Kotel stones get inoculated? Antiquities Authority prepares for Passover

Among routine restoration works, limestone-based grout is injected into fissures to repair cracks.

The Western Wall stones are injected with a special mixture to preserve and reinforce them (photo credit: YANIV BERMAN/IAA)
The Western Wall stones are injected with a special mixture to preserve and reinforce them
(photo credit: YANIV BERMAN/IAA)
On a typical sunny Jerusalem day, the 2,000-year-old stones of the Western Wall seem to emanate their own light, while a variety of birds quietly enjoy nesting between the wall’s cracks or flying over it, cawing loudly as they have done for centuries.
It was on one such day that conservators from the Western Wall Foundation and the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) began the conservation work to prepare the site for Passover. Such work includes injecting the stones with a special mixture to preserve and reinforce them.
“The Wall’s 2,000-year-old stones are subject to natural weathering, and we are making sure to strengthen them,” said Yossi Vaknin, IAA Head conservator in the Western Wall area. “Our routine biannual inspections enable us to track the condition of every single stone. We have an ‘identity card’ for each of the hundreds of stones in the plaza, and monitor dozens of features.”

The Western Wall's stones are 2000 years old. (Yaniv Berman/IAA)The Western Wall's stones are 2000 years old. (Yaniv Berman/IAA)
Vaknin said the documents contain all the information about individual stones including measures, type of rock, their structural and conservation conditions, the depth of its cracks, and more.
“This allows us to carry out very precise monitoring,” he said. “If we know in advance that some stones are more worn out than others, we can preserve them in more timely manner.”
The conservator pointed out that during a recent survey of the site, several stones appeared in need of some care, particularly in their outer layer.
“Our work on the historic wall is nondestructive,” Vaknin explained. “We do not drill into the stone, but delicately inject dissolved stone into the gaps and fissures. Limestone-based grout is injected into the fissure as a liquid, and when dry, the crack is repaired. It is the best possible method of ‘healing’ the stones, and the ultimate defense against weathering for the most important stones in the world.”
The operations are carried out with the approval of Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, rabbi of the Western Wall and the Holy Sites of Israel. For this purpose, Rabinowitz held special consultations some 18 years ago with several halachic authorities, including Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, then head of Lithuanian ultra-Orthodox Jewry in Israel.
Vaknin pointed out that according to the Jewish law, removing material from the kotel would be problematic.
“For this reason, we do not take away anything, but rather we add,” he said.
The wall and its plaza are generally inspected twice a year, ahead of Passover and Rosh Hashanah, to prepare the area for the millions of visitors who in normal years visit the sites.

“The Wall’s stones are subject to natural weathering and we are making sure to strengthen them,” (Yaniv Berman/IAA)“The Wall’s stones are subject to natural weathering and we are making sure to strengthen them,” (Yaniv Berman/IAA)
“Over 12 million people visit the Western Wall Plaza each year,” said the director of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, Mordechai (Suli) Eliav. “Although this year, in the shadow of COVID-19, people are increasingly ‘visiting’ the Western Wall virtually, we are already preparing for the return of visitors to the Wall. The Western Wall Heritage Foundation is making every endeavor to preserve the Wall’s ancient stones and ensure its stability for the safety of worshipers and visitors.”
While waiting for the visitors to come back, doves, ravens and swifts enjoy the relatively quiet times.
“The Western Wall is a unique ecological environment that supports its own life forms,” said Vaknin. “A lot of plants have taken root in the Wall’s stones – particularly thorny capers, golden drops and golden henbanes. As part of our conservation work, in recognition of the importance of the site’s unique flora and fauna, we also preserve this ecosystem while guaranteeing the stones’ stability, thus ensuring that the Western Wall will remain strong for at least 2,000 more years.”