How the Western Wall Became a Place of Jewish Prayer

Sept. 5 2017

Immediately following the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, Jews evidently continued to pray either on the Temple Mount itself,or on the adjacent Mount of Olives, from which they could look down on the ruins of the sanctuary. In later years, Jews in Jerusalem found a variety of places on or near the Mount to gather for prayer and mourning, but only in the 16th century did the Western Wall—one of the outer retaining walls built by King Herod during his 1st-century-BCE renovations of the Temple—become the city’s most important Jewish sanctuary. F.M. Loewenberg explains how that came to be:

What is currently known as the Western Wall . . . is not mentioned in any source prior to the 16th century. . . . There exists an ancient tradition [dating to at least the 12th century] that “the Sh’khinah [Divine presence] will never move from the Western Wall.” But this saying does not refer to the present Western Wall but, instead, described the ruins of the western [inner] wall of the Second Temple building mentioned by many pilgrims. . . . Over time, as the visible ruins of the original temple walls disappeared, this saying was applied to the current Western Wall. . . .

Fourteen years after he had ordered the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s city walls, the Ottoman sultan] Suleiman the Magnificent instructed his court architect to prepare the area that came to be known as the Western Wall as a place for Jewish worship. Such a move became possible because on January 14, 1546, a severe earthquake hit the region. . . . The area hardest hit by this earthquake in Jerusalem was the Temple Mount and the quarters surrounding it, including many of the houses that had been built along the Western Wall. These were the houses that had prevented access to most of the wall. Now that the approach was blocked by ruins rather than by houses, . . . Suleiman felt ready to instruct his engineers to clear the ruins and to prepare a Jewish prayer site at the Western Wall.

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Read more at Middle East Quarterly

More about: Herod, Ottoman Empire, Prayer, Second Temple, Western Wall

Why the Leader of Hamas Went to Russia

Sept. 30 2022

Earlier this month, the Hamas chairman Ismail Haniyeh and several of his colleagues visited Moscow, where they met with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and other Russian officials. According to Arabic-language media, Haniyeh came seeking “new ideas” about how to wage war against the Jewish state. The terrorist group has had good relations with the Kremlin for several years, and even maintains an office in Moscow. John Hardie and Ivana Stradner comment on the timing of the visit:

For Moscow, the visit likely reflects a continuation of its efforts to leverage the Palestinians and other issues to pressure Israel over its stance on Russia’s war in Ukraine. Russia and Israel built friendly relations in the decades following the Soviet Union’s dissolution. After Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Jerusalem condemned the war, but made sure to tread carefully in order to preserve working ties with Moscow, lest Russian military forces in Syria disrupt Israel’s strategically important air operations there.

Nevertheless, bilateral tensions spiked in April after Yair Lapid, then serving as Israel’s foreign minister, joined the chorus of voices worldwide accusing Russia of committing war crimes in Ukraine. Jerusalem later provided Kyiv with some non-lethal military aid and a field hospital. In response, Moscow hardened its rhetoric about Israeli actions in the Palestinian territories.

The Palestinian issue isn’t the only way that Russia has sought to pressure Israel. Moscow is also threatening, on seemingly spurious grounds, to shutter the Russian branch of the Jewish Agency.

Moscow likely has little appetite for outright conflict with Israel, particularly when the bulk of Russia’s military is floundering in Ukraine. But there are plenty of other ways that Russia, which maintains an active intelligence presence in the Jewish state, could damage Israel’s interests. As Moscow cozies up with Hamas, Iran, and other enemies of Israel, Jerusalem—and its American allies—would do well to keep a watchful eye.

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Read more at Algemeiner

More about: Hamas, Israeli Security, Russia