Sunday, July 18, 2021

  • Sunday, July 18, 2021
  • Elder of Ziyon

Ahead of Tisha B'Av, I looked up some 19th century accounts of Christians who visited the Kotel, or the "Jews Wailing Place" as they called it. 

Every Friday, Jews of Jerusalem would come to mourn at the Wall for the destruction of Jerusalem. Every Friday was more emotionally wrenching for these Jews than Tisha B'Av is for most of us today.  

This account even says that Jews recited Kinot (elegies) every Friday:

From Toward the Sunrise: Being Sketches of Travel in Europe & the East, by Hugh Johnston · 1881:
A very touching and sadly suggestive scene is the wailing of the Jews when, from week to week,  these poor, despised, down-trodden people gather to sigh, and mourn , and sob over the ruins of their temple.

The Jews' Wailing Place is a little quadrangular area, about one hundred feet long and thirty feet wide, an exposed part of the outer western wall of the Haram , between the gates of the Chain and of the Strangers. It is a fragment of the old wall of the Temple, as shown by the five courses of large bevelled stones, and here on Friday afternoons the Jews gather together to weep over the ruins of the Holy City, and mourn for their “ holy and beautiful house ” defiled by infidels. There are old Jews with black caps and dingy dress, sitting on the ground, reading out of old, greasy books ; and Jewesses, draped in their white izars, sitting in sorrow , their cheeks bathed in tears, or kissing passionately the stones which formed part of the foundations of the holy house. Unhappy ones, they can get no nearer the place of their fallen temple, for to cross the threshold of the sacred enclosure, on Mount Moriah, is instant death to a Jew. 

There they are, engaged in their devotions ; some standing, some .sitting, some kneeling, others lying prostrate upon the ground. They read lamentation after lamentation : “ Be not wrath very sore, O Lord ; neither remember iniquity forever ; behold, see, we beseech thee, we are all thy people. Thy holy cities are a wilderness; Zion is a wilderness, Jerusalem a desolation. Our holy and our beautiful house, where our fathers praised thee, is burned up with fire, and all our pleasant  things are laid waste.” — Isa. lxiv. 9, 11. "O God, the heathen are come unto thine inheritance ; thy holy temple have they defiled ; they have laid Jerusalem on heaps. We are become a reproach to our neighbors, a scorn and derision to them that are around about us.” -Ps. lxxix . 1-4 . 

One of their wailing chants is in words like these : 
“ Because of the palace which is deserted, We sit alone and weep ; 
Because of the temple which is destroyed, We sit alone and weep ; 
Because of the walls that are broken down, We sit alone and weep ; 
Because of our greatness which is departed, We sit alone and weep ; 
Because of the precious stones of the Temple ground to powder, We sit alone and weep." 

From Eastern Life - Present and Past, by Harriet Martineau · 1876. This author could not imagine that less than a century later, her hopes would largely come true.
 I have said how proud and prosperous looked the Mosque of Omar, with its marble buildings, its green lawns, the merry children, and gay inmates making holiday ; all these ready and eager to stone to death on the instant any Jew or Christian who should dare to bring  his homage to the sacred spot. This is what we saw within the walls. 
We next went round the outside , till we came, by a narrow crooked passage, to a desolate spot, occupied by desolate people. Under a high, massive, very ancient wall, was a dusty, narrow inclosed space, where we saw the most mournful groups I ever encountered. This high ancient wall , where weeds are springing from the crevices of the stones, is believed to be a part, and the only part remaining, of Solomon's temple wall : and here the Jews come, every Friday, to their Place of Wailing, as it is called, to mourn over the fall of their Beautiful House, and pray for its restoration. What a contrast did these humbled people present to the proud Mohammedans within ! The women were sitting in the dust - some wailing aloud, some repeating prayers with moving lips, and others reading them from books on their knees. A few children were at play on the ground, and some aged men sat silent, their heads drooped on their breasts. Several younger men were leaning against the wall, pressing their foreheads against the stones, and resting their books on their clasped hands in the crevices. With some, this wailing is no form ; for I saw tears on their cheeks. I longed to know if any had hope in their hearts that they, or their children within a few generations, should pass that wall, and become the echoes of that ancient cry , “ Lift up your heads, O ye gates, that the King of Glory may come in !” If they have any such hope, it may give some sweetness to this rite of humiliation. We had no such' hope for them ; and it was with unspeakable sadness that I , for one, turned away from the thought of the pride and tyranny within that enclosure, and the desolation with out, carrying with me a deep - felt lesson on the strength of human faith , and the weakness of the tie of human brotherhood .

From an essay in Memories of Gospel Triumphs Among the Jews During the Victorian Era by John Dunlop, 1894. Although this author was writing about the desire that Jews would all convert to Christianity, these observations of Jewish continuity and attachment to Jerusalem are spot on.

(This post was queued up before the fast day)


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Elder of Ziyon - حـكـيـم صـهـيـون

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