A Wall Atop the Wailing Wall

The Wailing or Western Wall in Jerusalem is the holiest place in the Jewish religion.  It is supposedly the sole remaining portion of the First Temple.  Prayers offered near to it (or, especially, touching it) are said to be more easily heard by God.  Above the wall, on top of Temple Mount, the third and fourth holiest places in Islam are located:  the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque.  The Dome of the Rock contains the rock upon which Abraham was commanded to sacrifice his son.  It is also the place from which Mohammad ascended to heaven on his Night Journey.

Control and/or provisions to share these locations are at the crux of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but rarely make the list of discussion topics during peace talks, largely because of the extreme religious sensitivities involved.

Christianity’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Via Dolorosa are not far away, either — both within the Old City Walls.  And the Crusaders once occupied the Temple Mount, making the city a well-known confluence for all three Monotheistic religions.

Men's and women's prayer areas, the newer Ottoman-era portion of the wall, and the Al-Aqsa Mosque itself are all visible in the photo.

What might not be well known is that the Western Wall itself is divided into several distinct layers and sections.  First, male and female prayer areas are separate and distinct, with women crowded into a disproportionately smaller area at the right of the wall.  Then, the stonework of the wall itself displays visibly differing ages and styles of workmanship.  Only the lowest few tiers of stone are from the First Temple.  The next few similar but more roughly-hewn layers date from King Herod’s reconstruction of the Temple (a period known as the Second Temple).  And, most interesting to me — and maybe closet to fitting with my theme of Not Quite Right — is the topmost section of the wall.  Built by the Ottomans (under the direction of Sir Moses Montefiore), its ostensible purpose was “for shade and protection from the rain for all who come to pray by the holy remnant of our Temple.”  However, its more likely purpose was to prevent Muslims who attended Friday prayers in the Al-Aqsa mosque above from tossing stones and other items on Jewish penitents at the base of the wall below!

In any case, a good look at the Wailing/Western Wall provides a tense snapshot of the forces that currently divide people in the Middle East.  It is that division, rather than symbols like walls or churches or mosques, which is truly Not Quite Right.

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3 responses to “A Wall Atop the Wailing Wall

  • Shehrazadeblog

    I totally agree, It’s not quite right. If only we looked at each other as human beings and respected each other. You cheered me up, this morning I started my day, by reading a comment by a christian friend about Islam on face book. The comment was very insulting. This person knows me and my family very well. Yet his coment was very hateful. I do not blame people, specially with what is going on around the world and what they see on the media. But I did find it very insulting and ignorant specialy from a friend. Thank you for being respectful in your blogs, I truly enjoyed it.

    • Benjamin Buchholz

      Shehrazade . . . I’m glad the post cheered you up but saddened to know that your friend made such a comment. It is truly one of the things I hope to do here, not only to promote tolerance and cross-communication but to write about things that turn the westernized perspective on its head because, certainly, we’ve got to question ourselves first before automatically condemning the practices of other people on this earth. I think that Islam has a lot to offer and the things it does have to offer for the world are often drowned in the shouts of the intolerant and in the mistakes made (in the name of Islam or of any other religion for that matter) by the over-zealous few.

      • Shehrazadeblog

        Human beings spoiled every thing in this Universe, that includes religion. When we take these beautiful scriptures and use them for our own gains, we get only hate and violence. I always say to all my friends wished you met the religion before you met the people. I think that includes all religions. Terrorism, Hatred, Racism all these are made by man and not by God. We have not crossed each others paths in Jerusalem, or in one of the malls in Dubai or the streets of Turkey, yet we have met here. God bless and take care.

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