In modern times, the “Western Wall” or the Kotel has become the center of Jewish prayers. As it has done so, it has replaced the Temple and Temple Mount in the minds of many Jews, so much so, that people have forgotten and misrepresent what the Kotel actually is or have stopped caring at all.
Non-Orthodox Jews “Don’t Care”
The Jewish Week, a popular weekly newspaper for Jews in the metropolitan New York City area, published a piece called “Mourning the Temples’ Losses” on July 24, 2015. The article was written about the holiday of Tisha b’Av, the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av, which is when tradition states that each of the two Jewish Temples were destroyed. The article claims that the holiday has become only meaningful to Orthodox Jews, and for “secular Jews, ‘Tisha b’Av seems a vestigial organ,’ writes Don Futterman, program director in Israel for the Moriah Fund, wrote in Haaretz [a left-wing Israeli paper].”
The secular anti-Orthodox newspaper quoted a left-wing charity in Israel which describes itself as “Promoting Civil Rights, Social Justice and Democracy in Israel“ and “Protecting and advancing human rights” which it feels it can achieve by funding movies questioning Israel such as “Breaking the Silence” and the anti-Israel 972 magazine. These are indeed the views of many secular and liberal Israelis who feel that Judaism has evolved from Temple service to prayer, and from prayer to “social justice”. Together with such evolution was an abandonment of historic places and forms of worship to a modern emphasis only on people. Those “vestigial organs” are there as part of history, but serve no function (and can and should be removed if they prove dangerous to the body as a whole).
Orthodox Jews “Don’t Know”
The Jewish Week continued that “for many Orthodox Israelis, the center of their Tisha b’Av observance is the plaza of the Western Wall, the last remnant of the Second Temple.” The statement repeats an often repeated falsehood about the nature of the Western Wall. The Temples were completely destroyed and no walls of the Temples stand today. Aish.com, which claims to be “the leading Jewish content website” posts on its website that “The Western Wall is a surviving remnant of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem,” .
The Kotel is the western wall of the TEMPLE MOUNT, not of the Temple. The Temple Mount was built by King Herod between 19BCE and 63CE to extend the size of the platform southward to both enable more people and traffic flow to the Second Temple. As the Temple was built atop a hill, extending the platform at the same height as the Temple required “filling in” the slopes of the hill. The Kotel is the western wall of that supporting structure.
The Kotel gained significance in Judaism (say compared to the southern Temple Mount wall which is similarly a retaining wall), around the year 1550. Prior to that year, many Jews visited and prayed on the Temple Mount itself including Rabbi Menachem Meiri (1249-1316) and Rabbi David ben Shlomo Ibn Zimra, (known as the Radbaz, 1479–1573), the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem. However, around 1550, while Ottoman leader Suleiman I made various structural improvements to the city of Jerusalem, he set aside the Western Wall area as a designated area for the Jews to pray.
After the 1967 Six Day War, Israel reunited Jerusalem including the Old City, the Temple Mount and the Kotel. After 18 years of being banned from the city by the Jordanians (1949-67), Israelis celebrated their return to the Old City. To maintain calm after the war with the Muslim world, Israel handed administrative control of the Temple Mount to the Islamic Waqf. Israel then demolished the Mughrabi Quarter which abutted the Kotel to create the Western Wall Plaza that many know today. This plaza enables thousands of Jews to visit the Kotel at one time.
Every year the Jews mark a day on the calendar to remember the destruction of the Temples. Over time, the Tisha b’Av holiday incorporated other tragic events such as the expulsion of 200,000 Jews from Spain in 1492. Perhaps today Jews should also mourn a newer tragedy in their history: their apathy and ignorance.
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