Every culture and religion is unique in its own way, possessing distinct rituals, practices, and places of significant spiritual importance. One such place for Judaism is the Western Wall, or Kotel HaMa'arawi in Hebrew, also known to the world by its other name the Wailing Wall, or Al-Buraq in Arabic. It remains one of the most important places of Judaic pilgrimage and the site where Shabbat (Sabbath) ritual is held in Israel and where Friday night prayers, singing, and worship are shared amongst the different denominations in the Judaic tradition from the Hasidic to the Reform Jew, at the holy site where God still remains. The Western Wall was first constructed under the direction of King Solomon and was finished in approximately the year 515 B.C.E. under the direction of two overseers, Zerubbal and Haggal. At that time Jerusalem was seen as the center of the world, the hub of humanity. The Temple that was constructed was the center of power-a place where God would come to worshippers on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) and a place where Jews could feel God's presence daily. The first profanation of the Holy Temple occurred when the Babylonians desecrated the holy sanctuary and exiled the Jewish people as slaves to the Babylonian Empire. In the year 538 B.C.E., King Cyrus (who in Isaiah 45:1 is called the anointed, a term that was used in the Hebrew Bible to address both priestly and kingly figures) freed the Hebrews and allowed them to return to their holy land of Israel. Once the Hebrews returned, they began an immediate mission to rebuild Jewish society, and the center of that society was the Temple. In the book of Ezra, in approximately the year 444 B.C.E., the second Temple was reconstructed. Both the first and second Temple existed for a span of 400 years before they were destroyed.
The second wave of destruction to the Temple occurred in the year 66 C.E., under the Roman legions that marched in Jerusalem under the order of the Roman emperor Vespasian. The Jewish wars, as recorded in the writings of the historian Josephus, was a reaction to increasing tensions between the Roman authorities and Jewish people. The numerous minirevolts led by zealots increased and finally reached the end of the emperor's tolerance. Under Vespasian's command, Jerusalem was besieged, and the second Temple was destroyed. What remains today of the second Temple is the outer courtyard of the Holy Temple of Jerusalem. It is located on the Temple Mount, the original location of the first and second Temples, spanning 800 years of existence. The Wailing Wall continues to inspire belief by many religious the Jews that the Wall is a fulfillment of God's promise to his chosen people and that no matter what catastrophe should befall Jerusalem, He would leave some remainder of the Temple as an eternal sign of the unbreakable bond between God and His chosen people.
The Temple Mount serves as a holy site for Christians, Muslims, and Jews, for this is the site where God showed the patriarch Abraham the land in which he would be the father of a great nation, and the same area in which the Akeda, or the binding of Isaac, occurred in Genesis, where Abraham was to sacrifice Isaac to God. Where the Dome of the Rock sits today is the site where the holiest center of the Temple sat, called the Holy of Holies, or Kodesh HaKodashim in Hebrew. Only the high priests on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) were permitted to enter the innermost holy sanctuary on this day.
The wall has been the focal point for much heated political and religious debate in Israel for the past 50 years, for the Temple Mount is built on Mount Moriah, the foundation from which God is said to have created the universe. It is also the home to the Islamic holy sanctuary of the Dome of the Rock, which is located directly behind the wall. Close by the wall is the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which is the third holiest site to Muslims next to Mecca and Medina and is the place from which, according to tradition, Mohammed ascended into heaven. Contention over this area is at the heart of Arab-Israeli struggles. For in order for the third Temple to be built, the Dome of the Rock must be destroyed. Ownership and declarations of the true "owners" of the Temple Mount have resulted in bloodshed and a seemingly unending stalemate.
Jews have prayed at the wall for thousands of years, with a fervent belief that God will return to Israel to rebuild the third Temple, which will usher in the Messianic Era. Today, the wall is a religious pilgrimage site, a place of spiritual development for Jews and people of varying religious traditions. It is impossible to escape being captivated by the flurry of activity that surrounds the wall. One unique aspect of the wall is that there is a barrier to separate men from women. Men of non-Jewish descent are permitted to go to the wall only if they are wearing a kippa, or head covering, in keeping with the Jewish practice out of humility and respect toward God.
There is a tradition that continues today, and for any visitor to the wall, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, and Christian alike, a prayer written on a piece of paper is rolled and inserted into the cracks in the wall, to be answered by God. This belief is important to newlyweds who, after their ceremony, will come to the wall to say a prayer and insert their own written prayers into the cracks. The wall is also a place where 13-yearold boys have their bar mitzvah ceremony, and is the final destination of the Israeli army's new recruits, who march 100 miles to the wall for final prayer and an oath before God. The wall serves as a reminder of God's connection to and covenant with the Jewish people, with the hope of God's return for the third Temple to be rebuilt. Sanctity is found in the wall, a sanctity that has emanated from it since its construction so many thousands of years ago and that will continue for years to come.