Thursday, July 26, 2012

Tisha B'Av -- Mourning at the Western Wall 90 Years Ago

Jewish men sitting on the ground at the "Wailing Wall" (circa 1935)
A version of this article appears in the Jerusalem Post Magazine, July 27, 2012

The ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av -- Tisha B'Av -- is the day in the Hebrew calendar when great calamities befell the Jewish people, including the destruction of both Temples in Jerusalem, the fall of the fortress Beitar in the Jewish rebellion against Rome in 136 CE, and the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492.  The day is commemorated with fasting, prayers and the reading of Lamentations.  In Jerusalem, thousands pray at the Kotel, the Western Wall.

"Devout Jewish women" at the Wall (circa
1900).  One of the two women on the left
is wearing a traditional Arab embroidered
dress. We suggest that the two women
in the black cloaks were companions
or care-givers to the Jewish women.
View another photo of devout women here

The American Colony photographers frequently focused their cameras on the worshipers at the "Wailing Place of the Jews."  The Colony founders who came to Jerusalem in 1881 were devout Christians who saw the return of the Jews to the Holy Land as a sign of messianic times.

Of the dozens of pictures at the Kotel there are several of elderly men and women sitting on the ground or on low stools, customs of mourning practiced on Tisha B'Av.

"A Jewish beggar reading at the Wailing Wall" (circa 1920).
Note others sitting on the ground. The day is almost
certainly Tisha B'Av and he is probably reading the
book of Lamentations.


Jews straining to see the Western Wall
(circa 1929)
"Jews' wailing place without mourners.
Deserted during 1929 riots."
See another view here
Other pictures presented here show the very narrow and confined area of the Kotel over the ages until Israel's army captured the Old City in 1967 and enlarged the Kotel plaza. 

The tragedies that occured to the Jewish nation are also evident in the pictures of the deserted plaza after Arab pogroms in 1929.  The area was deserted, of course, during the 19 years of Jordanian rule of the Old City when Jews were forbidden to pray at the site.


A story is told of Napoleon passing a synagogue and hearing congregants inside mourning.  To his question who they are mourning, he was told they were weeping over the destruction of the Jewish Temple 1,800 years earlier.  Napoleon responded, according to the legend, "If the Jews are still crying after so many hundreds of years, then I am certain the Temple will one day be rebuilt."  

Dedicated in memory of Chaim Menachem ben Levi

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