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Saturday, May 3, 2014

History of Jerusalem's Western or Wailing Wall-The Kotel

Nadene Goldfoot                                                                    

Still standing in the Old City of Jerusalem is the Western or Wailing Wall (Kotel maaravi in Hebrew)  built by Herod I.  What is there are the remains of a wall that enclosed Herod's Temple (Solomon's Temple (961-920 BCE) which was rebuilt into the 2nd Temple and then rebuilt again by Herod). The Temple had been destroyed in 586 BCE by Nebuchadnezzar and rebuilt in 538-515 BCE  as the 2nd Temple. Details of building the temple are found in I Kings 6, and II Chronicles 3:1.   Major reconstructions were done in the periods of Simon the Just, Judah the Maccabee, Simon the Hasmonean, and Herod.  This Herodian wall surrounding the Temple hill measured  913 x 1,515 x 1,586 x 1,050 feet and the extensive area enclosed was party obtained by leveling and filling between the Tyropoeion and Kidron valleys.  This means that if one walked completely around the 4 walls, they would have walked 1,543.507 meters or 0.959091 miles.  That's just a little bit short of a full mile.

The 1st Temple that King Solomon built was built for G-d (Hashem).  It was 60 cubits long, 20 cubits wide and stood 30 cubits in height.  Quarried stone was used to build it.  It is written in Kings that hammers, chisels, or any iron utensils were not heard in the Temple when it was being built.  Now, a cubit probably was a measurement from Egypt as far back as 3,000 BCE.  It was the distance from your elbow to the tip of your middle finger.  So it could be about 45.72 centimeters or 17 to 21 inches.

 Herod I., who became known as 'the Great" even though he was a murderer,  was born in 73 BCE and died in 4 BCE.  He had been appointed as King of Judea by the Romans because he captured it in 37 BCE with Roman forces.  His father was Antipater, an Idumean (people, descendants of Esau, had been converted to Judaism,  from the Mt. Seir area once called Edom), and his mother was a Nabatean (also Arabs  who occupied Edom in 6th century BCE), lived in Petra), by the name of Cypros. He married Mariamne, a granddaughter of the high priest, Hyreanus, a Hashmonean, which gave him a free hand in internal affairs but still could not conduct an independent foreign policy. (Hashmoneans were a priestly family and dynasty founded by Mattathias of Modiin.    It was Mattathias and his 5 sons, Judah the Maccabee being one who was the hero in our Chanukah story).    Herod was ruthless.  He murdered his own brother-in-law- Aristobulus, the last Hasmonean high priest, and his own wife, Mariamne, their 2 sons, Alexander and   Aristobulus and Antipater, his first son.   He is guilty of many things but he was quite the businessman by enhancing the wealth of Judea through his commercial operations.  Then he rebuilt the Temple in Jerusalem on a magnificent scale and erected the 2 new cities of Sebaste and Caesarea.  He was known outside of Judea as a spokesman and protector of the Jews.  When he died he left a will partitioning his kingdom among his 3 remaining sons:  Archelaus, Herod Antipas, and Philip.

  The wall  is made up of 5 lower courses, each over 3 feet high.  It continues over 60 feet underground.  The Temple's Holy of Holies (inner sanctum) stood at the western end of the Temple so this part of the wall was considered as sacred in our history as far back as the Talmudic Period because at least the 10th century regular services were held before it.  The original Temple was built by King Solomon as a shrine for the Ark, sacred vessels and offerings with a court for worshippers.  It had a hall, shrine and the inner sanctum.  We know that the holy of holies was 32.5 X 32.5.cubits and went from east to west.  In this room was kept the Ark, and had a raised floor and was windowless.  A small cedar altar overlaid with gold stood at the entrance to the holy of holies.
Problems surround the Wall.  The area in front of the Kotel  was Muslim property.  A serious argument broke out between Jews and Muslims in 1929 and again in 1931.  A special commission of the League of Nations regulated the rights of the parties.

What had happened was that during the Roman war, the Temple served as a center of military activity, and was destroyed by the conquering Romans in 70 CE.  A Roman temple was later built on the site.  Since the Moslem Period, a mosque has stood there called the Mosque of Omar, established in 1193.  .

From Israel's birth again May 14, 1948, Jews were cut off from the Wailing Wall which was under Jordanian control even though there was a paragraph in the Israel-Jordan 1949 Armistice Agreement affirming  Jewish right of access.
Jews could not go to the Wailing Wall until the miracle happened when in June 1967 Israel won a war of an attack from  all surrounding states but mostly by Syria, Jordan and Egypt  in which Israel  surprised everyone by winning.  The war lasted from June 5th to June 10th.  The Wall now came under Jewish sovereignty for the first time since the 2nd Temple period.  Soldiers rushed to the Wall to pray.
 It was on Shavuot of 1967 ( Sivan) 6 when people could visit the Wall.  200,000 went there and danced and said prayers.  What became the custom was to write a prayer on a piece of paper and insert it between the stones.

Jewish tourists coming to Jerusalem usually go there first. One has to realize that the remaining wall which once went around the Temple area built first by King Solomon  is over 2,000 years old.  That's where   our ancestors had prayed.  It's where the High Priest entered the holy of holies on Yom Kippur, our Day of Atonement.  The Priests, which would have been the Cohens, descendants of Aaron, brother of Moses, Levites and certain Nethinim  performed services there. (The Nethinim were Temple servants, originally conquered Canaanites who were given the jobs by King David to assist the Levites in the Temple.  These people were exiled to Babylon along with the Jews and returned with them under Zerubbabel and Ezra.  They were given a special quarter of Jerusalem.  They had accepted Ezra's covenant but were still debarred from the Jewish community.  They kept their identity down to amoraic times.  )  Amoraic times covered from 200 to 500 CE when the oral Torah was being discussed.  

 Israel has done a considerable amount of landscaping the area.   The area around the western and southern walls of the Herodian Temple compound was extensively excavated  starting in  1968  directed by B Mazar, of which  many remains dating from Temple times were uncovered.

Resource:  The New Standard Jewish Encyclopedia
Tanach, The Stone Edition; Kings 6.

1 comment:

Shoshana said...

Great information Nadene! Thanks for sharing!