intended to increase the knowledge, interest, and anticipation of the reader, thereby hastening the realization of our hopes and prayers for the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Beit HaMikdash.
Sermons in Stone and a
After Herod's renovations, Har HaBayit became the largest religious site in the entire ancient world, bar none, and this enormous project took decades to complete. In fact, the final embellishments were completed only a few short years before the Churban. To the east of the Kotel was "Kotel Drive", the main commercial street of Herodian Jerusalem. Lined with shops and other places of business, the Olei Regel could exchange foreign money for locally accepted coin, buy sacrificial animals and birds for Korbanot as well as other things required during their stay in Jerusalem. After the Six Day War teams of archeologists and volunteers from all over the world laboriously removed by hand thousands of tons of refuse which had accumulated on Kotel Drive since the Churban. Included in the rubble were stones from the upper courses of the Kotel bringing to mind the lament from Eicha, "...the sacred stones (of Bayit Rishon at the times of its destruction) were 'poured' all over the main streets..." One of the most spectacular finds was a stone with the engraved inscription "to the place of blowing". This recalls the Gemara which describes how a Kohein standing on the wall would blow a series of trumpet blasts as Shabbat approached.
Near the southern retaining wall further to the east, the remains of Robinson's Arch are visible. Most archeologists surmise that Robinson's Arch is a remnant of a bridge that once led from Har HaBayit to the adjacent residential areas located on the other side of Kotel Drive. Constructed as part of the extant eastern pier of the "Robinson overpass", are four well preserved shops. Below the protrusion jutting out of the wall is a scratched Pasuk from Yeshyahu 66:14, "And when you see this, your heart shall rejoice, and your bones shall flourish like young grass..." Some historians conjecture that an enthusiastic Jew etched this passage into the wall in the days of the Roman Emperor Julian. Christians call Julian the "Apostate" because he abandoned Christianity in 363ce. When the enthusiast heard of the emperor's announced intention to permit the Jews to rebuild the Beit HaMikdash, he was moved to cite Yeshyahu.
Behind the four shops is an even more spectacular find: a Mikveh dating from the time of the Mikdash. The Mishna in Shekalim 8:2 reads, "In Jerusalem, all vessels found on the side going down (Derech Yerida) to the Mikveh are impure, all vessels found on the side going up (Derech Aliya) are pure because the way leading down is not the same as the way leading up." The Mikveh behind the four shops has a wide stairway divided by a partition, "the way leading down is not the same as the way leading up".
There are two sealed gates in the southern wall, one double, and one triple. There are tunnels leading from these sealed entrances to Har HaBayit which pass under the Al Aqsa. The tunnels, constructed by Herod, until very recently, had decorations and embellishments which were carved by his workmen. Olei Regel passed under them on their way to the Mikdash. At the end of the 19th century, French archeologists made copies of fabulous engravings on the ceiling. A good thing too; some 80 years ago, these treasures were covered with concrete. Subsequently, florescent lights and hanging wires were added. In almost perfect condition until want only destroyed, the engravings were a marvelous panoply of rosettes, stylized leaves, grapes, and geometric forms. As befitting Mikdash decorations, there were no animal or human forms. The desecrators covered the magnificent columns with stone slabs and the ancient Herodian floor with rugs.
When I recently entered the "Western Wall Tunnels", located on the western side of the enclosed area of the Kotel plaza, where the men daven, I saw a road dating back to the Bayit Sheini. I saw a pool and water conduit built by the Chasmona'im, walkways, rooms and storage chambers which were probably used by Kohanim, and a carved isolated stone weighing 570 tons. (A geologist told me that this particular stone was carved so as to reduce the effects of a possible earthquake, but I must confess that I did not understand his explanation.)
There in the tunnels, opposite the site of the Kodesh HaKodashim, I met an interesting woman. She was very intelligent and was educated in one of the finest universities in America. Articulate, intellectual and urbane, this Jewish woman proceeded to explain to me that all that I had seen and had written about had actually been built by the Umayyads, the early Muslim conquerors of Eretz Yisrael in the beginning of the seventh century. She explained to me that various academics, many of them Israeli, had "proved" that there were never Jewish temples built on Har HaBayit and that there never was a noticeable Jewish presence here. She concluded by giving me a whole lecture about the pernicious "invention of ancient Israel". So what was she doing here? She had come to noticeable Jewish presence here. She concluded by giving me a whole lecture about the pernicious "invention of ancient Israel". So what was she doing here? She had come to atone for the sins of the Jewish people by picking olives in Ramallah!
What can I say? There is none
so blind as he (or she) who will not see.