Jerusalem

Key facts about the Jewish pilgrimage to JerusalemEncyclopedia Britannica Online; Telegraph website; ARC, retrieved 2013

Jerusalem remains an important place of pilgrimage for Jewish people. Until the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE and the Roman occupation of the city after the Bar Kokhba revolt, it used to be a duty for Jewish people to visit Jerusalem three times every year, to coincide with three major Jewish festivals - Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot.

According to Jewish tradition, all of creation began in Jerusalem. Other key events are believed to have happened in this important city, including:

  • Mount Moriah, where Abraham showed he was prepared to sacrifice his son, Isaac. It was also here that Jacob dreamed of a ladder that went up to Heaven.
  • King David captured Jerusalem around 3,000 years ago and made it the capital of the ancient Jewish people.
  • King Solomon built the first Temple in Jerusalem. The Ark of the Covenant is believed to have been kept in the most sacred part of the Temple, the Holy of Holies, the place where it was believed God himself was present.

The first Temple was destroyed around 587 BCE, when a large proportion of the Jewish people were expelled from Jerusalem by the Babylonians and exiled to Babylonia. The Second Temple was built by the Jews after their return from Babylonia when Jerusalem was ruled by the Persian King Cyrus, and completed in 515 BCE. It was destroyed in 70 CE by the Romans.

The Western Wall

The Western Wall, or the Kotel, is thought to be the only remaining part of the Second Temple. The wall is not from the Temple itself, but what remains of the wall that would have surrounded the Temple.

Nature and importance

Many Jewish people still visit Jerusalem today as the focal point of their religion and face towards it when they pray as a sign of its importance. In fact, synagogues are traditionally orientated towards Jerusalem and Jews position themselves towards Jerusalem while reciting the Amidah. At the end of every Passover Seder celebration, Jewish people raise their glass in the hope that they will celebrate the festival 'next year in Jerusalem'.

Visiting The Western Wall is a reminder to Jewish people of their history, but also gives them a link with the holiest site, the Temple. It is the closest Jewish people can get to the presence of God.

Also, as the Western Wall has not been destroyed, it is a symbol of hope to the Jewish people that they too will last forever. Some Jews believe that a third Temple will be built when the Messiah comes in the future.

There are many rituals that take place at the Western Wall. People write prayers on small pieces of paper and push them in between the cracks of the wall. As Jews believe that the wall is a symbol of God's presence, many believe that God can actually see what has been written. The prayers are collected twice every year and then buried on the Mount of Olives.

Jewish people also pray facing the Western Wall and some boys have their Bar Mitzvah ceremonies in the square facing the wall.