Can Stones Be Holy? What is the point of Judaism, if not to redeem us from worshipping “wood and stone”? Standing in the Kotel plaza, squinting in the harsh Mediterranean sun, I see that the Kotel is visibly darker about two feet above the ground. That darker strip is where visitors, pilgrims, tourists, and davenners
“Every Jew dreamed of it for 2,000 years, but no one thought it would happen so fast.” —Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek, June 7, 1967 In May 1967, on the eve of the Six-Day War, a reporter asked David Ben-Gurion whether he felt a yearning for the Western Wall. “I feel no yearning,” Israel’s founding father
They tell me this is the Wall,” wrote Jewish activist and writer Elie Wiesel in the pages of a special issue of Hadassah Magazine in July 1967 on his first visit to the Kotel after the Six-Day War. He went on, “I don’t believe it… I am afraid to believe it. Deep down, of course,
The Western Wall is widely held to be the “most sacred place in the world to the Jewish people”— a notion that evokes both historical continuity and a sense of universal Jewish unity. In fact, the Wall has been a site of contention among Jews for decades, a central axis around which two of the overarching and defining questions of Jewish identity in the modern world have come together — and come to a head.
Around 19 BCE, as Herod (whose reign spanned from 37 to 4 BCE) was rebuilding the Jerusalem Temple, he doubled the size of the Temple Mount and created a large artificial platform. Around this platform he constructed four massive retaining walls. The Kotel (known as the Western Wall, the Wailing Wall, and the Wall of
The story of Women of the Wall begins with the Wall. The story of the contemporary Wall begins with the Six-Day War in June of 1967. It begins not on June 7, when the Old City was captured and David Rubinger took his iconic photograph of three battle-weary Israeli soldiers standing in front of the
The story of Women of the Wall (WoW) begins in the United States. It is now an Israeli affair, attracting considerable attention in the American Jewish community as well as in major American media. Even though the political and legal mechanics of any resolution to this problem will take place in Israel, the matter will
The survival of the Western Wall alone among the four retaining walls of the Herodian Temple Mount invites inquiry. Was it accidental or intentional? And, either way, what are we to make of it? A search for ha-kotel ha-ma’aravi in the compendious Bar-Ilan University data base indicates that the term — when applied to the
1. What endows a site, whether a wall or a ruin, with holiness? And when does it become dangerous to endow a physical space, perhaps especially a contested one, with spiritual qualities? Is the Wall the closest Jews have to, say, the Vatican, or the Mormon Temple? Are such comparisons uncomfortable, relevant, or beside the point?
2. What does holiness mean for you? Do places inspire such feelings? Have you experienced the Wall as a place of holiness and, if so, why?
3. How does using the Kotel for rituals such as “military swearing-in ceremonies” complicate the fragile relationship between the sacred and the profane? Does it endow military activities with the aura of “holy war”?
4. Can you envision Jerusalem as the shared capital of two states — Israel and Palestine?
5. Should women be permitted to pray at the Kotel with tallitot and a Torah? What complicates this discussion?