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Mishegoss – The Western Wall


The Western Wall (Ha-Kotel Ha-Maaravi) was a retaining wall that Herod the Great built more than 2,000 years ago when he ambitiously expanded the Temple Mount. While the First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in 587–586 BCE, and the Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE. the Wall was spared.

Made of limestone, The Western Wall consists of forty-five stone layers of which twenty-eight are above ground and seventeen are underground. The first seven above-ground rows date from the Herodian period. The next section of four rows were added by the Umayyads during the Byzantine period. The following fourteen layers were added during the period of the Ottoman Empire. The top three layers were added more recently by the Muslim Religious Council for needed repairs. Most of the original stones weigh between 2 and 8 tons and one stone near Wilson’s Arch weighs around 570 tons, greater than any stone used in building the pyramids. Most people visit the 57-meter-long fragment of the Wall, but the Wall’s total length is 488 meters as many sections remain inaccessible.

Cleaning the Notes

Twice a year, before Rosh Hashanah and Passover, the notes and prayers that visitors have placed in the Wall must be cleared out to make room for the thousands of new visitors. The process, under the supervision of the Western Wall’s Chief Rabbi is a delicate operation done with adherence to tradition. Before any work is done the workers must take a mikveh (ritual bath) to cleanse themselves. Then the workers carefully remove the notes and prayers using their bare hands, brooms, and wooden sticks.

Once collected the notes are carefully bagged and left unread as they make their way to be buried at the cemetery on the Mount of Olives. As it is forbidden to destroy anything with God’s name, the prayers are treated with the same respect as worn or damaged prayer books or Torah scrolls.

Don’t Call it the “Wailing Wall”

Many local non-Jews refer to the Wall as the Wailing Wall based on the fact that Jews would cry when praying there. The name came from El-Mabka, or “the Place of Weeping,” the traditional Arabic term for the wall. After the commencement of the British Mandate, “Wailing Wall” became the standard English term.

According to Jewish Virtual Library. “Only after the Six-Day War in 1967 did it become de rigueur in Jewish circles to say “Western Wall”— a reflection of the feeling, first expressed by official Israeli usage and then spreading to the Diaspora, that, with the reunification of Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty, there was no longer anything to wail about. Henceforward, the wall should be a place of celebration.”

Banning the Shofar Under British Rule

In 1931 the King’s Order in Council (the legislative authority of the Mandatory government) stipulated that the Muslim’s ownership rights to the Temple Mount included the Western Wall. As Arabs complained that the shofar was an insult to Islam, according to decree, Jews were no longer allowed to blow the shofar at the Wall.

As quickly as the order was enacted, Jews defied the mandate and conspired to blast the “Tekia Gedola” to mark the ending of Yom Kippur. In defiance, the shofar was blown every Yom Kippur for the final seventeen years of the British Mandate. The brave volunteers, who were mostly teenagers blew the shofar under the risk of being caught and facing six months of imprisonment.

CARICATURE, 1938, satirizing British ban on shofar blowing by Yehoshua Adari. Credit: Historical Jewish Press website

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