Workers reinforce stones of Western Wall

Work follows incidents in which stone fragments fell from upper structure.

western wall repair 248.88 (photo credit: Israel Antiquities Authority)
western wall repair 248.88
(photo credit: Israel Antiquities Authority)
Israeli archeologists are closely inspecting each stone in the Western Wall as part of a new conservation project under way at the Jerusalem holy site. The work, which is expected to last for three months, followed an extensive survey conducted at the site last year after several pieces of stone loosened and fell down in previous years. The engineering tests indicated that the physical condition of the stones was deteriorating, said Jon Seligman, Jerusalem regional archeologist of the Israel Antiquities Authority. "Nobody wants small stones falling on people praying below," Seligman said Sunday during a tour of the work, adding that the conservation project aimed to preserve the site as it is today for generations to come. The Western Wall is the country's top tourist attraction, with more than five million people, both tourists and locals, visiting it each year. Ironically, the oldest stones at site, which were laid 2,000 years ago as part of the retaining wall around the Temple Mount, are strong and stable, while the more recent ones, such as those added by the Ottomans, who ruled the area until 1917, are damaged and being repaired. A group of workers could be seen Sunday morning on a raised platform near the top of the 20-meter-high wall where the newer stones were located. After inspecting the wall stone by stone and strip by strip in search of cracks, the engineers put in new mortar as needed, said Ra'anan Kislev, the director of the conservation department at the antiquities authority. Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, rabbi of the Western Wall and holy places, has said that Halacha forbids removing any of the stones, even to repair them. In the past, Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar has said that repair work at the Western Wall should only be done by Jews after they have immersed in a ritual bath, and that the work may only be carried out by day. The area where the repairs are taking place is cordoned off from worshipers. The project comes a few years after the southern wall of the Temple Mount was repaired by a Jordanian-run team following the discovery of a bulge. The project will be suspended during Pessah, when tens of thousands of worshipers flock to the site.