Western Wall

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Part of the wall around the Temple Mount built by Herod in the first century bce. Five rows of the original huge stones, each weighing many tons, are now seen above ground; the lower, original stones are below ground. The smaller stones that can now be seen were added at various periods. This wall, called Ha-Kotel (‘the wall’) is not the actual wall of the Temple, as some imagine, but of the Temple Mount. The reference in the Midrash to the ‘Western Wall from which the Shekhinah will never depart’ may originally have been to the actual western wall of the Temple, since the Holy of Holies was situated in the west. But pilgrims to Jerusalem increasingly understood the Midrash as referring to this wall with the result that, at least from the sixteenth century, the wall was held to be a specially sacred spot from which prayers offered there ascended directly to heaven. Some pious Jews still insert written petitions in the crevices of the wall. Because Jews have mourned there over the destruction of the Temple, the wall came to be known, by non-Jews, as the ‘Wailing Wall’, but this name is unknown in the Jewish tradition.

After the Six Day War, when east Jerusalem came into Jewish hands once again, a large space was cleared in front of the wall to form a plaza and, nowadays, constant services are held there, men and women being separated in accordance with the Orthodox view. Some Jews, especially those of Oriental extraction, celebrate a boy's Bar Mitzvah at the wall accompanied by singing and dancing (and see HOLY PLACES).

Subjects: Judaism and Jewish Studies.

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