Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Sabbath Walk to the Western Wall --
An Ancient Custom Interrupted for 19 Years

Jews at Western Wall (circa 1917). Note presence of women,
Ashkenazi Jews with the fur hats, and Sephardi Jews with the fez.
From the earliest days of photography, the Western Wall has been a favorite subject for photographers.  The Wall or Kotel was always a magnet for Jews who came to pray at the remnant of the Temple retaining wall.  On the other side of that Wall once stood the Holy of Holies.

During Arab riots in the 1920s and during the Arab revolt (1936- 1939) Jews were often attacked in the Old City. 
Orthodox Jews on the way to
the Western Wall (1934-39) and here

That's why this set of the American Colony's photographs of the Old City is so unusual.  It shows Jews walking to the Western Wall between 1934 and 1939 "on their usual Sabbath* walk to the Wailing Wall," according to the caption.

The subjects hide their faces because of their desire to avoid being photographed on the Sabbath.
Little girl at "Jews wailing place" (1934-39)

Possibly because of the dangers there are few women or non-Orthodox worshipers in this set of pictures.  Yet, one little blond girl appears in two of the pictures.
Little Jewish girl walking in the Old City
(in circle)

Click on picture to enlarge. 
Click on caption to see original.

To maintain order in the Old City, the British police established gun positions and built walls to separate Arabs from the Jews.  In 1929 and again in 1939 the British evacuated Jews from the Old City.
"Sand bags used by police in Jewish
Street" in the Old City

Sealed passageway in the Old City and here

But the American Colony photographers still found pious Jews who continued to flock to the Western Wall, and their pictures are presented here.
Jews in the Old City, walking back from prayers at the
Western Wall (1934-1939) and here

Sabbath walk in the Old City and here

The Western Wall deserted during visit
of British General, 1936 "Palestine

In 1948, the Jordanian Legion captured the Old City of Jerusalem, imprisoned or expelled all of the Jews, and destroyed the Jewish Quarter.  Jews were not permitted to visit the Western Wall until 1967 when the Israel Defense Forces reunited the city.

*(Actually, the pictures were probably taken on a Jewish festival. Many of the worshippers are carrying prayer books and bags which some wouldn't normally do on the Sabbath.)

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  1. On October 29, 1937, Arabs shot at a party of Jews on their way to the Kotel and killed one Jew, Aharon Alkabetz, and two others severely wounded, members of the special Betar Plugat HaKotel group that would accompany worshipers to a from the Kotel due to Arab violence. The following Shabbat, despite a British curfew, a group of Betarim, led by Eri Jabotinsky, son of Ze'ev, Netziv Betar Eretz-Yisrael, and Dr. Shimshon Yunitchman, commander of the Betar squads in the Gallil and another few walked demonstratively to the Kotel through crowds of threatening Arabs. At the last moment Rabbi Weingarten, the Rav of the Kotel came, and a minyan was able to engage in communal prayer.

  2. Was there an eruv in place that allowed carring on Shabbat? Are the walls of a city an eruv?