Western Wall stones in danger of crumbling

Engineers seek a kosher method to repair the holy site.

western wall 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
western wall 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
First it was the southern wall of the Temple Mount. Then it was a section of the ancient walls of Masada that were in danger of collapse. Now, it's the turn of the stones of Jerusalem's Western Wall. Stones at the site are in danger of crumbling, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, the rabbi of the Western Wall, said Monday. The damaged stones that are beginning to disintegrate are not the ancient ones dating back to the Second Temple Period, but, ironically, the small uniform stones that make up part of the wall built in the 19th century and financed by the British philanthropist and financier Sir Moses Montefiore in an attempt to repair the site at that time. "The original stones from the Second Temple are strong and stable," Rabinovitch said in a telephone interview. "It is the smaller [and more recent] ones that are the problem." Rabinovitch noted that the needed repair work on the Western Wall will take place shortly after Pessah and will be completed over the summer - before the rainy winter months begin when the danger is greatest of the stones falling on worshipers below. "This is an issue which needs to be taken care of soon," he said. Experts were quick to stress Monday that there was no imminent danger to the worshipers at the Wall, which is Israel's top tourist attraction, with an estimated five million people, including both tourists and locals, visiting the holy site last year. "There is no immediate danger from the stones of the wall," said Ra'anan Kislev, the director of the conservation department at the Israel Antiquities Authority. The state-run archeological body had been carrying out ongoing surveys at the Jerusalem holy site for the last several years since several pieces of stones loosened and fell down in years past, Kislev said. Just how to repair the damaged stones at the holy site is, however, another issue altogether, as engineering gets mixed in with religion. Citing Biblical interdiction, Rabinovitch said that Jewish law or halacha forbids removing any of the stones of the Wall, even to repair them. He said that - in consultation with the Israel Antiquities Authority - scaffolding will likely be erected in the area where worshipers pray, to prevent them from being harmed by falling pieces, as engineers work to fix the damaged small stones. In the past, Israel's Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar has said that repair work at the Western Wall should only be done by Jews after they had gone through a mikve, and that the work could only be carried out during the day.