The Western Wall Today

The sole remnant of the ancient Temple plays a role in observing festivals in modern times.

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Other ceremonies reflect current political events as in the case of demonstrations concerning distressed Jewish groups in Russia, Syria, or Ethiopia. A particularly impressive event takes place on the eve of the anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem, when thousands of yeshiva students from all over the country, stirred by the ideology of the Gush Emunim movement, come to the Kotel carrying torches.

Observing Tisha B'Av

Tisha B'Av, which falls in mid-summer when the sun has dried up vegetation everywhere, is a Fast Day that commemorates the destruction of both the First and Second Temples and has become a fundamental observance at the Kotel. Dressed in slippers, sneakers, or other footwear without leather, observant Jews come to spend part of the day and night at the Wall. Heightened solemnity intermingles with pronounced intimacy. Fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, boyfriends and girlfriends, yeshiva students or women from a traditional moshav share mats or blankets spread out both inside and outside the synagogue plaza. On this night (and day) all the Jewish communities and ethnic groups, all the religious tendencies--including the Lubavitcher

Hasidic "mitzvah tank," which provides phylacteries for the afternoon prayers--are present. Individual and collective, communal and national, can be found, compounded with one another.

The police guard the area all night long. Ultra-national groups may try to reach the Temple mount, while pseudo-messiahs and would-be prophets both lament the existence of the Diaspora and announce the imminent reunification of the people. Inside the synagogue area and outside, pilgrims read the biblical Book of Lamentations, chant dirges, or fraternize in this unique setting of a foodless picnic in which daily needs are hardly a distraction. A mourning ceremony animated by a pervasive but disorganized sociality, Tish'a B'Av, since the retaking of the Wall, has emerged as a point in time and space in which the meeting of messianic aspiration and national sentiment has been crystallized.

This process is reminiscent of the famous conceit of the talmudic sage, Rabbi Akiva. When asked why he laughed upon seeing a fox running through the Temple ruins, Akiva assured his puzzled colleagues that his mirth stemmed from his witnessing the evidence of the prophecies of destruction and the implicit certainty that this guarantees the fulfillment of the prophecies of redemption.

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Danielle Storper Perez is a researcher in sociology and anthropology who lives in Israel.