Sunday, April 27, 2008

Wailing Wall in Danger

Via the Telegraph:
For thousands of years it has withstood fires, floods and earthquakes. But now a portion of one of Judaism's holiest sites, Jerusalem's Western Wall, is crumbling.
The rabbi charged with watching over the structure, which the faith believes to be the last remnants of a retaining wall from the ancient Second Temple, has warned that a section repaired more than a century ago is again at risk of falling.
Because the weakened stonework is high on the 60ft wall, the danger from any falling fragment to the crowds who pray at its foot each day is particularly acute.
"We found that the stones at the bottom of the wall, the stones from the Second Temple period, were strong and stable," said Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch. "However, we discovered that there are problems with the smaller stones, those at the top of the wall."
The damage was discovered just before Passover as religious leaders cleared thousands of written prayers tucked into the stones of the wall, according to Jewish tradition. Twice a year, thousands of such entreaties, which also arrive by email and post, are gathered and buried on the Mount of Olives so as not to desecrate the contents.
The Western Wall is believed to date from 20BC, when King Herod the Great first ordered the construction of the Second Temple, a project that took 46 years to complete. Roman legions razed the temple in AD70, and today the wall that remains is thought to be the only surviving portion of Judaism's holiest site.
Along with the massive stones commissioned by Herod, the wall contains stones placed by the Umayyad dynasty in an eighth?century restoration. But the section crumbling is at the very top, where a series of smaller, uniformly sized stones were added in the 1800s under the financing and supervision of British financier and philanthropist Sir Moses Montefiore. Restoration experts say the more modern cement used as mortar to hold those stones together has been eroded more quickly by wind and rain than the ancient preparations used on the lower levels. The result is that several are now poised to fall.
"We know it is old stone and we have some crumbling," said Raanan Kislev, head of the conservation at the authority. The repair will be a delicate operation: Jewish religious law forbids the removing of any stone from the wall, and rabbis are divided over who is even permitted to carry out such work.
Traditionally, Jews are forbidden to set foot on the ancient site of what they believe to be the Temple Mount, so the rabbi said much of the work would have to be conducted using cranes rather than scaffolding. Jewish workers on the project will also have to undergo ritual baths.

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