What’s The Significance Of The Jewish Wailing Wall Or Western Wall?

by Jack Wellman · Print Print · Email Email

Maybe you’ve seen Jewish men praying at a wall in Jerusalem, so why do they pray at what is called the “wailing wall?”

The Wailing Wall

Anyone familiar with modern day Israel has probably seen Jewish men dressed in black, praying at a large wall. It’s called the Western Wall, but also called the Wailing Wall, and both names have a history behind them. The wall or Western Wall is made of ancient limestone, and is nearly all that remains of the Temple that was in existence during Jesus’ day. Much of Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 AD when Roman forces, led by Titus, crushed the Jewish uprising, and it was as Jesus said, that “not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be toppled” (Matt24:2), and indeed, the Temple did fall. Only the Temple’s retaining wall was left. The rest of the Temple was left in rubble, so the Jews who survived Jerusalem’s destruction were left wailing and weeping at the only remaining wall of the Temple, called the “kotel,” or “wall” in Hebrew. Many of the orthodox Jews continue that age-old tradition of wailing at the wall. They are wailing because of the destruction of the Temple, but they are awaiting the Messiah to return and usher in the Messianic Era, much of which is described by the Prophet Isaiah. Today, the modern city of Jerusalem has eleven gates, but only seven of the gates are open. The eastern gate has long since been sealed shut, almost prophetic of Jerusalem’s rejection of the Messiah, denying Him entry into the city, even today. When Titus and the Roman legions destroyed Jerusalem in 70 AD, only the outer retaining wall of the Temple was left, and today, that is the central focus of their prayers, at least for the orthodox Jews. Two thousand years ago, the Jews ignored Jesus’ warning that they will “tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation” (Luke 19:44), and indeed they did and in less than 40 years after Jesus prophesied that. When Jesus Himself was rejected by Israel, once again showing Israel’s rejection of God in biblical times, Christ warned the Jews, “See, your house is left to you desolate” (Matt 23:38), and in 70 AD, it was. And without Christ, the Jews were worse than desolate. They were without hope.

To Jerusalem, thy city, shall we return with joy.

Peace of Jerusalem

Like Israel’s prophets of old, the Jews continue to pray for the peace of Jerusalem. For thousands of years, they would pray three times a day, “To Jerusalem, thy city, shall we return with joy,” and repeat the Psalmist’s oath, “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill” (Psalm 137:5)! Daniel’s custom was that of many of the Jews, even after they were taken into captivity. Daniel “got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously” (Dan 6:10), but always praying toward Jerusalem. And Daniel did this despite the threat that He might die. Time after time, God had warned the Jews that if they did not repent of their idolatry, they would be taken into captivity and Jerusalem would be destroyed. And it was as Jeremiah records: “The LORD gave full vent to his wrath; he poured out his hot anger, and he kindled a fire in Zion that consumed its foundations” (Lam 4:11). They had refused to believe the prophets like Jeremiah, and even “The kings of the earth did not believe, nor any of the inhabitants of the world, that foe or enemy could enter the gates of Jerusalem” (Lam 4:12), but enter it they did…and destroyed it, but much of the blame was due to “the sins of her prophets and the iniquities of her priests, who shed in the midst of her the blood of the righteous” (Lam 4:13).

The New Jerusalem

There is a New Jerusalem coming. One in which its walls shall never fall…and twelve gates that shall never be shut. The Apostle John saw a vision of the coming City of God, writing that he “saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Rev 21:1-2). The Temple of old could never compare to the New Jerusalem, since “It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed— on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb” (Rev 21:12-14). I don’t believe the Romans, or any army on earth could penetrate those walls. In fact, all mankind together couldn’t touch it. The wailing at the walls of the New Jerusalem won’t be a worry about “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill” (Psalm 137:5), but it will be tears of joy! It won’t be, “To Jerusalem, thy city, shall we return with joy,” but to the city we have returned too! There are thousands of Messianic Jews have trusted in Christ. They have opened the eastern gates of their hearts. They have seen Jesus as the fulfillment of all the Messianic prophecies, and now, many Jews know that Jesus “is the Christ. The Son of the living God” (Matt 16:16).


God is not finished with Israel. He still has a purpose for them, but just like with us, it is not about religion, it’s about a relationship; a relationship with God made possible by Jesus Christ. Israel’s day is coming again, as Amos the Prophet writes; “Behold, the days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when the plowman shall overtake the reaper and the treader of grapes him who sows the seed; the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it. I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel, and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them” (Amos 9:13-14). Of course, the greatest blessing of all is putting your trust in Christ. Every material or physical blessing pale in comparison to receiving eternal life through faith, and then being in the majestic glory of the presence of Christ, and that joy will simply be indescribable.

Here is some related reading for you: Why Don’t the Jews Believe in Jesus?

Resource – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), Crossway Bibles. (2007). ESV: Study Bible : English standard version. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Bibles. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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