All you needed to know about the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem

Lee Saunders 12/03/2023

The Ten Commandments are the charter and guide of human liberty, for there can be no liberty without the law,” said the American, Cecil DeMille, one of the founders of the Hollywood motion-picture industry. According to the Hebrew Bible, the Ten Commandments, brought down by Moses from Mount Sinai, were contained in the Ark of the Covenant, said to have been kept in the First Temple of Jerusalem, built on the spot where it is believed God created Adam, the first man.

Today, exactly where the Ark rested on the Temple Mount remains a matter of debate, but its location is believed to have been close to the remains of the awe-inspiring Wailing Wall, which surrounds the Temple Mount, the site of the First and Second Temples of Jerusalem. The First Temple was built during the reign of King David’s son Solomon, completed around 957 BCE, and destroyed by the Babylonians in 587–586 BCE. The Second Temple was started by Herod the Great in 20 BCE and destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE, leaving only this support wall. For centuries, people of faith prayed in the small area of the wall that could be seen.

So, what is the Wailing Wall?

Throughout history, you may have heard the Western Wall called many other names, including the ‘Kotel’ (meaning wall in Hebrew) and the ‘Wailing Wall,’ a term used to describe the Jews, who during Roman rule over Jerusalem (around 324–638 AD) would weep at the site over the destruction of their two Temples.

The history of the Wailing Wall dates from about the 2nd century BCE. Made of limestone, the Wall comprises 45 rows of stone, 28 above ground and 17 underground, with the lower half of what can now be seen dating back to the time of Herod. The upper parts of the Wall were added in the 7th century AD. During this time the upper area of the wall measured almost half a kilometer, but today, the part visible to all at the Western Wall Plaza is a mere 70 meters, but it was as close as Jews could get to the Temple Mount and the site of the Holy of Holies for thousands of years, and so considered the most sacred place in the world for the Jewish people.

What is inside the Wailing Wall?

Excavations in the late 1960s found various structures that illustrated and uncovered pieces of Jerusalem history, including Warren’s Gate (named for one of the original British researchers). Warren’s Gate is a clandestine entrance to the temple from underground and a popular place to pray because it is believed to be the closest point of access to the Holy of Holies within the Temple. The Holy of Holies is believed to be where the Ark of the Covenant once rested and the dwelling place of the Divine Presence.

What are the Western Wall Tunnels and are they worth visiting?

The Western Wall Tunnels today are open to the public, attracting history lovers who marvel at the precision of this ancient architecture and the faithful overjoyed at the close proximity to the holiest part of the Kotel. Visitors walk through ancient and fascinating subterranean spaces with archeological findings, such as large stone arches, water pits, an ancient water aqueduct that ends at the Struthion Pool, and a large cistern built by Herod the Great in the first century BCE. The Western Wall Tunnels are still slowly being excavated, and new artifacts, from ancient coins to earthenware, are still being discovered. Tours are conducted all-day Sunday through Thursday, and Friday mornings. The Western Wall Tunnels is one of the must-see experiences in Jerusalem.

What do Jews do at the Wailing Wall?

So what ‘do’ you do there? A place of prayer and pilgrimage, many Jews are seen praying at the Kotel. At most hours of the day the Western Wall is lined with people deep into prayer books, leaning forward, and touching their foreheads to the stones. Others come to celebrate important occasions like bar mitzvahs and weddings.

The Wailing Wall – Live stream

Can I touch the Western Wall?

One striking tradition is that every day, visitors to the Western Wall leave millions of hand-written notes in between the cracks of the ancient stone. The tradition has been adopted by members of many faiths around the world. Whether of the Jewish faith, another faith, or no faith, these are notes to God, prayers and personal wishes. To make sure there’s room for future paper wishes, twice a year hundreds of thousands of notes are removed and buried nearby on Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives.

What are the rules for visiting the Wailing Wall?

With regards to behavior and dress, like other places of worship around the world, the golden rule of thumb is respect. Be quiet and respectful of those worshiping and praying. You will see people in prayer rocking back and forth, reciting passages from the Torah. This is an unmatched experience that is unique to Jerusalem.

The Western Wall on Shabbat, between Friday and Saturday sundown, is a different experience than other times of the week. Avoid using electronics all together: no pictures, no cell phones, and make sure your phone is switched off before approaching the wall. If you arrive before Friday sunset, you will see the women lighting candles as well as religious students celebrating the upcoming Shabbat.

How should I dress for the Western Wall?

Women and men should dress modestly in the Western Wall Plaza. To approach the Wall or pray there, women should have their shoulders and legs above the knee covered (scarves or shawls are provided at the site). Men should cover their head, and, as they approach the Wall, there is a booth to take a free yarmulke (Jewish head covering). Before going up to the Kotel, Jewish men have the opportunity to say a blessing, briefly wearing a tefillin, a small leather box containing a prayer, with multiple straps to be wrapped around the forehead, arm and hands. There are Rabbis on hand to help and explain to the uninitiated.

Can only men go to the Wailing Wall?

No. The Western Wall is accessible to all, 24/7, regardless of shape, size, color, gender, age, religion or anything else. There are separate sections for men and women, with a clear and unmistakable partition between the two sections, as you would find in an Orthodox synagogue. Men are to the left, women to the right. It will be obvious where to go. Additionally, for the past several decades, egalitarian prayer has been organized, adjacent to main plaza, known as Robinson’s Arch. Many thousands of Jews from around Israel and the world come to pray there together each year.

Can I take pictures at the Wailing Wall?

Of course, a snapshot at the Kotel can become a lifelong memento. The golden rule is to be respectful and avoid taking photos on the Sabbath, between Friday and Saturday evening. From a technical point of view, keep some distance to get the best panoramic and Instagrammable photo.

How to get From Dan hotels in Jerusalem to the Wailing Wall?

Firstly, you need to get to the Old City in Jerusalem and from here you can reach the Western Wall via several gates. Jaffa Gate is arguably the easiest. The Western Wall is less than 2km and 30 minutes ‘walk from both the Dan Panorama Jerusalem and the Dan Boutique Jerusalem, two of the hotels in Jerusalem owned by the Dan hotel chain. From the Dan Panorama Jerusalem, on leaving the hotel, walk north along King David Street until you come to Yitzhak Kariv Street. With Mamilla on your left hand side, head towards Teddy Park before crossing over the road to the Jaffa Gate entrance into the Old City, from where the Western Wall is regularly signposted. From the Dan Boutique Jerusalem, walk north-east along Jerusalem’s Hebron Road, passing Menachem Begin Heritage Center on the left and Cinémathèque Jerusalem on the right. Follow the road round onto Hativat Yerushalayim Street and keep going straight until you also reach the Jaffa Gate entrance.

Tips for Visiting the Wailing Wall

As with all places of worship and prayer, respect is paramount. Dress appropriately and behave respectfully and this will be a memorable and lasting experience. Some of the best days to visit are Mondays and Thursdays when you can catch Bar Mitzvah ceremonies that take place on these days. For smaller crowds, earlier in the day or late afternoon can be better than middle of the day. Should you want to see larger crowds, a visit over the three Jewish high holidays of Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot can be poignant. Regardless The Western Wall is part of the Temple Mount complex, and regardless of when you go, to access it you will need to go through a security checkpoint and metal detector before reaching the Western Wall. If you are with a tour guide, your guide will accompany you through this.

In brief, why the Western Wall is worth a visit.

Located in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, the Western Wall is the holiest site in Judaism, and while the majority of people who come are Jewish, people of any faith can always visit this extraordinarily ancient landmark, and will become a truly remarkable experience.

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