It was a hot crowded sunny summer afternoon at the Western Wall plaza.
After inserting the traditional note between the cracks of the large stones and praying for few minutes, the next thing on my mind was finding a shaded area and a place where I could get a bottle of water in the Western Wall plaza.
Anyone who visited the Western Wall knows that these elementary things are not available there. Getting into the Western Wall plaza is very similar to getting through airport security, so once you are in, you stay there until you are done.
The plaza was construct shortly after the area became under Israeli control in 1967. It remained basically the same since then. Elementary modern amenities, expected by tourists and local visitors, such as a nearby modern parking, or a free-of-charge frequent transportation to-and-from a remote parking area, do not exist. In other words, this plaza was not designed by Disney.
Regardless how inconvenient it may be, there is one place we always visit when in Israel, no matter how short the trip is, how busy is our schedule may be, or how inconvenient it is to get there. We always visit the Western Wall. We skip visiting other attractions when we run out of time, but we never skip a visit to the Western Wall. It is the spiritual highlight of our trip.
I have no data to support it, but I would guess that this is true for most Jewish people who travel to Israel; visiting the Western Wall is a must. There is an internal drive to be there.
The last Jewish temple was destroyed by the Romans over 2000 years ago. Since then the Jewish people are praying for the Messiah to come. According to the Jewish tradition the temple cannot be rebuilt without his visit.
I sat on one of the few benches at the far end of the Western Wall and observed the crowed while waiting for the rest of the family to finish the visit. I was surrounded by Israeli high school students on a day trip, new soldiers who practiced their swearing in to the army later that evening, groups of Jewish American college students who visited Israel with Taglit-Birthright, religious orthodox Jews who came for their daily prayer, soldiers on duty guarding the compound, and Jewish and not Jewish tourists from many countries.
Perhaps the Western Wall plaza was not designed to accommodate modern needs, but a credit must be given to the people who established the governing practices at the site; the site is open to all – everyone has equal rights. This may seem trivial, but in Israel, where there is a constant conflict between secular Jews and ultra-orthodox Jews on almost everything, the Western Wall plaza is an exception. Ultra-orthodox people learned to live with the fact that not everyone wears head cover in a place which they consider holly, and secular Jews respect the religious people feelings when approaching the wall and covering their heads.
However it wouldn’t have been a Jewish place if there wasn’t an exception to the exception; in recent years there was a highly publicized conflict when modern Jewish women attempted to read the Torah in public at the Western Wall,something that orthodox Jews do not practice and reject. The conflict was finally somewhat resolved with the moderation of Israeli government officials.
The Western Wall Heritage Foundation, on its website, says that “One and a Half Million People Visited the Western Wall During the Hebrew Month of Tishrei (the month of the Jewish high holidays).
The ancient Jewish temple was a place of worship. When it existed, Jewish people were required, at minimum, to come to the temple three times a year, for the Passover holiday, the Shavuot Holiday, and the Sukkot holiday. Animal sacrificing was only allowed in the temple. It was conducted by Jewish priests (Cohens). Since the temple was destroyed, the priests (Cohens), lost their status and animal sacrificing does not exist.
There are many nostalgic and religious sentiments for rebuilding the temple, however, complications prevent its construction. A technical complication is that the Rock of the Dome, the Muslim mosque, is now built on the temple’s site. The Rock of the Dome is the 3rd holiest place for Muslims. No sane person would suggest that the mosque should be destroyed to make room for a new temple for the Jewish people, an action that would most-likely trigger a 3rd world war, more devastating than anything the world ever seen.
The other complication is that the Messiah hasn’t come yet and no one knows when he will come. Without these two issues resolved, the temple cannot be built.
The Jewish temple can’t be built in its ancient form. Yet, if judged by what the temple’s mission was in the Jewish life in ancient times, it seems to me that this plaza, with all its limitations, became the new Jewish temple. After all, the Jewish religion has evolved so much since ancient times that a Jewish temple, in its old configuration, won’t meet today’s Jewish needs anyway.
Not everyone will agree with me, but perhaps the building is not as important as the physical geographic place and its intention. By default, could it be that this plaza, which became the holiest place for the Jewish people, is the new Temple? After all, it is the most important place of gathering and worshiping for the Jewish people. It is like no other place on earth. Wasn’t this what G-D intended in the first place?