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Before making your first trip to the Western Wall, please consider these 7 things to know before visiting the Western Wall.
Since the Western Wall is such a holy site for Judaism, there are some rules, customs, and other considerations to be aware of.
7 Things to know before visiting the Western Wall:
- Like many places in Israel, you will need to go through a security checkpoint and metal detector before reaching the Western Wall. Again, if you are with a tour guide, you will often skip the queue and enter a shorter security line reserved for tours.
- The wall is broken into 2 sections; one for men and one for women.
- Shoulders and legs to the knee will need to be covered to enter the area. Ladies, don’t worry if you didn’t come prepared. They have a booth to check out scarves to cover yourself with. Men also need to have their heads covered. They have a similar booth on the men’s side to check out yarmulkes.
- Be quiet and respectful of those worshiping and praying. Within seconds of stepping into the Western Wall grounds, you’ll get why it’s also referred to as the Wailing Wall. You will see people in fervent prayer rocking back and forth, reciting Torah passages, and openly sobbing and weeping. Seeing so many in such devout prayer really makes an impression on you. It’s an experience that is uniquely Jerusalem.
- Whether you are Jewish or not, you may place a prayer or wish into the wall. In 1st Kings 8:41-43, when King Solomon built the Temple, he specifically asked God to heed the prayers of all, not just the Jews, who are drawn to the Temple. The prophet Isaiah said that the Temple Mount was “a house of prayer for all nations.” So, feel free to write a prayer or wish down on a piece of paper, fold it up, and stick it into the wall.
- If you want to be super respectful, follow a Jewish custom by never turning your back on the wall. You will see many people walking away from the wall backward because it is considered disrespectful to turn away. It is also said that not turning your back on the wall symbolizes not turning your back on your prayer to God.
- The Western Wall on Shabbat, the sabbath, is a bit of a different experience than during other times of the week. For one, avoid using electronics all together: no cell phones, no pictures, no texts, etc. Make sure your phone is switched off before approaching the wall. I would suggest arriving at the wall about an hour before sunset; you’ll see the women lighting candles for the upcoming Shabbat worship, and you’ll see Yeshiva students celebrating the upcoming Shabbat. Once Shabbat begins, there is no smoking or lighting fire–there are signs at the entrances to the wall that explain this. The exact start times of Shabbat observation at the wall vary throughout the year according to the sun setting. Lastly, writing is not permitted on Shabbat, so if you have a prayer you would like to place on the wall, have it written before you get to the Western Wall.
Have you been to the Western Wall? If you have additional tips, share them below!