The Kotel & the Temple Mount: 8 things you need to know.

There are many misconceptions about the Temple Mount, the Kotel and the Al Aqsa mosque. Confusion and even much conflict can be dispelled when the facts are made clear!

1. What is the holiest site on earth for Jews?

Did you answer, “the Kotel”? If you did, that’s a mistake many people sadly make!
Kotel literally means Wall in Hebrew. This wall is so important that it became unnecessary to designate which wall it is, it’s THE Wall. At the same time, it’s importance is not in itself but in its proximity to what is really important – The Temple Mount.
The holiest site on earth for the Jewish people is the Temple Mount, in the heart of Jerusalem.

2. Why is the Temple Mount holy to the Jewish people?

It is written:

As the navel is set in the centre of the human body, 
so is the land of Israel the navel of the world… 
situated in the centre of the world, 
and Jerusalem in the centre of the land of Israel, 
and the sanctuary in the centre of Jerusalem, 
and the holy place in the centre of the sanctuary, 
and the ark in the centre of the holy place, 
and the Foundation Stone before the holy place, 
because from it the world was founded.

(Roman-Era Midrash Tanchuma)

It is believed that the Foundation Stone is the foundation God used to create the world. Around this stone the Temple was built and within the Temple, on the Foundation Stone, the Ark of the Covenant was placed. This is the source of the holiness of the Temple and its importance to Judaism.

Jewish sources also identify this rock as the place of the Binding of Isaac mentioned in the Bible, where Abraham fulfilled God’s test to see if he would be willing to sacrifice his son. It was at that point where human sacrifice to God ceased to exist as a legitimate practice and, even before the 10 Commandments, Judaism took moral leadership in the world.

3. Does one say Kotel, Wailing Wall or Western Wall?

Wailing Wall” is a commonly used, highly offensive term which is an ancient form of delegitimizing Jewish history by diminishing Jewish anguish at the loss of the ancient Jewish Temple, destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE. This is the term of non-Jews who occupied Israel, ridiculing the pain of the Jews who stood weeping at the Kotel, the Western Wall, which is the only wall left standing of the ancient Temple in the heart of Jerusalem. (It’s not even a wall of the Temple structure itself, it is a retaining wall of the compound).

During the period of Christian Roman rule over Jerusalem (ca. 324–638), Jews were completely barred from Jerusalem except to attend Tisha B’Av, the day of national mourning for the first and second Temples, and on this day the Jews would weep at the holy site. The term “Wailing Wall” was thus almost exclusively used by Christians and was revived in the period of non-Jewish control between the establishment of British Rule in 1920 and the Six-Day War in 1967. This derogatory term mocks the pain of the Jewish people, as in “there go those Jews, weeping again.”

Kotel is the word used in Hebrew which simply means “Wall”. The choice of this term is indicative of the importance of the structure in the Jewish mind – this one remaining wall is so significant that it is not necessary to detail which wall is being mentioned, it is THE Wall. It is not the Wall itself that is holy, it was the Temple and what stood on the Mount that was holy. 2000 years, exile and many terrible experiences along the way, have not been enough to make the Jewish people forget the importance of the Temple.

The Wall has grown in significance because it is all that remains of the Temple and because Jews were (and still are) denied the right to pray on the Temple Mount. The Kotel became precious because it was the closest Jews could get to the holiest site on earth for the Jewish People.

Western Wall” is a factual description of the Wall. The Kotel is the western retaining wall of the Temple and it is perfectly reasonable to describe it as such.

4. Did you know there is an egalitarian prayer section of the Kotel (Ezrat Yisrael)?

Ezrat Yisrael was opened to balance the needs of different Jews who want to pray differently, enabling all freedom to worship as they please without bothering those who are offended by different prayer choices.

The egalitarian section is open all hours of the day and night, just like the better known traditional section. Men and women are free to pray together. Women are free to sing as loudly as they wish and read from the Torah should they choose to do so. Unlike in the traditional section of the Kotel, in Ezrat Yisrael there are tables with sunshades so people can read from the Torah without having to stand in the sweltering sun.

An added bonus is that Ezrat Yisrael is in the middle of an archeological site where you can see Temple era remnants, making it easier to imagine yourself back in the time when the Temple was still standing!

Did you know that most of the Kotel is underground and accessible only through the Kotel tunnels?

Over the centuries, natural buildup of archeological layers buried a much of the Kotel. Excavations have given insight into the splendor of the building project of the ancient Jewish Temple. Inside the tunnels you can walk alongside the Kotel, marvel at the size of the sounds from which the wall is built and even enter what was once an open-air street market that is now completely underground!

At one point in the tunnels you will probably see women praying at the place which is directly across from the Foundation Stone – one would only have to walk through the wall to get to it.

Excavations are ongoing and the more work that is done the more of our ancient past is uncovered. If you are in Jerusalem, don’t miss a tour of the tunnels!

6. When did the Temple Mount become holy to Islam?

Interestingly, Jerusalem is not mentioned in the Koran at all! Jerusalem became important in Islam not for religious reasons but to serve a political need. Read more about the history of Islam and the Temple Mount here.

7. What is the Al Aqsa mosque?

Most people believe that the golden domed mosque is Al Aqsa, the mosque Muslims discuss in regards to the importance of the Temple Mount. This is not true. The golden domed mosque is called the Dome of the Rock because it was built on top of the Foundation Stone which according to Jewish tradition is the holiest place in the world. Al Aqsa mosque is a low grey roofed mosque also located on the Temple Mount, across from the Dome of Rock.

While Jews, wherever they are in the world, pray facing the Foundation Stone, Muslims pray facing Mecca. This means that Muslims praying on the Temple Mount pray with their back to the Foundation Stone.

8. ‘Apartheid’ on the Temple Mount

Although the State of Israel was established in 1948 and Jews reunited Jerusalem in 1967, to this day Jews (and Christians) are not allowed to pray on the Temple Mount. Visiting hours for Jews are highly restricted:

Sunday through Thursday (notice that Jews are not allowed to visit on Shabbat!):
Summer: April through September: 8:30 – 10:30 am and 1:30 – 2:30 pm.
Winter: October through March: 7:30 – 10:30 am and 12:30 – 1:30 pm.

Non-Muslims enter the Temple Mount through only through the Mugrabi Gate (over the traditional Kotel Women’s section). On entry non-Muslims are subject to search by Israeli police and are warned not to use any religious objects or take any actions that might be seen as praying: you cannot take out a bible, close your eyes and pray in your heart, bow to the Dome of the Rock or show any ritual signs of mourning.

In contrast the Temple Mount is open to Muslims at all hours of the day and night via gates only Muslims are allowed to use. At entry they are not searched.

The definition of apartheid is two separate sets of laws for the same people. The Temple Mount is the only place in Israel where Israelis are subject to different laws based on them being Muslim or Jewish.


Forest Rain Marcia blogs at Inspiration from Zion: This is a Love Story

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  1. Liatris Spicata

    I consider it sad that the term “Wailing Wall” is considered offensive by many Jews, even though I’ve heard American Jews refer to it as such. To me, a mere goy, it conveys a sense of significance that “Western Wall” cannot approach.

    • Welcome to Jews Down Under.

      Please don’t refer to yourself as a ‘goy’, worse still, a ‘mere’ one. You are neither. Whilst it was a much used word in days gone by, it isn’t now except by Jew haters and is a derogatory word.

      No, the term ‘wailing word’ isn’t, as far as I know, considered offensive. Never used it personally, can’t say I heard it much at all.

      Generally called the Western Wall, or just Wall.

      • Liatris Spicata

        A most cordial thanks, Shirlee, from Virginia, “Up Top”.

        Perhaps it’s a generational thing. Growing up in the 1960’s, I heard of the “Wailing Wall”, never of the “Western Wall”. In 1967, I was of an age to form impressions of this world. And one iconic image that stuck in my mind was of a battle tested Israeli soldier, I believe one of the early soldiers to reach the Wall. The photo showed revealed a kind of agonized joy at standing in front of this Wall, touching it with his hands and with his face next to it. I think it was my first encounter with the notion that a physical place could be so meaningful (my Christian denomination has no sense of sacred places).

        Unfortunately my quick google search did not bring that particular photo up, but millions of Americans who were alive at the time would remember the photo I’m referencing. I am pleased to note that gettyimages still refers to it as the Wailing Wall:

        Anyway, if the word “goy” is supposed to be a pejorative, well I’m a bit too tone deaf or too politically incorrect to realize it. Say, I could tell you this great Jewish joke about the three Jews who converted to Christianity, two of whose conversions might deemed a bit suspect. When the third revealed the genuineness of his conversion, one of the dodgy ones replied,

        “Whaddya take us for Manny, a couple of goyim?”

        [Seriously, let me know if you’d like to hear it- it’s good round-the-dinner-table family humor :>) ]

        • If you want to tell me go ahead.
          Goy though is rather a derogatory word. It sends shivers down my spine. Americans are more inclined to use Yiddish words which are frowned on by those of us in the diaspora.

          • Liatris Spicata

            You are a brave woman to encourage a wannabee standup comic!

            So these three Jewish converts to Christianity, Yitzhak, Hymie, and Manny, were sipping vermouth at their very WASP country club. Whilst idling away the time, the subject turned to the irony of them, far from the shtetl of their childhoods, even being allowed past the front door of such a country club, let alone becoming members of such polite society.

            Yitzhak reminisced on his conversion. “Well I wanted to become a judge, and I knew that as a Jew, I could never be appointed judge. So I became a Presbyterian, and the next year the governor appointed me to the Court.”

            Then Hymie leaned back in his luxurious chair, and remarked, “When I was young, I wooed a beautiful, wealthy heiress. I thought she’d make a fine wife, but I knew she would never marry a Jew. So I became an Episcopalian. And here I am.”

            Then Manny joined in with his story. “I have to say I converted to Christianity because I believed in the doctrinal superiority of Christianity over Judaism.”

            Well that comment landed with a thud. Finally Hymie piped up, “Whaddya take us for Manny, a couple of goyim?”

            Just gotta say, I am not insulted in the least. But hey, I’ve got more Jewish jokes if you want to hear them!

          • Thanks, but no thanks.

          • Liatris Spicata

            Nice article about how those clever Jews “invented” the goy.

            I have no doubt that all people have a concept of “us” and “other”, but perhaps the ancient Jews were the first to formalize it.

  2. When I speak about the Wall in Jerusalem I refer to it as The West Wall or the Kotel. To me, the title of ‘Wailing Wall” conjures up negative images of Jewish stereotypes and lack of understanding of the significance that this site has for the Jewish people. It’s a term that should be left in the past.
    Goy, yid, wog, gypo, coon, frog, chink, paki, pommie, septic tank , mick and other racial, ethnic or religious slurs were common in the past. As a newly arrived 7 year old from England in 1964, I found it very upsetting to be called called a “Wingeing Pommie B–someone who doesn’t know his father–“. We need to move on from putting derogatory labels on people. There’s more important issues on our plates at present.
    Liatris, this isn’t the place to tell Jewish jokes. Shirlee has simply said as much. There is much humor and joy in Jewish life. Jews tell jokes about Jews and that is fine. However, when a not jewish person tells a Jewish joke, this is laughing at them not sharing a joke with them.

    • Liatris Spicata

      “However, when a not jewish person tells a Jewish joke, this is laughing at them not sharing a joke with them.”

      With all due respect, Stephen: baloney.

      • Actually, he is correct. I realised you meant no disrespect.
        I never tell jokes about other races, religion, etc.
        Wish you a Happy Easter. I haven’t checked when Orthodox Easter is yet. I have many Greek & Maronite friends.

    • Thanks Stephen.
      We did a long distance Seder last night on Zoom. My daughter is using it for distance learning with her class.
      N.Bondi, Randwick & Cairns.
      Hope you have a good Easter and we can soon have an end to the situation the world finds itself in

      • Modern technology and the internet can keep everyone in touch in this time of COVID19 social distancing and isolation.
        I watched the recent Seder that your Coogee Synagogue broadcast on Facebook and am looking forward to the next Shabbat service. Thank you again for sharing this with me.
        Easter will be a quiet one for my family and I. We will give my son a chocolate rabbit. He is 27 but still our boy! Kind regards to you and all your family. These troubling times will end. Gam zeh ya’avor