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Western Wall

The Western Wall, known as the Kotel HaMa'aravi הכותל המערבי in Hebrew, also called the Wailing Wall (or Al-Buraq Wall, in a mix of English and Arabic) is a remaining outer court-yard wall of the Temple in Jerusalem, the holiest building in Judaism connected to the special sanctity of the Temple Mount on which the First and Second ancient Jewish Temples stood. The first Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians, the second by the Romans. Each Temple stood for a period of about 400 years.

According to legend, when Vespasian's legions destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem, only a part of an outer court-yard 'western wall' remained standing. Legend has it that Vespasian left it as a bitter reminder to The Jews that Rome had vanquished Judea. The Jews however attributed it to a promise made by God that he would leave some part of the holy Temple standing as a sign of his unbroken bond with the Jewish people in spite of the catastrophe which had befallen them. Jews have prayed there for two thousand years, believing that that spot has greater holiness than any other accessible place on Earth, or the fourth holiest overall, after the Holy of Holies, the rest of the Temple area, and the Courtyard, and that God is nearby listening to their prayers. There are some customs, such as leaving written prayers addressed to God in the cracks of the wall. Included in the thrice daily Jewish prayers are fervent pleas that God return to the land of Israel, ingather all the Jewish exiles, rebuild the (Third) Temple, and bring the messianic era with the arrival of Moshiach, the Jewish messiah.

The Western Wall is holy to the Jewish people. Matters are complicated because on the other side of the wall Muslims over the centuries built the Dome of the Rock and the nearby Al-Aqsa Mosque, from which they believe that Mohammed ascended to heaven on a horse in a mysterious vision. For Muslims it is their third holiest spot on Earth, after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia. In the past there was little contention over who "owns" the area and who should have custody over it, because outside powers ruled, such as Turkey for 400 years (1515-1917), followed by the British (1917-1948). However, since the independence of the State of Israel, over the last 50 years this area has become part of the larger struggle in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

According to most rabbis, Jews are forbidden to enter onto the Temple Mount in the place where the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock stand, since that same area was once occupied by the Temple which was a biblically designated holy place. Even in ancient times only certain people were permitted into the Temple's grounds. Only members of the priestly cast, the Kohanim and Levi'im were deemed to have the requisite holiness and purity necessary to enter into God's Temple. The rock beneath the Dome of The Rock, is considered by some rabbinic midrashic texts to be the foundation from which God created the universe. According to some rabbinic works, this rock was where the biblical patriarch Isaac was bound by Abraham during his near-sacrifice. This area was held to be where the patriarch Jacob slept and dreamt of a ladder going up to heaven with angels (Genesis). The Holy Of Holies, Kodesh Hakodashim the central part of the Temple, was built on this spot; only the High priest was allowed to enter on the day of Yom Kippur.

By 1517 Islamic Turkey under Selim I took the land of what was once ancient Israel and Judea from the Egyptian Mamelukes (1250 -1517). Turkey had a benevolent attitude towards the Jews, having welcomed thousands of Jewish refugees who had recently been expelled from Spain by King Ferdinand in 1492. The Turkish Sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent , was so taken with Jerusalem and its plight that he ordered that a magnificent surrounding fortress-wall built around the entire city (which was not that large at that time.) This wall still stands and can be seen by all today.

During that time the Western Wall always remained a site venerated by Jews; many trekked from across the world to spend their last years near the walls of Jerusalem, spending much of their time in tearful prayer in front of the Western Wall; non-Jewish observers watching the Jews cry there (mourning the destruction of the Temple) gave the site its popular, but incorrect name, the Wailing Wall.

When Great Britain took control of the land in 1917 under General Edmund Allenby, Jews were still allowed to stand by the wall and utter their prayers. However during the 1947-8 War of Israel's independence, the area near the wall was taken over by Arab Legion of the army of Jordan. Jews were not given entry to the wall, and it became neglected. During the 1967 Six Day War, Israel brought the wall under complete Jewish control for the first time in 2,000 years.

The Israelis built a large plaza in front of the wall which is used by thousands of Jewish worshipers on the Jewish holidays, and is a favorite tourist attraction year round. Many foreign heads of state who visit Israel, come to the Wall, out of their respect for its significance to Israel and to Jews world-wide. The Western Wall continues to have a powerful hold on the devotion of the Jewish people all over the world. Over the decades, millions have come as tourists and pilgrims to be able to touch the Wall with their hands and feel the sanctity that emanates from it.

Muslim Claims regarding the Wall

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See also: Judaism -- Israel -- Jerusalem