Western Wall’s Historical and Religious Significance: An Analysis

Religious studies

Jerusalem’s Western wall structure prompt: This will be a research paper on a religious building or space in Jerusalem, in which you: Describe the religious space/building analyze the religious traditions and histories associated with space Relate your chosen space’s religious significance to other buildings and locations in the city.

Western Wall’s Historical and Religious Significance: An Analysis

Jerusalem is considered one of the holiest places on earth, with religious attachment to three major religions over the history of humankind. The ancient buildings across the city are a permanent testimonial to the sacred nature of the region located in modern Israel, with most of the structures built in previous world orders. Due to the multiple historical links of the city, structures such as the Mountain Top, The Western Wall, and the southern walls come with a shared religious value today. Furthermore, strict regulations safeguard the structures that find themselves in the middle of international conflicts dating back to the colonial era. The Western Wall is an example of a site tied to multiple religions and at the centre of geopolitical interest in the international community. However, the Western Wall is uniquely shared by various religious sects. Throughout history, geopolitical interest remained the leading cause of the division of multiple religions’ worship despite their shared value to the holy sites in Jerusalem. Still, the Western Wall is a significant breakthrough that allowed different faiths to coexist.

From the historical and architectural description of the Western Wall, it’s clear that the site in Jerusalem comes as a holy site to multiple religions. Currently, the ancient limestone wall rises 488 meters in front of a modern plaza to encase the naturally steep hill that houses the Temple mount (Cohen-Hattab 127). For instance, the Western Wall is an important shrine to Muslims, Jews, and Christians worldwide (Levy-Rubin 442). According to Judaism, the Western Wall exists as one of the holiest sites in Jerusalem and a historical landmark tracing back to the Temple built by Herod in 19 BCE. On the other hand, Muslims locate Muhammad’s ascending to paradise here, where he tied his Winged Steed on the Western Wall that constitutes the Eastern border of the Al-Aqsa Mosque (Levy-Rubin 442). Additionally, Christian leaders visit the Wall to offer prayers, including Roman Catholic popes. The Western Wall and the whole of Jerusalem remain under Israeli rule, but its religious position gets shared by three Major monotheistic religions in the modern world. While all the beliefs differ in some traditions and culture, their history and holy scriptures tied to the Western Wall support that the three religions worship the same God, albeit through varying forms.

Recent historical development favours the exclusive inhabitation of Muslims in the holy site of the Temple Mount and the Western Wall. However, recent political power changes finally allowed the Western Wall to be used by multiple religions. During the Ottoman Empire’s reigns, the religious sites fell under the rule of the Islamic empire that spanned most of the Middle East. For instance, before 1967, the Western Wall got utilized as a worship area for the few observant Jews, who primarily associated with the Old Yishuv in Jerusalem, with most Jews restricted from the site(Cohen-Hattab 127). Additionally, the Wall and the region surrounding the religious site known as the Maghrebi neighbourhood came under the ownership of the Muslim endowment known as Waqf, accused of defiling the Jew’s holy shrine(Cohen-Hattab 127). Muslim communities continued to hold political and sovereign claims to the Western Wall and the Temple Mount, linked to the prophet Muhammad and his accession to paradise. Interestingly, while Islam, an Abrahamic religion, shared its holy sites in Jerusalem with their Judaist brothers, divisive geopolitics still hindered their coexistence despite multiple shared values.

After the Ottoman reign over Jerusalem and the Western Wall, the city came under Israeli authority. Various religions worshipped in communion for the first time, even with geopolitical tensions. For the first time in Jerusalem’s history, following the 6-day war that annexed it from Palestinian control, the Western Wall became available to anyone wishing to worship there (Cohen-Hattab 128). Generations of Jews had historically been restrained from praying in the Western Wall due to the political differences of the previous authorities. Political differences had, therefore, become the greatest hindrance to religious assimilation in the monumental site, but after 1967, people from different religions gathered to worship on the Western Wall (Cohen-Hattab 128). Thus, with the elimination of political constraints, the peaceful gathering of three Abrahamic faiths, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, on the same holy site alludes to the union of faith mainly opposed by geopolitical interests. Shared practices such as those on the Western Wall, which became denied to previous occupants of Jerusalem, become vital in forming longstanding relationships in societies.

Even though Christianity relates closely to Judaism, Jews still faced restrictions of worshipping in the Western Wall during the period the Wall fell under Roman Christian rule due to the geopolitics of that period. After emperor Constantine granted Christianity legal status, Jews were allowed to visit the holy site annually only during the Tisha B’av to lament the Temple’s destruction (Krèamer 28). The political constraints during this period similarly barred religious expression, causing Christianity to appear different from Judaism, despite their historical and cultural similarities. Likewise, throughout history, the holy site of the Western Wall appeared as a site into which pilgrims of different religions offered their prayers, hopes, and desires to their divine God (Levy-Rubin 445). Thus, history shows that the three Abrahamic faiths share common holy sites in Jerusalem and some aspects of their culture and tradition. Yet, political differences emerged to focus on their differences, causing division and persecution of each other.

More than the religious value of the Western Wall to the Jews, the Wall stood as a symbol of Jewish sovereignty in Jerusalem and national unity while simultaneously representing the abolishment of the geopolitical restriction to worship there. Immediately after the six-day war, the Mughrabi neighbourhood adjacent to the Western Wall was evacuated and demolished to pave the way for the construction of a massive plaza to allow combined usage of the shrine (Cohen-Hattab 128). For instance, the Plaza constructed on the Western Wall allowed the few dozen square meters of worship to be transformed into hundreds of square meters due to the rising number of Jews visiting the area (Cohen-Hattab 129). Jews flocked to the holy shrine after generations of getting barred from visiting the Western Wall linked to their culture and religion. Therefore, the place bore significant value to the new nation of Israelis, and Jews and Christians alike used the new Plaza as connect to the holy site.

Adjacent to the Western Wall stands the Temple Mount, which houses the al-Aqsa Mosque, the Dome of the Rock, and the Dome of the Chain, with the Wall bearing structural importance to exclusively Muslim establishments. All these places had cultural and religious significance to Muslims worldwide and the surrounding Palestinian community, and the Western Wall forms a crucial part of the same. For instance, the Western Wall structurally comes as a retaining structure built by King Herod to protect the adjacent Holy Sites (Cohen-Hattab 137). Moreover, the Western Wall also forms the Eastern boundary to the al-Aqsa Mosque. While Jerusalem houses people from different religions, the Western Wall becomes the centre of the assimilation of these rich cultures. Since the Temple Mount became strictly restricted to Muslim members, the Western Wall is the common ground for shared beliefs, cultures, and traditions.

For Jews, the foundation stone close to the Western Wall stands as the holiest site in their faith, and the Wall acts as their connection to the area since they could not access the stone due to the region’s geopolitics. Thus, due to the Temple Mount’s entry restrictions, the Wall became the only way Jews could access their Holiest site while respecting the Islamic occupation of the area. For instance, Solomon’s Temple similarly stood at the top of the mountain, and Jews believed that Yahweh dwelt there (Stager 47). While the Jews, Muslims, and Christians, historically could not coexist peacefully in the region due to political interferences, the Western Wall became a shared place for these three Abrahamic religions to worship side by side. As a result, these shared religious sites allowed the political differences to become overlooked, allowing them to coexist. At different historical times, the change in power destroyed the Temple due to different cultural ideologies. Thus, the Western Wall became instrumental in maintaining peace in the region and preventing the destruction of the neighbouring religious sites.

According to the history of the religious sites in Israel, geopolitical interest remained the leading cause of the division of various religions despite their shared value in the holy sites in Jerusalem, with the Western Wall coming as a significant breakthrough that allowed different faiths to coexist. In the twenty-first century, the same Western Wall protected the surrounding holy places from destruction by allowing religions that historically could not coexist to commune. The Temple Mount is connected to the Western Wall with strict regulations keeping away non-Islamic prayer inside after Israel annexed Jerusalem from Palestine. While the Wall symbolizes Israeli sovereignty, it represents a more significant breakthrough in Jerusalem’s history, as different religions offer prayers together. After the six-day war, Jews finally worshipped on the holy site after generations of restriction posed by political differences marred by toxic religious inclinations focusing on differences. Consequently, the shared sacred sites, including the Western Wall, offer traditional and cultural similarities between the three Abrahamic religions that have historically been at war due to their slight differences.




















Works Cited

Cohen-Hattab, Kobi. “Designing Holiness: Architectural Plans For The Design Of The Western Wall Plaza After The Six-Day War, 1967–1977”. Israel Studies, vol 21, no. 3, 2016, p. 126. Indiana University Press, doi:10.2979/israelstudies.21.3.07.

Krèamer, Gudrun. A History Of Palestine. Princeton University Press, 2008.

Levy-Rubin, Milka. “Why Was The Dome Of The Rock Built? A New Perspective On A Long-Discussed Question”. Bulletin Of The School Of Oriental And African Studies, vol 80, no. 3, 2017, pp. 441-464. Cambridge University Press (CUP), doi:10.1017/s0041977x17000908.

Stager, Lawrence E. “Jerusalem as Eden.” Biblical Archaeology Review, vol. 26, no. 3, 2000, pp. 36-47. ProQuest, http://ezproxy.scu.edu.au/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.scu.edu.au/docview/214907468?accountid=16926.



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