Wailing Wall

Western Wall Prayers

Al Aqsa Mosque Wailing Wall Damascus Gate
Wailing Wall

Western / Wailing Wall

Here is the Wailing Wall in old Jerusalem, packed with Jewish worshippers, none of whom were crying, let alone wailing, during the Shavuot Festival.

Then why is the Wailing Wall called the "Wailing" Wall?

The answer dates from the Middle Ages when Jerusalem's European residents often heard Jewish visitors wailing at the wall to lament the loss of Jerusalem and Israel.

Still, the Wailing Wall remains a misnomer because it isn't a wall. When Herod 'the Great' - the one who wiped out the baby boys in Bethlehem after Jesus was born there - set out to expand the Second Temple of Jerusalem, he found the Temple Mount area too small for his plans. So he enlarged it with a foundation built from cut rocks.

The Wailing Wall - the most venerated site in Judaism today - is just the western facade (The Wailing Wall is also called The Western Wall) of this foundation, which is all that remained of the Temple Mount after the Roman army, led by Titus, razed it to its foundation in 70 AD, as foretold about 40 years prior:

Then as He went out of the temple, one of His disciples said to Him, “Teacher, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here!” And Jesus answered and said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone shall be left upon another, that shall not be thrown down.” (Mark 13:1-2) 

The Wailing Wall was somewhat less crowded earlier in the day, during the morning prayers, below.

Wailing Wall Prayers

The orthodox Jewish men above, including the two on the left wearing prayer shawls, are actually not praying per se but reciting prayers from books while rocking back and forth to concentrate. Prayers are also written on pieces of paper, folded and stuck in the crevices in between the cut stones; the crevices are full of them.

Where are the women?

Shavuot Festival

They are behind the partition (right), that reserves the left (when facing the wall) 3/4 of the plaza for men, and in front of the ramp, (draped with Israeli flags), to the Temple Mount, where the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosque sit.

The men in the photo are celebrating the Shavuot Festival, which commemorates Moses returning from Mount Sinai with the stone tablets bearing the Ten Commandments, by walking in a circle chanting, "Thank you for the Law!" in Hebrew.

Near the wall, an orthodox Jewish woman* explained to me that Jews' earthly religious efforts determine the rewards they receive in the next world. There, she explained, each Jew will be served by 2,800 gentiles, who will also get some rewards if they keep in this life another set of laws intended for them. In bidding me farewell, she said she enjoyed our conversation and added, "It would give me pleasure if you became one of my servants." I was tempted to ask her about the remuneration package she had in mind for my services, but she was serious so I just smiled and thanked her for her kind consideration.

* Israel's orthodox Jews, typically dressed in black, pretty much keep to themselves and avoid contact with non-Jews. If you are a man, refrain from offering a handshake to greet orthodox Jewish women; the only men they are allowed to touch are their husbands.

Travel Tip
To enter the Wailing Wall plaza, you need to go through one of three security checkpoints. The plaza is open 24 hours, 7 days a week but if you want to avoid crowds, go very early in the morning. To get close to the wall, dress modestly (e.g., no shorts or tank tops) and pick up a head covering from a bin near the entrance to the plaza. Men can approach the wall only from the left side of the plaza as you face the wall, and the women, only from the right.

As a gentile in a sea of orthodox Jews, I was on guard as I walked through the crowd to get to the wall. I didn't know if I'd be shunned, yelled at or pushed out. When I reached the wall, a Jewish man approached me, introduced himself as a rabbi, welcomed me, shook my hand and blessed me profusely in English. Grateful and relieved at the unexpected welcome, I smiled and thanked him for his kind words. Still gripping my hand, he advised that he is so poor that he cannot get married and asked me to help him by making a donation. When I started to fish in my pocket for change with my free hand, he further advised, "I prefer paper money." He got change, which is more than he deserved, as he looked neither poor nor like a rabbi. Be careful whose hand you shake at the wall.

Al Aqsa Mosque Damascus Gate