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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Kotel, 1912

For my readers who observe Tisha B'Av, I wish you all an easy and meaningful fast.

Here is a description of the Kotel from a book written by Christian pilgrims in 1912, showing how much Jews would mourn over Jerusalem, not only on Tisha B'Av but every single Friday:
The scene at the Jew's Wailing Place is very touching. It is situated near the Temple site, in fact almost under the shadow of that place. The stone wall bearing that name is one hundred fifty feet long and nearly sixty feet high. Nine courses of stone at the bottom are made of very large blocks and the remaining fifteen courses are made of much smaller ones. The general shape of these hewn stone show that they were not designed by the same builder but that the lower courses were the work of a much earlier period, in all probability of Solomon's time. Here the Jews meet every Friday afternoon to engage in lamentation. About four o'clock in the afternoon as many as two hundred gather here to weep and pray. This beautiful prayer is sung, or rather wailed:

(Leader) "For' the palace that lies desolate,
(Audience) We sit in solitude and mourn.
(L) For the palace that is destroyed,
(A) We sit in solitude and mourn.
(L) For the walls that are overthrown,
(A) We sit in solitude and mourn.
(L) For our majesty that is departed,
(A) We sit in solitude and mourn.
(L) For our great men that lie dead,
(A) We sit in solitude and mourn.
(L) For the precious stones that are burned,
(A) We sit in solitude and mourn.
(L) For the priests who have stumbled,
(A) We sit in solitude and mourn.
(L) For the kings who have despised Him,
(A) We sit in solitude and mourn."

Another one equally touching and showing the Jew's idea of the return of their nation, not only to Jerusalem, but to power as well, is also given:

(L) "We pray Thee have mercy on Zion.
(A) Gather the children to Jerusalem.
(L) Haste, haste, Redeemer of Zion.
(A) Speak to the heart of Jerusalem.
(L) May beauty and majesty surround Zion.
(A) Ah, turn Thyself mercifully to Jerusalem.
(L) May the kingdom soon return to Zion.
(A) Comfort those that mourn over Jerusalem.
(L) May peace and joy abide with Zion.
(A) And the Branch spring up in Jerusalem."

Coming there at the time when these exercises are going on one can not help but feel that their sorrow is real and their prayers earnest because of the tear-stained faces; but earlier in the afternoon there may be seen a few people, especially women, in prayer and people coming here at such a time are apt to doubt the sincerity of these people. Several years, ago a party came here and heard several women wailing and as they were heavily veiled, one of the number said, "I do not believe that they are crying. I am going to inspect." He stepped up to one old lady and lifted her veil. Coming back to his friends he said, "I am sorry I did that. There were great tear drops running down over her cheeks."
In the merit of mourning properly over Jerusalem, may we be rewarded to rejoice in its complete rebuilding!

(See also last year's post on the same topic, and also my 2007 post on Tisha B'Av, 1948, the first year no Jews could visit the Old City.)