March 14, 2012

0146 ISRAEL (Jerusalem) - The Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls (UNESCO WHS)

According to the Tanakh (the canon of the Hebrew Bible), Solomon's Temple was built atop the Temple Mount from Jerusalem in the 10th century BCE and destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE. Hasn't been found it any trace of this temple, so its actual existence is doubted by many archaeologists. The Second Temple was completed in 516 BCE, and around 19 BCE Herod the Great began a massive expansion project on the Temple Mount (which seems that was finished during the reign of King Agrippa II). He expanded the platform on which the temple stood, resulting in an enlarged enclosure. Today's Western Wall formed part of the retaining perimeter wall of this platform. Herod's Temple was destroyed by the romans, along with the rest of Jerusalem, in 70 CE, during the First Jewish-Roman War.

Over the time, Jerusalem was successively owned by Romans, Arabs, Christians, Ottomans and British, so that Jews haven't always had access to the Western Wall. All their attempts to buy the area in order to can rearranged it appropriate have failed. Following Israel's victory during the 1967 Six-Day War, the Western Wall came under Israeli control. Forty-eight hours after capturing the wall, the military proceeded to demolish the entire Moroccan Quarter, which stood 4m from the Wall. The narrow pavement, which could accommodate a maximum of 12,000 persons per day, was transformed into an enormous plaza which could hold 400,000. The section of the Wall dedicated to prayers was extended southwards to double its original length from 30 to 60m, while the 4m space facing the Wall grew to 40m. The Western Wall refers not only to the section facing a large plaza in the Jewish Quarter, but also to the sections concealed behind structures running along the whole length of the Temple Mount.

In Judaism, the Western Wall (also named the Wailing Wall or Kotel) is venerated as the sole remnant of the Holy Temple. It has become a place of pilgrimage, because it's the closest permitted accessible site to the holiest spot in Judaism, namely the Even ha-shetiya or Foundation Stone, which lies on the Temple Mount. The sages state that anyone who prays in the Temple in Jerusalem, "it is as if he has prayed before the throne of glory because the gate of heaven is situated there and it is open to hear prayer". Jewish Law dictates that when Jews pray the Silent Prayer, they should face mizrach, towards Jerusalem, the Temple and ultimately the Holy of Holies, as all of God’s bounty and blessing emanates from that spot. According to the Mishnah, of all the 4 walls of the Temple Mount, the Western Wall was the closest to the Holy of Holies. A well-known auspicious practice among Jews is to pray for 40 consecutive days at the Western Wall. 

Also according to Jewish Law, one is obligated to grieve and rend one's garment upon visiting the Western Wall and seeing the desolate site of the Temple. Today, some scholars are of the view that rending one's garments isn't applicable, since Jerusalem is under Jewish sovereignty. Others disagree, citing that the Temple Mount is controlled by the Muslim waqf and Israel has no power to remove the mosques built there.

There is a practice of placing slips of paper containing written prayers into the crevices of the Wall. The earliest recorded occurrence of such a practice dates from the early 18th century and stems from the Jewish tradition that the Divine Presence rests upon the Western Wall. Over a million notes are placed each year in what has become a custom, not only for tourists, but also for high-profile dignitaries visiting Israel. The notes are collected twice a year and buried on the nearby Mount of Olives.

The Western Wall is located in the Old City of Jerusalem, walled in 1538 by the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. Until 1860 this area constituted the entire city of Jerusalem. In 1980, Jordan proposed the Old City to be inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage Site List, what has happened in 1981, under the name The Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls. A year later, Jordan requested that it be added to the List of World Heritage in Danger. In 2011, UNESCO issued a statement reiterating that it views East Jerusalem to be "part of the occupied Palestinian territory, and that the status of Jerusalem must be resolved in permanent status negotiations."

As wrote Tamar on the postcard, "here you can see a man blowing on a goats horn, we call it a shofar". Shofar is a horn, traditionally that of a ram, used for Jewish religious purposes, the only Hebrew cultural instrument to have survived until now. This instrument is mentioned frequently in the Hebrew Bible, the Talmud and rabbinic literature. It was used to announce holidays, and the Jubilee year, but also for signifying the start of a war, and later it was employed in processions, as musical accompaniment. Today, the shofar continues to announce the New Year (September-October on the Gregorian calendar), to introduce Shabbat, to carry out the commandment to sound it on Rosh Hashanah (called "Yom T’ruah" - the day of the shofar blast), and to mark the end of the day of fasting on Yom Kippur, once the services have completed in the evening. 

About the stamp
The stamp, designed by Meir Eshel, is a commemorative one, issued on December 6, 2011 with the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, founded in 1936 by the jewish violonist Bronislav Huberman.

sender: Tamar Gaba (direct swap)
sent from Rehovot (Israel), on 18.02.2012
foto: Garo Nelbandan

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