is a Herodian commercial street, with the remains of shops, which led visitors towards the Temple Mount. At the southern edge of the Wall a pile of hewn stones bears witness to the destruction of the Temple. Among the stones, archeologists have found a special one chiseled on five sides. The inscription led them to believe that it was the one used by the priest to announce the beginning of the Sabbath to the people of Jerusalem. Near the archeological garden is the Davidson Center, a glass building with four underground floors where exhibits from the Second Temple and Byzantine periods are on display.
A.M. Luncz, in: Yerushalayim, 10 (1913), 1–58; idem, in: Lu'aḥ Ereẓ Yisrael, 20/21 (1914–15–16), 1–8; The Western or Wailing Wall in Jerusalem; Memorandum by the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Cmd. 3229 (1928); Protocol of the 14th Session of the Permanent Mandates Commission of the League of Nations (1928), 205–7; C. Adler, Memorandum on the Western Wall (1930);Report of the Commission of the Palestine Disturbances of August 1929, Cmd. 3530 (1930); J. Ya'ari-Poleskin, Baron Edmond Rothschild, 1 (Heb., 1930), 206–19; J. Triwaks, Mishpat ha-Kotel (1931); C.D. Matthews, in: The Muslim World, 22 (1932), 331–9; P. Grayewsky, Sippurei Kotel ha-Ma'aravi (1936); E.R. Malachi, in: Lu'aḥ Yerushalayim, 12 (1951/52), 275–81; Z. Vilnay, Yerushalayim – Ha-Ir ha-Attikah (19673), 97–109; M. Hacohen, Ha-Kotel ha-Ma'aravi (19862); M. Natan, Ha-Milḥamah al Yerushalayim (19686), 311–21; M. Har El, Zot Yerushalayim (1969), 229–40; M.A. Druck and Z. Steiner (eds.), Album ha-Kotel ha-Ma'aravi (1969). add. bibliography: D. Bahat, The Illustrated Atlas of Jerusalem (1990); D. Bahat, "The Western Wall Tunnels," in: H. Geva (ed.), Ancient Jerusalem Revealed (1994; expanded ed., 2000), 177–90; D. Bahat, "Since When Have Prayers Been Made at the Western Wall?" in: Eretz-Israel, Kollek Volume (2006); "The Archeological Garden in Jerusalem," in: Yedioth Aharonoth (Aug. 15, 2001).
[Jacob Auerbach /
Dan Bahat and
Shaked Gilboa (2nd ed.)]
Western Wall Disturbances
WESTERN WALL DISTURBANCES
A September 1928 dispute over Jewish religious rights at the Western Wall that led to political violence in August 1929.
The Western, or Wailing, Wall has been holy to Muslims because it is the western part of the Temple Mount and Haram al-Sharif where, Muslims believe, the prophet Muhammad tethered his "fabulous steed," al-Buraq, while on a nocturnal journey to heaven. The wall is also the holiest shrine of Judaism because it is the remnant of the western exterior of the Temple of Herod, built on the site of Solomon's temple. Jews placed a screen at the wall to separate men and women on 23 September 1928, the eve of the Day of Atonement. The Palestinians protested that the screen violated the status quo ante; the British authorities agreed and forcibly removed it. The incident was politicized by both communities over the next few months, a response that led to tensions and events such as a Revisionist Zionist demonstration on 15 August 1929 and a Palestinian counterdemonstration the following day.
Violence began in Jerusalem on 23 August when Palestinians attacked Jews in Meah Sheʿarim. The rioters attacked the largely non-Zionist religious communities of Hebron and Safed, killing sixty-four and twenty-six people, respectively. Jewish rioters in turn killed Palestinians in a number of cities, but most were shot—some of them indiscriminately—by British troops and police suppressing the disturbances. The violence took the lives of 133 Jews and at least 116 Palestinians.
The Shaw Commission, which investigated the disturbances, determined that the immediate cause of the riots was the Jewish and Arab demonstrations of 15 and 16 August and that the ultimate cause was Palestinian fear that Jewish immigration and land purchase would lead to Jewish domination.
see also haram al-sharif; shaw commission; western wall.
Mattar, Philip. "The Role of the Mufti of Jerusalem in the Political Struggle over the Western Wall, 1928–1929." Middle Eastern Studies 19, no. 1 (January 1983): 104–118.
Palestine Government. A Survey of Palestine for the Information of the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry. 2 vols. Jerusalem, 1946. Reprint, Washington, DC: Institute for Palestine Studies, 1991.
The Hebrew Ha-Kotel Ha-Maʿaravi refers to the western retaining wall surrounding Jerusalem's Temple Mount. Sometimes called the "Wailing Wall," since Jews pray and cry near it, it is built of large limestones hewn for the Second Temple, which was enlarged during the reign of Herod (37–4 b.c.e.), king of Judea. It was destroyed by the Romans in 70 c.e.
Since then, the remaining wall has stood as a reminder and symbol of lost glory and the redemption to come; Jews turn toward it when they pray. By tradition, notes to heaven are placed in its cracks. During the British mandate, Jews had limited access in bringing religious appurtenances, which had to adhere to certain rules (e.g., using a curtain to separate men and women) or else were banned. During Jordanian rule, Jews' access to the wall was denied. After the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967, the area was excavated and became again a place of public prayer and assembly. The surrounding plaza is also the site of many national assemblies and civil religious events.
Heilman, Samuel. A Walker in Jerusalem. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1995.
samuel c. heilman