Saturday, August 09, 2008

A Post for Tisha be-Av: The Western Wall Tunnels

Several weeks ago, I visited the Western Wall Tunnels. Here are some of the photos I took there, with explanations.

First, here is the view of the outside portion of the Western Wall (actually only a very small part of the entire wall, which runs the entire length of the Temple Mount). Notice that the women’s section is particularly crowded, while the men’s section seems sparsely populated. As we will see later on, this is because the men are taking advantage of the abundant indoor space available to them inside the Western Wall Tunnels.

Western Wall, crowded women's section

Here is the new women’s gallery located inside the tunnels. Years ago, it was completely open. Now it is enclosed in wooden paneling and one-way glass. (Since it is one-way glass, I don’t understand the need for curtains. Nevertheless, there they are.)

The women's gallery in the Western Wall Tunnels

Here is one view of the indoor men’s section from the women’s gallery, taken through the glass. Note the beautiful Ark for the Torah. There are quite a few of them in the men’s section, indoors and out, and hundreds of Torah scrolls for the men’s use.

View from women's gallery

Here is another view, from a slightly different angle.

View from women's gallery 2

Here is the gate to the women’s gallery, seen from the inside. It opens to the stairs that lead down into the men’s section. To the best of my knowledge, it is usually kept locked, as it was when I was there.

Gate to enclosed women's gallery, Western Wall Tunnels

Here is a view of the men’s section downstairs, taken through one of the squares in the top section of the wooden gate shown above. The rear of the small women’s gallery, with its wooden paneling and one-way glass, can be seen clearly in the photo.

View from women's gallery gate

Fortunately, this small, enclosed women’s gallery is not the only indoor space in the Western Wall complex where women may worship. There are at least two others. One is a small, well-appointed synagogue, known as the Rabbi Getz Synagogue, which is located at Warren’s Gate. The synagogue’s interior is shown in the photo below. When I was there, the only other people inside were two women. (Since the synagogue has no separate section for women, at least as far as I could tell, I assume that women are welcome there as long as no scheduled services are in progress. If any readers know differently, they are welcome to leave a message in the comments.)

Synagogue in the Western Wall tunnels

The place shown in the following photograph is opposite a sealed gate that, according to Jewish tradition, leads to the location of the Holy of Holies. As in the synagogue above, when I was there the only worshippers there were women. On my way there....

Approaching spot opposite the Holy of Holies

... and opposite the gate:

Opposite the Holy of Holies

On the Ninth of Av, we mourn the destruction of our Temples and the exile of our people. Yet I cannot help wondering—and I know other religiously observant women who are troubled by this question—whenever the Temple is rebuilt, what will be the place of women there? Who will decide? Will the unprecedented access to high-level religious study that Jewish women enjoy today have any effect on the decision? And, as some traditional teachings hint (Pirke de-Rabbi Eliezer 45, for example), could this high-level learning by women indicate that the time of the Redemption is near?

Throughout our history, we Jews—men and women alike, together and separately—have suffered various kinds of exile, which have yet to end. A thought to ponder this sad day of Tisha be-Av.

(See all the photos I took in the Western Wall Tunnels, with explanations, here.)

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