Western Wall - The Holiest Jewish Site
Jerusalem is the home of the Western Wall, the holiest site in Judaism. The Western Wall is what remains of a Herodian era wall that used to enclose and support the Second Temple.
History of the Western Wall
Built by King Herod in 20 BCE during the expansion of the Temple enclosure, the Western Wall is part of a wall that used to enclose the western side of the Temple Mount. Construction of the walls took 11 years. In 70 CE, the Romans destroyed Jerusalem, including the Temple. Beginning in the 16th century the Western Wall became the primary place of pilgrimage for Jews, who came to lament the Temple's destruction.
For many years, the wall lay in an alleyway of just 12 feet wide, where only a few hundred tightly packed worshipers could gather. In 1967, after Israel's victory in the Six Day War, Israel leveled the adjacent Arab district to create Western Wall Plaza, which is expansive enough to hold thousands of pilgrims. They also dug down and exposed two more layers of stones from the Temple Plaza retaining wall. These layers of stones had been buried under debris for hundreds of years.
The Western Wall Today
Today, the Western Wall Plaza can serve as a synagogue in the open, where tens of thousands of worshipers can gather. Special prayer services are held there, and prayers take place both day and night. The prayer section of the wall has grass growing out of the cracks in the upper part of the wall. In the lower part of the wall, cracks in the blocks are stuffed with pieces of paper with prayers written on them. It is common to see Orthodox Jews praying while standing at the wall. Some of them recite the entire Book of Psalms at the wall.
The Western Wall is a very popular place for special events like Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. A fast is held on Tisha B'Av, a day that falls in July or August on the western calendar, to commemorate the First and Second Temple's destruction. At this time worshipers sit on the ground and recite special liturgies or the Book of Lamentations.
Tips for Visitors to the Western Wall
No matter their religion, visitors are welcome to come to the Western Wall and pray silently there. Men who want to approach the wall have to wear a hat, or take a head covering from the box next to the entrance to the prayer area. A dividing screen marks off an area for women at the far right of the Western Wall, because women are not allowed into the men's section according to Orthodox Jewish tradition. Women without them may borrow the required short skirt coverings and shawls.